I recently viewed the ScreenPrism video that argues for the strange, but convincing idea that the 1993 film The Nightmare Before Christmas makes for the perfect Thanksgiving movie.
Thanksgiving, of course, is directly between Halloween and Christmas. But the movie itself does seem to have some core themes and motifs of Thanksgiving. ScreenPrism makes a good case:
- Jack goes on a pilgrimage to a new world in order to achieve a new kind of freedom, and his appropriation of that world ends in disaster.
- Jack’s major lesson to learn is thankfulness for what he’s given. The man “tired of the same old thing,” eventually learns to embrace his fate.
- Also, the color schemes involve a lot of earthy, fall colors.
I would also add that Lock, Shock, and Barrel go on a “turkey hunt” for Santa, and no authentic Thanksgiving is complete without a turkey hunt.
This reflection brought me to another conclusion, that Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas and the New Year do form a kind of “quartet” of holidays, one that pushes us through an experience kind of similar to Lent and Passover. The human psyche repeats a pattern of reflection, acceptance, and renewal.
After the break of summer and early fall, Halloween is a holiday of mock terror and indulgence. We focus on our costume, and put on the guise of greedy creatures who want to devour. We knock on doors and demand candy from neighbors and strangers. Of course, it’s all in good fun. We’re not openly celebrating any bad values, but putting on a charade against our fears. It gives us an excuse to eat lots of candy and party. “Trick-or-Treat” is a mischevious way of saying “please.” We’re afraid to ask.
Then we come to Thanksgiving, as the macabre visuals around us (dead leaves, turkey meat) transform into mellow merriness (in anticipation of “the holidays”). Thanksgiving is warm and thoughtful. All that is required is a meal and maybe some fall colors on our sweater. It’s a humble holiday, simple and straightforward. Rather than donning the masks of flesh-hungry ghouls, we now recognize our hunger and are grateful for what is on the plate. The gorgeous feast may even cause a sense of mourning for our ungratefulness, the horror if our prior conduct, resembled by Halloween. (Or, as cell phone companies have observed recently, we argue over politics and personal choices with estranged family.)
At Christmas time, the warmth of Thanksgiving becomes a festive jubilee. Thankfulness transforms the heart so that giving may take place. My gratefulness places the spirit of liberality within me, and so I celebrate vigorously the sharing of my blessings with others. Ideally, of course. We welcome others with cheer in spite of the bitter cold. Our enlivened spirit, like that of Scrooge, is a burning log in a cold world that we once itself cold.
With the heart transformed, rebirth now launches us into a new year. We say goodbye to who we were and embark on who we will be. In our fullest reflection we can now affirm the possibility of acknowledging how we’ve behaved, what we are thankful for, what we can share, and how we can move forward.
Granted, this isn’t guaranteed to happen in these stages. The human psyche is complex and will not necessarily attach itself to the same meanings of every observance. To many, Halloween is just about costumes, Thanksgiving is about family, Christmas is about that bonus at work, and New Year’s is about alcohol.
But it is uncanny sometimes how religious and semi-religious observances seem to form around such patterns, without people ever really planning it. The collective psyche of any culture forms its own patterns of observance and celebration, for better or for worse.