As soon as we enter the holiday season, a strange phenomenon occurs: people abandon their normal watching habits in search of the ever-elusive “holiday movie,” a genre so enticing that countless websites and magazines have made lists cataloging the best movies for each holiday. There are hundreds of Halloween movies, both horror and comedy, and even more Christmas movies, many of which are beloved classics.
And then there’s Thanksgiving, the middle child of the holiday movie world.
Halloween is scary, Christmas cozy, while Thanksgiving is, well, boring. It’s the oatmeal of holiday movies: sitting in the pantry, a perfectly fine choice—but who wants to cook a soggy bowl of oatmeal when you can eat Captain Crunch and watch Home Alone on Disney Plus?
Yet, there is one Thanksgiving movie that could stand up against any Christmas classic. This movie is Avalon, written and directed by Barry Levinson, released in 1990, and starring a young Elijah Wood. The movie is about the Kirchinskys, a Polish-Jewish family in Baltimore during the late 1940s and early 1950s, and it captures the familial love surrounding Thanksgiving with a rare sincerity.
Despite being led by immigrants who don’t quite understand the holiday, the Kirchinskys embrace Thanksgiving. Matriarch Eva Kirchinsky explains during the first ten minutes of the movie why she doesn’t understand the holiday. “Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving, we’re giving thanks to whom?” she asks. “You’re giving thanks for what you have,” her son Jules calmly replies, his effortless American accent a reminder of the certain brand of comfort his mother will never attain in America.
Avalon is a truly American movie, encapsulating the spirit of what America represented to immigrants during the mid-twentieth century.
Yet Eva, and the rest of the Kirchinskys, remain devoted to this confusing country, continuing to celebrate Thanksgiving as the years pass. The Thanksgiving tradition becomes a window into the changing lives of the Kirchinskys. The meal’s ability to strip away the posturing of public life through the comfort of family and food exposes the family’s myriad truths. The holiday reveals their dedication to America but also their effort to retain the memory of their immigrant past through stories. Avalon is a truly American movie, encapsulating the spirit of what America represented to immigrants during the mid-twentieth century.
Critics and blog writers of the holiday-movie-list-making-type seem to have forgotten about Avalon. I fear this is because the holiday portrayed in Avalon doesn’t meld with the commercial idea of Thanksgiving. In Avalon, the best Thanksgivings are a room stuffed to the brim with tables and chairs, heavily accented English flying through the air, all the while men and women stuff their faces with turkey. In other words, it’s the reality of Thanksgiving for most Americans. Let’s accept the reality of Thanksgiving, and let’s see Avalon for what it is: a Thanksgiving classic.