Did Chandler on ‘Friends’ Really Hate Thanksgiving?

FRIENDS, David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Jennifer Aniston, 'The One With The Late Thanksgiving', (Season 10, epis. #226), 1994-2004,
© Warner Bros. / Courtesy: Everett Collection

The holidays can bring up all sorts of mixed feelings. For Matthew Perry‘s beloved goofball Friends character Chandler, Thanksgiving caused much distress, and this was no secret. So why did he hate it so much anyway? Was it his childhood? Was it the accident that removed part of his toe? Was he just a grumpy old man?

In Season 5, Episode 8 of Friends, “The One With All the Thanksgivings,” which aired in 1998, the six now-beloved New Yorkers are so full from their holiday dinner they sit around their apartment reminiscing and sharing stories of previous Thanksgivings. First, Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) shares the one where Joey (Matt LeBlanc) gets a turkey stuck on his head after placing it there to scare Chandler.

FRIENDS, (from left): Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, 'The One With All The Thanksgivings', (Season 5, ep. 508, aired Nov. 19, 1998), 1994-2004.

Warner Bros. Television/Courtesy Everett Collection

Then there’s the one where Monica (Courteney Cox), still in high school, first meets Chandler after Ross (David Schwimmer) brings him over for their family Thanksgiving dinner, and she overhears him calling her fat. This is followed by the one where Chandler ends up in the ER due to a kitchen knife mishap, caused by Monica’s failed attempts at seduction, when she was trying to trick him into getting naked so she could lock him out of the house without his clothes as revenge. Chandler gets angry, because he had no idea that was the cause of the kitchen mishap, so Monica ends up trying to smooth things over with him by putting a raw turkey on her own head and doing a funny dance. This ends up causing Chandler to laugh and accidentally tell her he loves her for the first time. Basically, all is forgiven.

FRIENDS, from left, Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox, 'The One with All the Thanksgivings,' (Season 5, aired November 19, 1998), 1994-2004.

Warner Brothers / courtesy Everett Collection

But Chandler is still haunted by Thanksgiving, because, he explains, that was when his parents told them they were getting divorced. Or he is just so used to hating Thanksgiving, he hasn’t realized yet that he no longer hates it. After all, in this episode, he says he is the king of a bad Thanksgiving, not that he hates it. In the flashbacks, Ross tells his parents Chandler won’t eat any food relating to Thanksgiving, but in the present, he seems to have gotten over it, since he is also full from dinner, like the rest of them.

FRIENDS, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox, 'The One With The Late Thanksgiving', (Season 10, epis. #226), 1994-2004,

Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

The idea here seems to be that his friendships with Ross and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) and the rest have served to heal his past trauma over the holiday. And that might have been the entire theme of the show, really, when you get down to it: that in modern times, with everyone moving apart so rapidly and often, your friends become your new family. This is likely why it resonates with so many people still to this day. It’s also a feel-good comedy, where you know nothing too bad will ever happen; no one’s going to get hit over the head six seasons in with a bat named Lucille, for example.

Which is also why, perhaps, Friends became so popular in Ukraine, of all places.

Even with war raging in the background, or perhaps because of it, Ukrainians have been mourning the loss of Matthew Perry since hearing the news at the end of October. Most American television doesn’t make it over to Eastern Europe. (When I was there in 2018, my former neighbor in Chernivtsi had never heard of Game of Thrones or Netflix.) But some shows become huge successes, and apparently, this was one of those shows. An entire generation of Ukrainians learned to speak Ukrainian because Friends was one of the first shows dubbed in this language, after the Soviet Union fell apart and Russian was no longer the national tongue. (Trust me, as a native Russian speaker also born in Ukraine, these two languages are nothing alike — Polish is probably closer to Russian than Ukrainian.)

A show about single friends in New York City may not seem relatable to young people in Kiev, especially now, but perhaps that is why it is so enjoyable to them. It offers an escape into an easier life, even if temporarily.

February 2021
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