jessica tholmer
November 16, 2015 8:24 am

Look, I know that Thanksgiving isn’t for another week but I am already fully in the holiday spirit. Rather than bog everyone down with Christmas-related posts, I decided to really try to dig through my Thanksgiving knowledge instead. There just are not enough Thanksgiving movies, or episodes, or things, but there are some and it had been a long time since I had watched The West Wing. And you know what I’m thankful for? The West Wing. So, let’s do this.

EINTKILF A West Wing Thanksgiving

1. Don’t butcher American history.
So there are really only two true “Thanksgiving” episodes of The West Wing, but season 2’s “Shibboleth” is a solid enough episode that there really doesn’t need to be more than that. Before the title credits even pop up, we already have quite a few wonderful lessons to discuss, namely you can’t butcher American history.

CJ is attempting to ask Sam and Toby a simple question about a group called “The Jamestown Mayflower Daughters of the American Revolution Preservation Society” but ends up completely offending Toby because he actually knows a thing or two about American history — well, and everything, because it’s Toby.

CJ: Have either of you heard of, I don’t know, the something the Jamestown Mayflower Daughters of the American Revolution Preservation Society?
Toby: The Jamestown—?
CJ: I may have gotten the name wrong. They’re inviting the White House to participate in some Thanksgiving Revolutionary War re-enactment.
Toby: Let’s not torture American History completely to death.

2. Someone has to handle the birds. 
Because men are always the worst, Sam, Toby, and Josh direct a couple of turkeys to be placed into CJ’s office after she had already gone home. Why does this matter? Because CJ does everything for everyone, all of the time. Not only that, but CJ had already pointedly discussed how the guys always check out for holidays, similar to seniors before finals.

That all being said, the turkeys being placed in CJ’s office is hilarious so I am really happy that it happened.

3. Masters degrees don’t matter.
So the whole point of CJ having turkeys in her office is because she is delegated with the task of choosing the more photogenic turkey to be pardoned by the President—an age-old tradition, apparently. When sweet Donna breaks the news to CJ that she is the one in charge of choosing the pardoned turkey, CJ points out her credentials, something that she does relatively often because she SHOULD because she is incredibly educated and awesome.

CJ: I’m to choose the more photogenic of the two to receive a presidential pardon? I have a master’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley.
Donna: That’s a good school.
CJ: Yeah.

And the whole point of all of that is that your Masters degree from your prestigious university will not always get you out of tasks like choosing a turkey to be pardoned by the President.

4. The Germans know how to make a knife.
As President Bartlet tells Charlie, the Germans know how to make a knife.

President Bartlet: This is an American knife.
Charlie: Yes.
President Bartlet: No German knives for us.
Charlie: No, sir.
President Bartlet: Good job.
Charlie: Thank you.
President Bartlet: Hold on.
Charlie: Sir?
President Bartlet: No, the balance isn’t right.
Charlie: I’ll take it back, sir.
President Bartlet: You know what we need?
Charlie: A German knife? I’ll get on it.

That all being said, I know nothing about American v. German knives but what I do know is that I would never disagree with President Bartlet. That also being said, that knife is something that always makes me cry but we’ll get to that in a minute.

5. What a Shibboleth is.
So the episode title for this particular Thanksgiving episode is “Shibboleth,” and if you are like me, you have no idea what that means. Because President Bartlet is the most knowledgable President of all-time (real or fictional), he obviously teaches everyone what it means. Basically, Shibboleth comes from the Bible but it was also used as a password for “the army to distinguish true Israelites from impostors sent across the river Jordan by the enemy.” It all very clearly fits into the episode what with the overall Thanksgiving theme.

6. Father figures are everywhere. 
So, as I mentioned previously, a German knife is a punchline in the earlier part of the episode but it actually ends up being one of the most touching moments in West Wing history—at least for me. There are a few things that always make me cry while re-watching West Wing, and this is almost tied for first.

Because President Bartlet is like a father figure to Charlie and because Charlie loves him like a role model and like family and they have great banter (duh, Sorkin) but they also have a genuinely loving relationship. These two. Gah, my heart.

Also Paul Revere made the knife, in case you weren’t impressed yet.

7. Don’t cross the presidential line.
So we can move onto the other great West Wing Thanksgiving episodes entitled “The Indians in the Lobby.” The episode begins, hilariously, with CJ and President Bartlet chatting about farms and Camp David. When President Bartlet pauses and asks CJ to prompt him on what they were discussing, CJ quips that when she “came in here, in the late ’50s,” there was a purpose to their discussion. Though CJ and Bartlet always have a great relationship, he reminds her that she has just very much crossed the line that you are not supposed to cross when it comes to disrespecting the President.

Most of us will never work for the President so we can’t relate, but you know the things you would never say to your boss? This is like that except your boss is the POTUS so you have to just…extra not say stuff.

8. Butterball has a hotline.
Probably the most important lesson in any West Wing episode ever?

Just kidding, but in case you didn’t know, Butterball really does have a hotline and yes, like President Bartlet, you should love your country because of it.

9. Fight injustice.

CJ: How do you keep fighting these small injustices when they’re all from the mother of injustices?
Maggie: What’s the alternative?

Speaking of crying…CJ has to handle a situation that arises on Thanksgiving that includes, as the episode is entitled, “two Indians in the lobby.” Though I am uncomfortable with that title, it should be noted that these two individuals identify as Indian and they are also making a very real and strong point about the current state of affairs in their country. Though CJ is initially frustrated with the situation — because there really isn’t much she can do — while discussing the plan, she genuinely asks the two individuals how they have the strength to deal with the little stuff, considering it has all stemmed from a much bigger issue.

Without getting too political here, the question is an important one, even from a television show filmed in the early 2000s. When groups that have always fought injustice manage to focus on the smaller injustices instead of the bigger picture, it is important to stop and remember that everything has always stemmed from the bigger issues. And like Maggie asks CJ, “What’s the alternative?”

Fight for anything and everything you can fight for. It just might make a difference.

10. Turkeys deserve to be pardoned. 
Flipping back to “Shibboleth,” when it finally comes down to CJ having to choose which turkey gets pardoned, she struggles with doing so. She doesn’t want to choose between Eric and Troy so she does everything she can to save both of their lives—including asking the President to pardon both.

Look, if we all thought of every turkey as a Troy or an Eric, we might not even be eating turkey on Thanksgiving. In CJ’s world, both turkeys live, even though it is a ridiculous thing to ask the President of the United States to do. Everyone loves CJ though, right? I’d pardon anything for her if I had the power.

This all being said, happy Thanksgiving! Or, you know, happy almost Thanksgiving.

Images via NBC, here, here, and here

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