Thanksgiving is a peculiarly North American holiday. I know they celebrate in Canada (see Angelle’s comment below for more history on this) and I assume they have some of the same traditions that we have in the US: food, family, and fun! Oh, and a side helping of dysfunctional family dynamics, I imagine. And I also know Gabriel and his family celebrate Thanksgiving here in his adopted country. So I don’t feel it is amiss for me to hijack one of his best films to help illustrate a bit about this odd turkey-centered observance that occurs the fourth Thursday of every November.

Emotional Arithmetic, (also known as Autumn Hearts: A New Beginning, the title of the DVD), is a film Gabriel made a decade or so ago, in Canada, with director Paolo Barzman, co-starring Susan Sarandon, Max Von Sydow, and Christopher Plummer. Based on the award-winning and beautifully-written book by Matt Cohen, it tells a special tale of survival and renewal that many fans find especially poignant this time of year. Its colors are those of autumn, and we find the story inhabited by characters in the autumn of their lives as well.

Although Mr. Cohen is not telling a Thanksgiving story, and Mr. Barzman has other things on his film-maker’s mind, there are many scenes, in the film especially, that recall this time of year.

For example:

Being Alone

The solitary walks in fall to watch the turning of the seasons, from glad summer to a more somber autumn, the last burst of colors giving way eventually to darker hues and bare branches, before rejoining family and friends to celebrate the holiday.

Holiday Travel

Meeting family and friends at the airport is a tradition many will observe. Waiting expectantly for the loved one(s) to appear. And then they do and the questions begin! Oh, how you’ve changed! Or, you look just the same! Are you happy? Are you okay? What’s wrong? How good it is to see you! Who is this you’ve brought with you? It’s wonderful to have you home again!

Going Home

Then there is the ride home, full of conversation, shared stories, catching up. An argument or two, trivial stuff. Sometimes drama. And often laughter!

Thanksgiving Dinner

There are so many rituals and traditions that surround Thanksgiving! Every family has its special customs–the college football game, the Thanksgiving Day Parade (on television or on Main Street), the after-dinner nap. Thanksgiving, though, is really all about Thanksgiving Dinner. A beautiful table set to create a special holiday atmosphere. A traditional toast of thanks for family and friends. Turkey. Dressing. Those familiar food items (Mom’s deviled eggs, Aunt Julia’s marshmallow sweet potatoes, Uncle George’s weird homemade wine). That one unappetizing side dish–green bean casserole? Oh yeah. And cranberries, of course. And then, if there is room in the tummy, pie! Pumpkin pie is required, but there is also pecan pie. Bourbon pecan pie. Maple pecan pie. Who knows what pecan pie! With lots of whipped cream…

And then a nap. LOL!

Group Dynamics

Some families are happy and excited to be together at Thanksgiving. And some are not. If there is a negative side to this holiday, it is that the dinner table offers an opportunity for the best and worst kinds of interaction and family dynamics. Old feuds, festering over time, erupt once again. Politics can cause a chilly silence. The past collides with the present sometimes and suddenly everyone is upset, or laughing, or both. Still, we get together once a year to celebrate something–the founding of a country, the spirit of our ancestors, the bounty that is ours, the fortune that we enjoy and hopefully share with others. A little family dysfunction can’t ruin a good party, so we do it. Every. Year. That’s tradition!

The Unexpected

Sometimes we reconnect with those we love in ways we do not anticipate. They surprise us. They unsettle us. They remind us of who we are. That can be a Thanksgiving gift.

Reconciliation and the Giving of Thanks

And finally, we are sometimes presented with the opportunity to heal an old wound, recognize a good deed from the past, acknowledge a debt, offer thanks. And that can be the best Thanksgiving gift of all.

I treasure this film. I hope you enjoy it this year, to help you celebrate Thanksgiving, or to observe Autumn and the passage of time, or to just relive a great story about intriguing people with complicated pasts trying to find their way to the future. Emotional Arithmetic is rewarding story-telling: intense, funny and dramatic, delicate and heart-poundingly turbulent. I cherish it and I will always be thankful Gabriel chose to be a part of it.

Happy Thanksgiving to you! heart


  1. all I can do is hoping a happy thanksgiving to Gabriel Byrne and his family of course and for you Stella and your family thank you for giving me a great choice what’s to watch in this weekend in my religion we don’t actually celebrate on any of this but I bet you got a good tradition back there in Thursday of fourth November. I’m both glad and happy to read you again here Stella ❤️!

    • Thanks, Rawabi! I hope you enjoyed this essay. It is always good to be reminded of great Gabriel movies, and this is one of his best!

      Happy Thanksgiving to you, even though you don’t really celebrate this holiday. ;-)

      Stella <3

      • sadly the movie is not available* yettt so I made a special request to website that I know and he respond and said it will be available soon so I thought sharing with you my extremely happiness with this great updates ❤️

  2. Heide Pilc

    Thank you, Stella, for creating such a wonderful collage ‘giving thanks’ to the artistry of Gabriel Byrne.

  3. The first official, annual Thanksgiving in Canada was celebrated on 6 November 1879, though Indigenous peoples in Canada have a history of celebrating the fall harvest that predates the arrival of European settlers. Sir Martin Frobisher and his crew are credited as the first Europeans to celebrate a Thanksgiving ceremony in North America, in 1578. They were followed by the inhabitants of New France under Samuel de Champlain in 1606. – Canadian Encyclopedia
    Stella , thank you for this beautiful and truthful essay on giving thanks, such a universal theme. We celebrate Thanksgiving in October in Canada when the leaves are in their colourful fall splendour as seen in Emotional Arithmetic, one of my favourite films. Exquisite shots of Quebec’s Eastern Townships in autumn juxtapose scenes of the characters grappling with how their past is affecting their present. In the film everything revolves around the day spent preparing for the dinner and its aftermath. I have to go watch again with your essay in mind.

    • I knew my cousins to the North celebrated this holiday! Thanks for the history.

      I’ve always considered Emotional Arithmetic the perfect Autumn/Thanksgiving film. So it was fun (and instructive) to write about it in that context. Although the characters in this story are grappling with surviving the Holocaust and the aftermath of such a devastating experience, I think the focus on life, as Jakob says, is paramount. Implied in his exhortation–to live, not just to remember–is also “give thanks,” I think. Much more can be written about this film, obviously, but thinking about it as a guide to observing Thanksgiving seemed a worthy past-time. :-)

      Happy Thanksgiving (belated) to you, Angelle!

      Stella <3

  4. Verónica

    Beautiful everything.
    Your “tale”, “Autumn Hearts” pictures .
    Wish you and family a very Happy Thanksgiving dinner and to Gabriel and family as well.
    We, in Argentina, don’t celebrate it, but sounds nice what you say about this tradition of yours. <3

    • Happy Thanksgiving to you, Verónica, even though you do not celebrate it! LOL!

      I give thanks on a daily basis that you are the moderator for the Gabriel Facebook Page and I know everyone who visits is as thankful as I am for your great presence there!

      Stella <3

  5. Happy Thanksgiving to Mr. Byrne and his family. He worked so hard this year and now it’s a wonderful time to spend it with beloved ones. Happy Thanksgiving to you, Stella and all Byrneholics, I’m glad to be a part of a very friendly “family”. Emotional Arithmetic is a wonderful film for this holiday and for all times. Our best support in life is our family and nothing can be more important. Thank you for such a warm and soulful essay. <3

    • I am thankful you are part of this Byrneholics Family, Violetta! I appreciate your contributions on the Facebook Page so much. Gabriel has been working hard this year and I’m hopeful that he is able to join his family for a warm holiday and some well deserved rest. In the meantime, we will keep the home fires Byrne-ing here. Happy Thanksgiving! <3

  6. Michelle Ayala

    Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in here and thank you for reminding me that I already own this film and should pull it out to watch again. It was such a simple film but it deeply resonates within your soul all the experiences shared by all these characters. I know the Native Americans see this holiday as a national genocide day and it is understood that this holiday is not what I thought it was meant to be, however I can only view it as a time of rest and relaxation to be with people that you care about and, in turn, care about you. The story line of the holocaust reminds me of and makes me think of Indigenous people who have had to survive the settlers wrath before WW2, during and beyond. My heart goes out to all of those who have had to endure ANY holocaust of the past and continue to till this day.

    • Michelle, the Thanksgiving holiday is fraught with historical unpleasantness, it is true, but Abraham Lincoln, our president during the Civil War, made Thanksgiving a national holiday for the very first time for a reason. A writer I follow on Twitter shared this message with us today:

      “Lincoln was a builder — of infrastructure, myth, law, legend. He made Thanksgiving a national holiday. Even as the country was torn apart by Civil War, Lincoln was trying to build a framework — history, values, symbols — to put it back together again. So just weeks before the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln issued a proclamation about all the things Americans still had to be thankful for. Lincoln knew that what we had to be thankful for, above all else, was that we fought on the right side, for a cause greater than ourselves, in order to show others that it was possible to prosper from freedom and unity more than oppression and stratification… So remember this year how much we have to be thankful for, and what the price was. It is not our victories that define us, but the fights we choose to fight. ” –Molly McKew

      So, in between the turkey and the pumpkin pies and the arguments and laughter with our families and friends, we remember “the better angels of our nature” and why we work so hard to keep our countries safe and strong–and fair and just and diverse and honorable. That’s my wish for Thanksgiving, and my reason for giving thanks in the first place.

      All the best to you. Stella <3

  7. Bernardita Ossa Rojas

    Hi there, Stella!
    Wish you a very good thanksgiving day, full of blessings and good times. No matter if it is not celebrated here in Chile, the aim of this cellebration is beautiful and with a sense of being united, an opportunity to thank what it really matters in our lives. Thanks for letting me be part of the worldwide fans that Gabriel Byrne has in the past, now, and tomorrow. A big hug for you and your family, and, for sure, a big hug for Mr. Byrne.

    • Bernardita, you are a welcome member of Byrneholics and we are glad to have you with us!

      Thanksgiving is a warm family holiday and I know everyone can relate to that. There is something about sitting down to a table full of food, surrounded by friends and family (even those you argue with!) that makes the world feel like a good place. And that’s a good thing.

      A big hug for you, too, and one for Gabriel as well, from us both! <3

  8. Verónica

    Hi my dear friend (and this is not a fake greeting)
    Sorry I didn’t thank your words in time but, you know, there are many comments to answer and many pics to publish on Facebook. I am happy you and people like my job and for me it’s a pleasure being busy with Gabriel’s pics and with his Fans.
    Big cyber hug for you <3

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