The 50th Anniversary of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” | (2024)

The 50th Anniversary of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” | (1)

At a potluck Thanksgiving lunch a number of years ago at my old job, I scanned the offerings on the table and couldn’t help but notice that someone had brought pretzel rods, popcorn, jelly beans, and toast.

They were on a fancy tray, arranged nicely beside the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and other traditional offerings. It made me smile, not just at the knowing pop culture “in-joke,” but also at how a television special, at that point over thirty years old, has stayed with so many of us.

Now, that special, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is fifty years old, and much like a flimsy tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas, and getting nothing but a rock while trick or treating in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Bown, the Peanuts celebration of Thanksgiving has provided so much that we now connect with the holiday.

First airing on CBS on November 20, 1973, the special once again features Charlie Brown experiencing angst, declaring, “We’ve got another holiday to worry about!” to which his sister Sally states, “I haven’t even finished eating all of my Halloween candy!”

It seems that Charlie and Sally will be going with their parents to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. However, the ever-pushy Peppermint Patty invites herself, along with friends Marcie and Franklin, over to Charlie Brown’s for dinner, and “Chuck,” being so “wishy-washy” doesn’t have a chance to say no.

Linus finds a solution and talks Charlie Brown into having two Thanksgivings: Peppermint Patty and the gang coming over in the afternoon before he and his family head to grandmas.

Snoopy and Woodstock are put in charge and quickly set up a ping pong table and chairs in the backyard and prepare the best feast a dog and bird can prepare: the aforementioned pretzel rods, popcorn, jellybeans, and toast.

The 50th Anniversary of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” | (3)Linus reveals to everyone the historical tale of the first Thanksgiving, and not everyone is pleased after the meal is served. “Look at this! This is what you call a Thanksgiving Day dinner?” shouts an upset Peppermint Patty, looking for the traditional turkey and trimmings.

Marcie makes the peace, getting her friend Peppermint Patty to realize she invited herself over, which wasn’t fair to Charlie Brown. Then, Marcie even makes ol’ Chuck feel better about himself by saying, “Those early Pilgrims were thankful for what had happened to them, and we should be thankful, too. We should just be thankful for being together. I think that’s why they call it ‘Thanksgiving,’ Charlie Brown.”

So, Charlie Brown invites all his friends to join him and his family at his grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving. After piling in the station wagon, they sing the traditional Thanksgiving song, “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go,” until Charlie Brown realizes: “My grandmother lives in a condominium.”

The 50th Anniversary of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” | (4)In the documentary short Popcorn & Jellybeans: The Making of a Peanuts Classic, Charles Schulz’s widow, Jean Schulz, remembered that the inspiration for the special came from her husband’s fascination with the preparation of Thanksgiving dinner. She recalled, “What appealed to my husband was that everyone’s expectation is that this has to be the dinner of the year.”

Like other Peanuts specials, the voices of Charlie Brown and the gang were provided by child actors, with one twist for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, in that Peppermint Patty’s voice was provided by a boy, child actor Chris DeFaria (who would grow up to serve as a president for both Warner Bros. and DreamWorks Animation).

According to Peanuts historian Scott McGuire, in the documentary, the special features almost entirely new material not featured in Schulz’s comic strip. The exception, of course, is the iconic pre-title opening sequence, where Lucy pulls the football away from Charlie Brown.

The 50th Anniversary of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” | (5)

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving was directed by two legends, Bill Melendez and Phil Roman. It features terrific pantomime character animation with Snoopy and Woodstock, particularly in the sequence where they set up the Thanksgiving dinner and battle with the chairs.

Fifty years later, moments like that have made A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving a perennial favorite, like the other Peanuts holiday specials.

As historian Scott McGuire noted in the documentary: “I think every kid, no matter how much they like turkey and mashed potatoes, secretly hopes that someday they will actually be served a Thanksgiving dinner consisting of jellybeans and popcorn.”

The 50th Anniversary of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” | (6)

The 50th Anniversary of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” | (2024)
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