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The Americans have established a Thanksgiving Day to celebrate the fact that the Pilgrim Fathers reached America. The English might very well establish another Thanksgiving Day; to celebrate the happy fact that the Pilgrim Fathers left England.
G. K. Chesterton, Sidelights (1932)

A Thanksgiving Episode is a story or an episode within a larger series that focuses on the holiday of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a holiday on the fourth Thursday of Novemeber. Canada also has a Thanksgiving holiday on the second Monday in October. For more informations about the history of the holiday, see Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving stories fall into two basic categories. The first category consist of stories that relate to the origin of the holiday. Traditionally, the holiday is dated back to a feast given in 1621 by Pilgrims of the Plymouth colony in Massachusetts to offer thanks to God for their survival past the first harsh year of the settlement. They invited the local Wampanoag tribe, who had been key to that survival, to share the feast with them -- whence the traditional Thanksgiving iconography of steeple-crowned and bonneted Pilgrims alongside buckskin-clad Native Americans. Optimistic portrayals focus on the event as a time of inter-cultural cooperation and celebration . More cynical portrayals will place more emphasis on the long-term negative effect of colonization in displacing the Native Americans.

The second category is stories that revolve around the celebration of the holiday in latter years. As with Christmas, Thanksgiving stories tend to be very family oriented, with characters either going to visit relatives or hosting large gatherings of the extended family. Such gatherings are generally intended to be joyous times of celebration, but can also be times of tension and internal family conflict.

The major focus of the holiday on the Thanksgiving meal, which traditionally includes turkey, potatoes, pies, cranberry sauce, yams, and various vegetables. Preparing the turkey is a big deal, and an inexperienced cook seeking to prove him/herself by cooking a perfect meal will often find themselves making various blunders. Even experienced cooks will find themselves challenged by the expectations placed upon them. Health minded cooks may try to create healthier alternatives to the traditional fare, which will almost certainly not be well received. Vegetarians in particular will insist upon soy or tofu turkeys so they don't have to be a party to the slaughter of living creatures.

Other activities include the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, watching marathons of TV shows, and watching or even playing American football. If the main character is a cartoonist, they might have the honor of their character being a balloon in the Macy's parade.

Thanksgiving stories will often have a variation on the True Meaning of Christmas, by having characters focused on the stress off the holidays, interpersonal conflicts with other family members, or simply gorging on food learn a lesson about the importance and family and thankfulness.

Examples of Thanksgiving Episode include:

Film (Live Action)

  • Gleefully mocked in The Addams Family Values, where Wednesday pointed out just how badly Native Americans got screwed over.
  • Eli Roth's fake trailer Thanksgiving from Grindhouse, a parody of holiday horror flicks.
  • Hannah and Her Sisters begins at a Thanksgiving dinner party and follows the characters for a little more than a year. The ending is a semi-epilogue set at Thanksgiving a year after that.
  • Home For The Holidays
  • Home For Purim was transformed into this to make it appeal to a wider audience.
  • Miracle on 34th Street actually begins on Thanksgiving with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in need of a Santa Claus performer (in Real Life, the parade always ends with a Santa's sleigh float, and thus Santa).
  • The film Planes, Trains and Automobiles is all about a guy trying to make it home for Thanksgiving.
  • In his Little Movie Glossary, film critic Roger Ebert notes that "Of all the holidays on the calendar, Thanksgiving is the one most often chosen by the movies to show dysfunctional families in meltdown. The title card 'Thanksgiving' is a guarantee that shameful secrets, towering rages and massive depression will be presented, along with alarming alcohol abuse." Examples include Home for the Holidays and The Ice Storm.
  • The House of Yes is a movie set during Thanksgiving. As mentioned with the Ebert quote above, there are plenty of dark secrets on display but with a heavy dose of Black Humor.

Live Action TV

  • All in The Family's Retool Archie Bunker's Place had a Thanksgiving episode that was notable for being the last time that all four original cast members from All in The Family appeared together.
  • The Bob Newhart Show had two Thanksgiving episodes. The second one, involving Emily going out of town and leaving Bob to share a drunken holiday with his pals over Chinese food, leads to one of the show's Crowning Moments of Funny.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a Thanksgiving Day episode during which Xander was cursed by a Native American spirit with the diseases brought over by Europeans.
  • Cheers has a Thanksgiving episode that culminates in a no-holds-barred Food Fight among the cast.
  • Friends has a Thanksgiving episode in all but one season.
  • On Gilmore Girls, Lorelei and Rory attend four different Thanksgiving dinners in the episode A Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving.
  • Mad About You had multiple Thanksgiving episodes over its run. Perhaps the most famous is "Giblets for Murray", where Paul and Jamie have to deal with overbearing parents trying to take over the meal, then having to replace the turkey multiple times after Murray (the dog, if you remember) eating the first one, without anyone finding out (everyone finds out eventually, but the parents don't tell the couple that they know).
  • The Middle has had a Thanksgiving episode in all three of its seasons so far.
  • Modern Family: "Punkin Chunkin".
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been tied in with the holiday ever since its debut onTwinCities TV station KTMA on Thanksgiving Day in 1988. After it became a national sensation, Comedy Central would run several Thanksgiving Day marathons of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes over the years, dubbed "Turkey Day" to reference both the holiday and the film "turkeys" highlighted by the series. Many marathons featured special Thanksgiving-themed episode introductions with the show's characters, and an entire set of alternate Thanksgiving-themed host segments were created for the debut of Night of the Blood Beast; in reruns, they were replaced with the standard segments.
  • Reba had not one, but two, Thanksgiving episodes.
  • Roseanne had several Thanksgiving episodes throughout the show's run, many of which involved side drama that cast a bit of a pall over the holiday:
    • Season 4, "Thanksgiving '91": Roseanne and Jackie learn that their father has been carrying on an affair for the last 20 years.
    • Season 6, "Thanksgiving '93": Nana Mary reveals to the whole family that Bev got pregnant with Roseanne before she was married, causing Bev to run out in tears.
    • Season 7, "Thanksgiving '94": Roseanne is given some unsettling news about her pregnancy that she's unable to confirm without a visit. This carries over into the next episode, until they learn it was all a mix-up and the baby's just fine.
    • Season 9, "Home is Where The Afghan Is": Bev objects loudly to Leon and Scott announcing they're adopting a baby before dropping the bombshell that she's a lesbian. Of course, none of this actually happened thanks to season 9 being retconned into a fictional account.
  • Small Wonder had an episode in which Jamie falsely asserted that his parents were separated, so he and Vicki could get into a Thanksgiving camp for latchkey children.
  • On 3rd Rock from the Sun, Thanksgiving was the aliens' first Earth holiday. The episode also marked the first appearance of Mrs. Dubcek's daughter Vicki, who would became a recurring love interest for Harry. Unaware of Black Friday, Sally mentions in The Tag that tomorrow she will "spend a nice peaceful day at the mall".
  • 2 Broke Girls had a combined Thanksgiving/Christmas episode: "And the Very Christmas Thanksgiving".
  • WKRP in Cincinnati had the infamous "Turkeys Away" episode, often regarded as the series' Crowning Moment of Funny.

 As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!

  • The West Wing episode "Shibboleth" laid on Thanksgiving very thickly in multiple plot threads that include both uses of this trope: President Bartlet invokes the original Thanksgiving as justification for freeing Chinese Christians fleeing persecution, and invokes the familial side of modern observance when he gives his body man Charlie (who has no parents) a priceless family heirloom originally made by Paul Revere as a gesture metaphorically adopting Charlie into his family.
  • In an episode of Seinfeld Mr Pitt desperately wants a place under the Real Life Woody Woodpecker balloon.
  • Both Bob! and Caroline in The City featured the balloons of the main character's cartoon characters getting loose during their debut parades.
  • An episode of Friends featured reports of the Real Life (though by that time retired) Underdog balloon getting loose.
  • On Everybody Loves Raymond Debra decides to 'shake things up' by serving fish instead of turkey.
  • Full House had a Thanksgiving episode in the first season. Danny, Jesse and Joey tried to pull out all the stops to make the first Thanksgiving without Pam as perfect as they can for the girls. Unfortunately, it leads to a burnt turkey, a dropped pumpkin pie and lots of tears (mainly from Jesse, Pam's brother) before the family decides to make the best of what they have and just enjoy being together.
  • 7th Heaven has several throughout the course of its 11 seasons. Most notable are the first one (in which Eric's sister Julie pays a visit and causes a mess of pain and drama when they learn she's an alcoholic) and season 9's (where Lucy is hellbent on taking over Thanksgiving preparations, and Annie's sorrow over her father's death hits her months after the fact due to it being her first Thanksgiving without him).
  • Home Improvement had several:
    • Season 3: Al and his new girlfriend Ilene come for the holiday, while Tim and Jill argue over what to do for their family Christmas card.
    • Season 4: The Taylors go to Wilson's for Thanksgiving and learn he's planning to move to Ecuador to feel closer to his late wife's memories. Tim convinces him to stay and share those memories with other people.
    • Season 6: Tim deals with Benny the mooch coming to Thanksgiving, Randy volunteers at a soup kitchen, and a dream sequence features wooden versions of the characters.
    • Season 7: The Taylors score tickets to a football game, where Tim takes a tour of the Superdome while the rest of the family mingles with annoying producers and celebrities.


  • Radio stations have been known to play the 18-minute song "Alices Restaurant" on Thanksgiving to mark the transition from regular music to Christmas music -- and to give hungry DJs a chance to gobble some turkey.

Western Animation

  • The Cleveland Show Thanksgiving episode has the blended family struggling to get along, not entirely helped by the appearance of "Auntie Mama", an eccentric advice dispenser.
  • The Fairly Odd Parents storybook In a Tizzy over Turkey! has Timmy refusing to eat Thanksgiving dinner with his parents because his mom made tofurkey (turkey-flavored tofu) instead of real turkey. Cosmo and Wanda eventually grant his wish for the perfect dinner, but he learns a lesson about the true meaning of the holiday from, of all people, Vicky.
  • Garfield had a Thanksgiving Day special, centered on Garfield being put on a diet by his vet shortly before Thanksgiving. Said vet comes to dinner that day, keeping the cat from pigging out as he wants.
  • The Peanuts special A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.
  • One story arc in Underdog has Simon Barsinister go back in time to sabotage the founding of Plymouth Plantation so that there will be no Thanksgiving. Why? Because his plan to conquer the city depended on him accessing a certain device at a certain time, which he couldn't because the Thanksgiving Day Parade was blocking the street. Given that he had a time machine, there were much simpler ways to solve the problem (such as going back in time to earlier that morning and crossing the street before the parade started), but he never considers them.
  • In the Looney Tunes short "Bugs' Bonnets", when Elmer Fudd is suddenly crowned with a steepled hat, he explains to an arresting officer that he was "just twying to shoot a tuhkey fow the fuhst Thanksgiving dinnuh"; Bugs, suddenly bedecked with a feather headdress and pair of braids, seizes Elmer's rifle and attempts to shoot him!
    • In an earlier Looney Tunes short, "Tom Turk and Daffy", Porky Pig is the P-p-p-pilgrim attempting to hunt the eponymous Tom.
    • "Bugs Bunny's Thanksgiving Diet" is a compilation of cartoons framed by Bugs running a diet clinic, in which he tries to help the obese Millicent the Rabbit lose weight.
  • In the Rankin/Bass Productions holiday special The Mouse on the Mayflower, a mouse named Willem is among the Puritan founders. He makes friends with the native mice, and together the Indians and Pilgrims, human and murine, celebrate the first Thanksgiving.
  • The 1972 Hanna-Barbera special "The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn't" focused on a squirrel rescuing a pair of lost boys (one a Pilgrim, the other a Native American), with the squirrel as a result becoming the guest of honor at the first Thanksgiving dinner.
  • The Simpsons' Season 2 episode "Bart vs. Thanksgiving" has been a favorite for years.
  • Family Guy had its first Thanksgiving episode in season 10, when Joe and Bonnie's son Kevin returned from the war after being presumed dead for the past few years. A second episode had a drunken Peter and Brian eating the turkey and having to get a replacement.

The Real Life Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

  • A Real Life tragic incident involving the Cat in The Hat balloon knocking over a lamppost and injuring a woman resulted in new wind restrictions for the balloons, and new size restrictions for their designs, which in turn forced the retirement of many longtime favorites, including The Pink Panther and Woody Woodpecker. A similar incident involving a balloon of the M&M's characters less severely injured a little girl, who notably pleaded that Macy's not retire it on her account. It was, however, gone by the next year's parade anyway.
  • Probably the franchise most represented in the parade over the years would be Peanuts, usually Snoopy (with or without Woodstock), but also for a few years represented by two balloons, one of Charlie Brown, the other of the elusive football he's trying to kick. Most likely various Muppet based balloons (Kermit, Grover, Big Bird) would be next, followed by Disney (Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Buzz Lightyear, various one-year balloons celebrating upcoming Disney films).
    • Balloons of Underdog and Bullwinkle were also long-running features of the parade in the past; both balloons were referred to in, among other places, The Simpsons.
  • This Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad, featuring a competition between a fictional Stewie Griffin balloon and a re-creation of the classic Underdog balloon. The Charlie Brown balloon is the one who emerges victorious.
  • One of the first (if not THE first) meta references on The Simpsons involved the real life 1990 debut of the Bart Simpson balloon.
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