The classic children's film A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is a popular holiday special that will be airing again this season, but some parents are concerned that the history lessons within it need an update for 2019 audiences. The 1973 special will air Wednesday, November 27, at 8 p.m. on ABC and while it hasn't been updated for this century, parents can use it to teach kids about inclusion and why there are some gaps in the Peanuts' historical knowledge.
If you haven't watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving since childhood, there are a few things you should know when viewing it with your kids: First, it's still rather fun to watch as an adult, because now you get that Charlie is clinically depressed and Patty is a feminist and that Woodstock eating turkey is every bit as weird as you thought. But second, it's problematic in its treatment of Franklin, the cartoon's sole black character, who for some reason is seated on one side of the table by himself.
In ABC's programming announcement, the network also added that the half-hour Thanksgiving special will come with a side dish, as it has for several recent years, 1988's This Is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers.
This Is America seems a bit like an afterthought, tacked on to ABC's programming to make sure live TV audiences get a full hour to watch. It's a re-telling of the Mayflower voyage, the colonists' early struggles in America, and their first harvest celebration with members of the Wampanoag tribe. It pretty much adheres to the version of the story many of us learned in elementary school. A warning to parents of small children: There are several mentions of how many adults died during this time, though the Peanuts gang and all other children survive just fine.
While watching these programs, or at any other time during the holiday, we have a chance to correct some of the wrongs of previous generations by teaching our kids a fuller story about the English Puritan separatists and the Wampanoag people who welcomed them. For example, though we often call the event in 1621 the "first Thanksgiving," native peoples had been holding harvest celebrations long before.
There's also more to learn about Squanto, a.k.a. Tisquantum, the English-speaking man who first helped the English fish and plant food on the land where all his own tribe had recently perished from disease. For suggestions on how to do so, we like this guide made for teachers in Oklahoma City that offers ways to "redesign" Thanksgiving with the Native American perspective in mind.
That is one way to talk about Thanksgiving with your kids, but the old cartoons can be a part of the conversation, too. To watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, tune in to ABC on November 27 at 8 p.m. You can also buy or rent the cartoon (packaged with the Mayflower special) on Amazon.
[This post was first published on November 7, 2019.]