Holiday Traditions and Unrelated Cinema: A Personal Survey

God damn, but do I love holidays. I’m lucky enough to have a day job that provides days off for each and every major one (except Halloween), and since I’m a recluse who hates going anywhere that isn’t home, my version of a vacation is binge watching movies! Don’t you fucking judge me.

As the American Independence Day is upon us (for those of you living in countries without extreme freedom, that’s July 4th–or, today), I’m reminded of movie titles that I need to watch in order to feel I’ve properly celebrated the holiday: 1776 (1972), The Patriot (2000), Missing in Action 2 (1985), and Shaft in Africa (1973).

Wait, Shaft in Africa? What does that have to do with Independence Day? Absolutely nothing. And that’s what this article is all about.

There are some cinematic holiday traditions that I keep that tend to puzzle people greatly. I’m not talking about unconventional holiday movies (like Die Hard and Silent Night, Deadly Night are for Christmas, for example), or even movies that have one or two scenes involving a given holiday (once again using Christmas as an example, I’m thinking of Cobra, American Psycho, or Invasion USA)–no, that would make some sort of sense.

I’m talking about free associations I have made between certain movies and certain holidays that are completely unrelated. Rodan and Charlie Chan (any of them) for New Year’s Eve. Blackboard Jungle and First Blood for Christmas. James Bond for actual New Year’s Day (specifically, Moonraker and A View to a Kill). These are all “holiday” movies to me.

But why? Well, there’s a different reason for each film of course, but here are just a handful to better illustrate my mindset:

New Year’s Eve – Rodan (1956)

When I was a child (probably around 8 or 9), one of the local stations hosted a kaiju film marathon on New Year’s Eve for a few years. The films shown included selections primarily from the Showa Godzilla series and the Showa Gamera series, and tossed in some stand-alone Toho kaiju movies like Mothra, War of the Gargantuas, and Frankenstein Conquers the World.

One New Year’s Eve (probably the first for the marathon), my father saw in the printed TV Guide that Rodan would be among the movies shown that night. Being one of his favorite Japanese giant monster films, Pop couldn’t wait for me to see it. Well, as luck would have it, the power went out due to a snow storm that night–and just as Rodan was about to begin! Being the ever resourceful man he was, my father spent about ten minutes rummaging around in the basement with a flashlight to find a clunky, bulky, oblong black-and-white portable television. He popped in some new D batteries and on a screen no bigger than that of a flip phone, we watched Rodan until the power came back on. The film has been part of my mandatory New Year’s Eve viewing ever since.

New Year’s Day – A View to a Kill (1985)

Truthfully, any Bond film can fit in this space, but I chose A View to a Kill because it is my current favorite thanks to Christopher Walken as villain Max Zorin.

Starting in the late 1990s and going through until the mid-to-late 2000s, the cable channel TNT ran a James Bond marathon during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, with the final films showing on New Year’s Day. As a result, I’ve connected Bond films with New Year’s Day specifically.

Independence Day – Shaft in Africa (1973)

The title that prompted me to write this article in the first place, Shaft in Africa is the movie I associate with July 4th. A long time ago (we’ll say early 1990s), a neighbor of ours decided on the 4th of July that they were going to cross state lines to buy some fireworks that were illegal to sell (but not use, oddly enough) in our state, and asked my parents if they would like anything as well. After handing them a few bucks, our neighbors were off and on their journey. They returned late into the evening, long after we hosted our family picnic, and man did they have the mother load. M80s. Roman candles. Cherry bombs. Chinese lanterns. Tanks that rolled forward and fired bursts of colored flame. It was fucking awesome.

As was tradition, after watching the city’s fireworks display from our back yard (we were that close to the festivities that we could do that), we went around to the front porch and started setting off these bad boys with everyone else in the neighborhood (our neighbors hooked us all up that year). Within minutes, the whole damn street was covered in smoke, with colorful whistling lights cutting through the gunpowder fog every so often. We were out until around one or two o’clock in the morning, and when we came in, I saw that my grandmother was watching a movie on one of the local stations. She lived just down the street, and on Independence Day, she would come over for the picnic and stay the night so that she wouldn’t have to walk home and possibly get hit by a bottle rocket or something. That movie was Shaft in Africa, which was part of a Shaft marathon that the station was playing for some reason. So, I watched it with her, and it became part of what I consider to be a full Independence Day.

Thanksgiving – King Kong (1933)

This is a weird one, because it has very little to do with me personally.

Apparently, back in the 1970s, one of the national channels (NBC, ABC, or CBS–I don’t recall which) would apparently play King Kong every Thanksgiving. This might have extended into the 1980s, but I don’t remember it. At any rate, I heard about this tradition first from a local librarian in the early 2000s as I was doing research for a senior year high school project. When I asked my parents about it, they confirmed that it was true. Later that decade (probably 2007 or 2008), TCM showed King Kong on Thanksgiving where this odd tradition was mentioned by Robert Osborne. And that’s why I associate King Kong with Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving (Eve) – Black Knight (2001)

I’m not the only one who makes these sorts of bizarre associations. The Fictosphere’s own Mike Podgor, for instance, feels it isn’t truly Thanksgiving until he watches Black Knight starring Martin Lawrence:

I consider Black Knight to be a Thanksgiving film not because anything in the movie is demonstrably in the spirit of that holiday, but rather because it provides a snapshot into a Thanksgiving Eve long ago. The night was young and while I was set to play Super Nintendo for the entirety of the night, I received a call that my friend and his then girlfriend were looking to spend a night at the theater and wanted some tagalongs and their choice of film was, inexplicably, Black Knight. The three of us sat through the middling Martin Lawrence fish-out-of -water action/comedy and then set out to find a place to eat and discuss the film. Since it was the night before Thanksgiving, nowhere was open and so we drove for hours and eventually settled for take-out from Taco Bell. For some reason, I’ve never forgotten that night and its linchpin and each year I suggested we rewatch it on Thanksgiving Eve, forever securing Black Knight‘s place in my personal history and its association with Thanksgiving. 

I’m the friend in Mike’s story, by the way. I’m not sure why he was so cloak and dagger about it, but I digress. This movie has become a Thanksgiving Eve thing for me, too, and I do want to watch it again on that very day one of these years.

So, now that I’ve explained some of my odd cinematic traditions, I’m interested to hear about the weird cinematic traditions of our readers, if applicable. Do you have to watch any unrelated movies to feel like a holiday is complete? How about some other odd unrelated tradition, like listening to certain songs or going to certain places? Please feel free to share in the comments section below, or on Facebook, or on Twitter, or anywhere else that I’ve been banned.

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