Animation Cel-ebration
November 17, 2023 posted by Michael Lyons

Peanuts for Dinner: The 50th Anniversary of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”

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.

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.”

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.

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.”


  • On a different anniversary-
    A Happy 95th Birthday Mickey Mouse for Saturday.

    Sadly you’ll probably be celebrating your 96th as a psycho blood-thirsty killer – courtesy of public domain and parent’s basement dwellers attention-seeking “filmmakers”.

    And as a freak to please John Oliver.

    • Sigh. I’m getting tired of this confusion: The early Mickey shorts will become PD, NOT the character itself.

      • Will it be that the early depictions of Mickey in those earliest cartoons will be able to be used freely?

  • I always thought that the kids and Snoopy improvised a pretty good Thanksgiving meal, using the materials they had at hand. And while much less filling than the traditional fare, it’s also much less fattening!

  • A proper soundtrack was just released for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving a few weeks ago, courtesy producer Lee Mendelson’s family, who found source materials for the music from the Peanuts specials during the pandemic.

  • I was lucky enough to catch this on its’ first airing. My younger self didn’t notice Lucy’s near-total absence from the special until I was much older.

  • Note the fake Schulz signature on the TV Guide ad–Fits right in with the somewhat off-model rendering of the characters therein (Snoopy’s differing arm widths look strange).

    I’ve always considered Bill Littlejohn’s animation in the anthropomorphic lawn chair sequence to be a masterpiece. Really miss being able to watch scenes like this frame-by-frame.

  • I suppose it makes as much sense for Woodstock to eat turkey as it is for us to eat other mammals, but it still looks weird to me. There was one Peanuts strip where Snoopy explains to Woodstock about eating a bird on Thanksgiving, and Woodstock gets upset.

    • I once had a parakeet, Tippy, that loved to nibble on lettuce and turkey.

    • Well, there was one strip where Snoopy ponders that Woodstock might be an eagle (and the bird tries to lift Linus) and eagles, being a bird of prey, do occasionally eat smaller birds.

  • One of the most memorable Peanuts specials from the 1970s! There was some (obviously absurd) controversy from the PC-watchdogs about the fact that African-American character Franklin (his second appearence in a Peanuts special after There is no Time for Love, Charlie Brown, although previously he appeared briefly in the Snoopy, Come Home feature) is sitting at the opposite side of the dinner table, which made him look “segregated” from the other kids, even though this was absolutely accidental and not done on purpose. Rather than that, something that personally annoyed me in this special is when Peppermint Patty -after all the effort and care made by Snoopy and the gang in preparing all those pretzel rods, popcorn, fried eggs, jellybeans, and toasts- complains saying that “this is no Thanksgiving dinner”… thus belittling their hard work done in good faith. This made her look a selfish, spoilt brat.

  • Peppermint Patty wasn’t the only “travesti” role in this special, as Marcy was also voiced by a boy, Jimmy Ahrens, who reprised the role in several other Peanuts productions of the 1970s but apparently has no other acting credits.

    The final shot of Woodstock smirking as he clutches the bigger half of the wishbone disturbed me when I first saw it. If he’s smart, he’ll use his wish to keep it from happening to him next year.

    Here we see Schulz starting to lose his grip on the child’s perspective that made the comic strip so iconic. The sight of Christmas displays in November is something children would never complain about, but their parents might. And any kid who still had Halloween candy left over on Thanksgiving would have to have a preternatural degree of self-control.

  • This special won Charles Schulz a well-deserved Emmy for his script.

  • Coincidently, shortly after reading this post, my family decided to watch the special on Apple+.
    I remember finally renting a tape of this special at my local Blcokbusters oddly a little after Thanksgiving- and Christmas(!) in New Years Eve on Dec. 31st, 1998 (not knowing what was going to happen the next year regarding the strip).

    I was pretty amused with the “Little Birdie” sequence where Snoopy and Woodstock get the table and chairs set up.

  • TOP CAT JAMES answered my question about who animated Snoopy’s battle with the folding chair (before I asked it); animation that makes you laugh is a joy forever

  • A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving echoes changes Schulz was making in the strip in the 1970s, with Snoopy, Woodstock, Peppermint Patty and Marcie getting more screen time. Peppermint Patty pretty much plays what would have been Lucy’s part previously by criticizing Chuck’s improvised dinner, except that Patty realizes (with help from Marcie) that she stepped out of bounds, where Lucy wouldn’t have come to that conclusion no matter who tried to tell her anything.

  • Interesting that a few Charlie Brown holiday specials have loomed so large in the pop culture, while other specials, such as IT’S A MYSTERY, CHARLIE BROWN, don’t seem to be remembered at all. People do, however, remember the voice depictions of offscreen adults in various programs.

    • Interesting that a few Charlie Brown holiday specials have loomed so large in the pop culture, while other specials, such as IT’S A MYSTERY, CHARLIE BROWN, don’t seem to be remembered at all.

      Paul Fitzpatrick, I agree wholeheartedly. Only the Christmas, Halloween and Thanksgiving specials get any attention these days. I miss all those others I grew up on, from He’s Your Dog Charlie Brown and Charlie Brown All Stars to You’re in Love Charlie Brown. I bought all those “forgotten ones” in a box set that also includes the “Big Three”.

  • While Charlie Brown’s fantasy of “The Red-Headed Girl” is something a lot of us men can relate to in our lives – that idealized woman that we could never attain, maybe “Chuck” will realize (as he gets older) that Peppermint Patty just might be the perfect girl for him! Even if there were some sort of strange attraction to Lucy as Chuck and Lucy got older and – God forbid – they actually got married, that relationship would be “a living Hell” for Charlie Brown. Sometimes things like this happen in real life!

    It’s hard to believe that this special aired 50 years ago. I was an official “surly teenager” then – 15 years old – in November of 1973. That said, those “Peanuts Specials” were still pretty special. One of my smarter younger brothers questioned what Woodstock was going to eat. We figured that he’d like the meal of buttered toast, popcorn, etc. that the kids had prepared. Of course, being a dog, Snoopy would be carnivorous, but he’d figure out a way to enjoy his turkey without getting Woodstock all upset!

    Paul, your comments on the commercialism of Thanksgiving and Christmas being mushed together, well, even as young kids we questioned all of that. As for Halloween candy, we were taught to try to “save” Halloween candy for as long as we could hold out. My parents had gone through The Great Depression so they were very strict about things like that. Well, one day when I was at school, my brother Jerry raided my bag of Halloween candy and got sick from over-eating all of it. Mom said that I should not be mad at him, nor be happy that he got so sick. Now THAT was hard for me to do! I stopped saving my Halloween candy to that extent after that!

  • Cancel culture has reached this special. Apparently people are upset because Franklin sits alone at his side of the table, which supposedly suggests segregation. (You’re probably thinking, as I did when I first read this, Good grief, when does this nonsense stop?) At least he wasn’t expected to serve the meal. Besides, perhaps Lucy and Schroeder were supposed to sit at that side with Franklin but lost track of time, Schroeder practicing his Beethoven and Lucy hanging around Schroeder.

    • I’m probably thinking, “I’m a minority member who’s enjoyed this special for much of my life—and don’t ask that it be banned or censored—but can still fault it for this one element.”

      When you grow up around Black friends who personally lived for decades with segregation (as I did), it’s hard to look at Franklin’s position at the table, note the 1973 date, and see anything else, regardless of how it was intended. I think a lot of people are, after decades, simply stating out loud how it’s always looked to us.

      I’m not claiming Schulz was himself a racist; I’m aware he was quite the opposite. I also know he didn’t stage the animated scenes, and wonder whether at some point he might have been alarmed by the implication of the staging as handled.

  • The soundtrack helps make this one of my favourites, including the title theme and the updated arrangement of “Linus and Lucy”

  • My favorite parts of the special are the tune “Is It James or Charlie,” which plays during the distribution of the meals, and the “soul” handshake that Charlie Brown and Franklin give to each other. I’ve always wondered how Charlie Brown knew how to give it.

  • I wonder whether the people who criticize Charlie Brown and friends for having Franklin seated on the opposite side of the table … had guests of a different race at their own Thanksgiving dinner last year.

  • Thank you for this. Many happy memories.

  • It always bugged me how little Lucy was used in this special, when she had been a big part of so many earlier ones. She wasn’t even at the dinner table. I think she was in the first part coaxing Charlie Brown to kick the football. But that’s all.

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