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The Charming Nostalgia of Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving Dinner

Remember the infamous meal from 1973's A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving?

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If you grew up in the ’70s or ’80s, there’s a good chance your holiday tradition includes an annual screening of the animated classic A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. The 1973 special originally aired on CBS, and follows the tale of Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts comic characters: In this case, bossy tomboy Peppermint Patty invites herself over to the perpetually anxious Charlie Brown’s home for Thanksgiving dinner, even though Charlie already has plans to go to his grandmother’s house. Patty also invites their other friends, Marcie and Franklin, leaving Charlie scrambling to host a Thanksgiving with his peers that he’s had no time to prepare for (perhaps an early example of Friendsgiving, an informal holiday meal celebrated with friends that’s gained popularity in recent years.)

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Of course, this is a kid’s TV special, so everything works out OK in the end. Charlie’s dog Snoopy (donning a chef hat) and his bird friend Woodstock concoct an unconventional Thanksgiving dinner consisting of buttered toast, jelly beans, popcorn, pretzel sticks, and ice cream. While Peppermint Patty is initially mad about the lack of traditional food, the situation resolves itself with all the kids — including Charlie’s sister Sally and best pal Linus — heading over to Charlie’s grandmother’s for a more typical Thanksgiving meal. Nearly 50 years after the special first aired, though, it’s those strange platters of Thanksgiving junk food that remain the most memorable — and ever since childhood, I’ve thought of them every single time the holiday rolls around.

Why the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Dinner Still Resonates

For me, the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving dinner captured the whimsy and innocence of childhood. When a couple of kids (plus a dog and a bird) are faced with putting together a Thanksgiving meal in a hurry, it makes that they wouldn’t cook a turkey or grill veggies — rather, they’d make what they know (and love). Watching the special as an adult, I can’t help but admire the meal’s simplicity. Let’s face it: Cooking for Thanksgiving can be anxiety-inducing. Whether you’re in the thick of grocery shopping or rushing around the kitchen preparing many different dishes at once (and figuring out how best to roast your turkey for maximum deliciousness), the idea of just serving toast and snacks to your family probably feels like the perfect antidote to all the fuss.

How To Incorporate Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving at Your Table

Think it might be fun to incorporate elements of Charlie Brown’s dinner into a more grown-up Thanksgiving? I do, too! I’m not saying you should abandon turkey and stuffing and potatoes entirely, of course — but during the holiday season, we could all use a little levity. So, try setting up a small platter of Charlie Brown-inspired food for guests to pick at and compliment before dinner is officially served. Bread and butter, jelly beans, popcorn, pretzel sticks, and ice cream are all easy to procure at the grocery store (and unlike cranberry sauce, they most likely won’t be sold out on the Big Day). The adults may enjoy the nostalgia of these snacks, and the children will be excited for the opportunity to eat more kid-friendly fare.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one who wants to honor this tradition. If you’re in Las Vegas, you can go to The Golden Tiki, a bar that serves the Charlie Brown dinner every Thanksgiving (atop a ping-pong table, just like in the special). Many food blogs have simple recipes for a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Snack, and plenty of fans have recreated it too (“I’ll never understand why Peppermint Patty got on Chuck’s case about it. This is pretty much the perfect meal,” says one blogger who’s been recreating the meal every year since 2003. You can watch his tutorial below). Washington Parent even has ideas for Peanuts-inspired games to play with the kids at Thanksgiving, including jelly bean color-matching and Charlie Brown trivia.

The site SpoonUniversity.com suggests putting a more elegant spin on the meal by serving French toast, avocado toast, or sweet potato toast instead of plain old buttered toast. They also recommend providing either a soft pretzel or pretzel-crusted chicken nuggets instead of pretzel sticks. And if I were to make an adult version of the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, I’d serve ricotta toast topped with honey and cinnamon, and include some dips for the pretzel sticks (maybe hummus or a Thanksgiving-themed dip from this Buzzfeed.com list).

But even if you don’t end up recreating Charlie’s infamous dinner, you can still embrace the Thanksgiving special’s lessons: Take a step back from the stress, express gratitude that you have loved ones to spend the holiday with, and remember that it’ll all work out in the end if you keep your friends by your side.

You can stream A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving for free on Apple TV+ through November 27.

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