7 Overlooked Thanksgiving Rituals, According to Sociologists

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iStock

The carving of the turkey, the saying of the grace, the watching of the football. If a Martian anthropology student asked us to name some cultural rites of Thanksgiving, those would be the first few to come to mind. But students of anthropology know that a society is not always the best judge of its own customs.

The first major sociological study of Thanksgiving appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research in 1991. The authors, Melanie Wallendorf and Eric J. Arnould, conducted in-depth interviews with people about their experiences of the holiday. They also had 100 students take detailed field notes on their Thanksgiving celebrations, supplemented by photographs. The data analysis revealed some common events in the field notes that people rarely remarked on in the interviews. Here are some common Thanksgiving rituals you might not realize qualify as such.

1. GIVING JOB ADVICE.

Teenagers are given a ritual status shift to the adult part of the family, not only through the move from the kids' table to the grownup table, but also through the career counseling spontaneously offered by aunts, uncles, and anyone else with wisdom to share.

2. FORGETTING AN INGREDIENT.

Oh no! Someone forgot to put the evaporated milk in the pumpkin pie! As the authors of the Thanksgiving study state, "since there is no written liturgy to insure exact replication each year, sometimes things are forgotten." In the ritual pattern, the forgetting is followed by lamentation, reassurance, acceptance, and the restoration of comfortable stability. It reinforces the themes of abundance (we've got plenty even if not everything works out) and family togetherness (we can overcome obstacles).

3. TELLING DISASTER STORIES OF THANKSGIVINGS PAST.

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Remember that time we fried a turkey and burned the house down? Another way to reinforce the theme of family togetherness is to retell the stories of things that have gone wrong at Thanksgiving and then laugh about them. This ritual can turn ugly, however, if not everyone has gotten to the point where they find the disaster stories funny.

4. THE REAPPROPRIATION OF STORE-BOUGHT ITEMS.

Transfer a store-bought pie crust to a bigger pan, filling out the extra space with pieces of another store-bought pie crust, and it's not quite so pre-manufactured anymore. Put pineapple chunks in the Jello, and it becomes something done "our way." The theme of the importance of the "homemade" emerges in the ritual of slightly changing the convenience foods to make them less convenient.

5. THE PET'S MEAL.

The pet is fed special food while everyone looks on and takes photos. This ritual enacts the theme of inclusion also involved in the inviting of those with "nowhere else to go."

6. PUTTING AWAY THE LEFTOVERS.

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In some cultures, feasts are followed by a ritual destruction of the surplus. At Thanksgiving, the Puritan value of frugality is embodied in the wrapping and packing up of all the leftovers. Even in households in which cooking from scratch is rare, the turkey carcass may be saved for soup. No such concern for waste is exhibited toward the packaging, which does not come from "a labor of love" and is simply thrown away.

7. TAKING A WALK.

After the eating and the groaning and the belly patting, someone will suggest a walk and a group will form to take a stroll. Sometimes the walkers will simply do laps around the house, but they often head out into the world to get some air. There is usually no destination involved, just a desire to move and feel the satisfied quietness of abundance—and to make some room for dessert.

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

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Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

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15 Halloween Movies for People Who Don’t Like Horror Movies

Peter Boyle and Gene Wilder in Mel Brooks's Young Frankenstein (1974).
Peter Boyle and Gene Wilder in Mel Brooks's Young Frankenstein (1974).
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

As soon as the first cool breeze blows a few crunchy leaves off their branches, horror fans come crawling out of the woodwork, eager to indulge their love of every movie that features a chainsaw, a massacre, or a chainsaw massacre. Meanwhile, people who prefer to celebrate Halloween without having to sleep with the lights on return to a few safe favorites—classics like Hocus Pocus (1993), Beetlejuice (1998), and The Addams Family (1991). While your steel-nerved friends are busy with slashers and scream queens, here are 15 gently spooky movies for you to check out.

1. Halloweentown (1998)

What Bette Midler did for Hocus Pocus, Debbie Reynolds does for Halloweentown (though, regrettably, Reynolds doesn’t get a chance to show off her singing chops beyond the odd incantation). The Singin’ in the Rain star plays a kooky, kindly witch whose three grandchildren follow her to Halloweentown—home to every magical creature imaginable—and battle evil forces with their newly discovered powers. The film was first released as a Disney Channel Original Movie, and it quickly became a fan favorite among ’90s kids. Unsurprisingly, Disney happily capitalized on this success: By 2006, three sequels had been made.

2. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s 2014 mockumentary—the basis for the equally hysterical FX series of the same name—follows a few wacky vampires trying to navigate roommate conflicts, nightclub dynamics, and other modern-day situations without drawing attention to their more murderous predilections. Not only will the film have you screaming for mercy (due to laughter, not pain), it’ll also make it impossible for you to ever fear a vampire again. Warning: Though the movie is undoubtedly a comedy, there is a lot of blood featured.

3. Young Frankenstein (1974)

Mel Brooks’s 1974 mock horror film stars Gene Wilder as Dr. Frankenstein’s grandson, a doctor who has spent his life trying—and failing—to distance himself from his embarrassing elder relative. The younger Dr. Frankenstein reluctantly takes a trip to Transylvania to scope out his inherited castle and ends up embroiled in experiments that involve several creepy servants (played by Cloris Leachman and Marty Feldman, among others) and, yes, an undead monster. Wilder is wild-eyed, wild-haired, and side-splittingly hilarious throughout the film, making this a must-see for everyone who thinks all horror films should actually just be comedies.

4. The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical been acclaimed as a feat of theater for more than 30 years. But not enough people appreciate Joel Schumacher's 2004 film adaptation, which boasts earnest performances by Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, and Gerard Butler (plus Minnie Driver in a standing-ovation-worthy supporting role). It’s not exactly a ghost story, since the titular phantom is a real man, but it does have plenty of eerie organ music, secret passageways, and possibly the best underground lair of all time.

5. Practical Magic (1998)

Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman star as spirited sister witches with cursed love lives (literally—their beaus always die young) in this big-screen adaptation of Alice Hoffman’s beloved novel. One accidental murder and an ill-advised resurrection spell later, the pair ends up being investigated by a dashing, steely-eyed detective played by Aidan Quinn. Think Gilmore Girls, but with magic.

6. Death Becomes Her (1992)

Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn play aging frenemies who toss back questionable cocktails from the enigmatic Lisle Von Rhuman (Isabella Rossellini), who promises them wrinkle-free eternal life. They soon find out that “alive” and “not dead” aren’t exactly the same state, and plastic surgeon-turned-mortician Ernest Menvill (Bruce Willis) scrambles to keep them from (quite literally) falling to pieces. It’s equal parts campy and macabre, complete with creaky old mansions and dark stormy nights.

7. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Some films may have a bloodthirsty talking plant, a sadistic dentist, or Rick Moranis, but the 1986 remake of 1960’s Little Shop of Horrors is the only one with all three. Said dentist, by the way, is played by Steve Martin, and Levi Stubbs lends his bluesy baritone to the plant. Bill Murray and John Candy both make memorable cameos, and Tisha Campbell heads up a ’60s-inspired trio that narrates the action, Greek chorus-style. Did we mention that everyone is constantly singing?

8. Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2017)

Based on Mary Stewart’s 1971 children’s book, this enchanting movie from a couple former Studio Ghibli filmmakers tells the story of a girl who stumbles upon a magical flower and gets carried off to a witch’s school in the sky. She has to fight a few evildoers, of course, but the film overall exudes the same curative charm as Ghibli projects like Howl’s Moving Castle (which easily could’ve landed on this list, too).

9. Scooby-Doo (2002)

Everyone’s favorite inarticulate Great Dane and his meddling friends head to a theme park called Spooky Island to investigate possible demon activity. The mystery itself is mildly engaging, but the cast’s commitment to their caricature-ish roles is what does the heavy-lifting for this goofy movie: Linda Cardellini as Velma; Sarah Michelle Gellar as Daphne; Matthew Lillard as Shaggy; and Freddie Prinze Jr. as Fred. And in case you forget mid-movie that this takes place during the early 2000s, Sugar Ray’s beach concert should help you remember.

10. Van Helsing (2004)

This kitschy monster mash features Dracula, Frankenstein, Mr. Hyde, some werewolves, and Kate Beckinsale’s Transylvanian accent. The unifying factor is Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing, an upstanding monster assassin with the swagger of Robin Hood and the general vibe of Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. It’s almost as if writer/director/producer Stephen Sommers (best known for 1999's The Mummy) challenged himself to see how many monsters he could fit into one film in the same way that you might stuff your cheeks full of marshmallows. The result is just as entertaining.

11. The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

A devilish stranger named Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) shows up in a small Rhode Island town and promptly begins seducing three local friends, played by Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Susan Sarandon. As the women grow closer to their mysterious new man, they start to discover some latent powers of their own. (Their hair also gets significantly bigger, which seems to be some stylistic indication that magic is afoot.) The film isn’t scary, but it will teach you not to enter into a polygamous relationship with a man who keeps hinting that he’s the devil.

12. Corpse Bride (2005)

The Tim Burton-produced The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) has all the obvious trappings of a Halloween film—pumpkins, skeletons, monsters, a town called “Halloween Town,” etc.—but his 2005 fantasy Corpse Bride is just as spooky. Through almost no fault of his own, a spindly young groom ends up married to a dead, maggoty maiden, who leads him through the underworld to help him get back to his real bride. It’s very Gothic, vaguely Orphean, and much more quirky than scary.

13. Beautiful Creatures (2012)

In modern-day South Carolina, a teenage “caster” (as in spellcaster) races to break a curse that will determine whether she’s good or evil as soon as she turns 16 years old. Listening to Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons drawl in syrupy Southern accents is a good enough reason to watch this box office flop, and the fact that there’s a giant spell book with shadowy ink spilling from its pages (among other seasonally appropriate special effects) justifies doing it around Halloween.

14. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

When a doe-eyed young woman (Susan Sarandon) and her clean-cut fiancé (Barry Bostwick) run into car trouble, they happen upon a creepy old castle that they hope has a working telephone—so far, pretty predictable. What follows is anything but. Inside, a self-described transvestite named Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) is hosting various ghoulish punks for the Annual Transylvanian Convention, where he debuts a glistening, muscly boy toy of his own creation. Innocence is lost, the Time Warp is performed with gusto, and this film (which is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year) is not appropriate for young kids. It is, however, appropriate for Halloween.

15. The Witches (1990)

If 1991’s The Addams Family and its 1993 sequel made Anjelica Huston a Halloween icon, 1990’s The Witches set her on that path in the first place. It’s a Jim Henson-produced adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel, and Huston plays an elegant, cackling witch with big plans (namely, to transform all children into mice). By next year’s holiday, you’ll be able to compare Huston’s performance to Anne Hathaway’s—as she’s reprising the role in a remake tentatively scheduled for 2021.