Letter from the Editor

A November Letter from the Editor: No Matter What Happens, Thanksgiving Is Coming

updated Nov 2, 2020
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Credit: Bijou Karman

Since I was small, my family has had a Thanksgiving tradition of writing down each family member’s gratitudes from the past year in a small, steadily-yellowing book. We would read past years’ entries out loud, smirking at obvious parental fill-ins (“Paul: Age 1. Is thankful to God for his blankie and for learning to walk”). But predictably, what was eye-rolling when you’re a kid comes full circle when you’re a parent. I look at my two small daughters, meditatively, with a strong desire to remember their avaricious toddler desires and prompted gratitudes years from now when they slouch down to Thanksgiving dinner wearing too much eyeliner. 

This family tradition is not just sentimentality: a record of gratitude is also a record of how what we want changes from year to year.  

Thanksgiving is the perfect day to see what has changed in you, because it is the Groundhog Day of holidays. For most Americans, gathering around a homogeneous meal, it’s deja vu — sitting in the same place, the same time, the same cut glass pitcher your mother keeps in the upper cupboard for holidays only. It’s the same smell of turkey and the same fretting over whether the rolls are dry. It’s you and your cousins, your siblings. Same place, same food, same people, new year. And you get to look at yourself and see what has changed in you, what you like, and what you want. Going to Thanksgiving dinner is the double-blind controlled experiment of life. Its sameness asks us: What have you learned and unlearned in the past year, since you sat in this very spot and ate this exact plate of food? 

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I’ve discovered that actually, now that I’m no longer a diffident and awkward adolescent, I like my cousins and my extended family and hugely enjoy conversation with them. One year I discovered that I like sweet potatoes, after years of avoidance. Every year I find that I’ve gained fresh freedom from family patterns that in the past felt restrictive. 

But this year, hoo boy. No more sameness. Most of us won’t be sitting with our cousins and siblings. We won’t be at Grandma’s. The Groundhog Day of Thanksgiving has vanished in 2020; we’ve got nothing but change in this pandemic-stricken world. And I think there are two urges: One to recapture that deja vu and make Thanksgiving taste as normal as possible, and the other to lean into change and make Thanksgiving a burning new thing. 

Personally, I don’t know yet what I’m doing for Thanksgiving. But I think I’m starting our own book of Thanksgiving gratitudes, deeply curious as to what my daughters’ mysterious little brains will offer up as their thankful moments of 2020. I need to eat stuffing. I want a turkey carcass stuffed into my Instant Pot at 7:02 p.m. Thursday evening. I want the pleasures of the Thanksgiving meal, but none of the anxiety of travel. I miss my grandmother, safely quarantined but alone in her assisted living home. I want to have time to be truly, deeply grateful for our health and safety like never before. I want to reread the lead essay from the 1619 Project and think about America, its history, and how I can do more to be a better ally and accomplice in justice no matter where I find myself in the coming year. I want to feel safe, and I want time to consider if what I want has changed since this time last year. 

And that’s everyone’s project this year for Thanksgiving: to decide what we still want, and what has changed. I think about the fact that, no matter what happens this week in the most bitter election of our times, Thanksgiving is still coming, with this set of choices between the familiar and the new. That’s not to trivialize the very serious issues at stake; this election has real-world consequences that I feel anxious over and distracted by every day. But still, no matter what happens, Thanksgiving is coming, we’ve all changed this year, and it shouldn’t take a plate of stuffing and gravy to tell us we’re different since we sat down to pie 12 months ago. 

This month at Kitchn we’re here in that work of unlearning and learning, grieving what’s hard this year and celebrating what’s good. I know after such a locked-down time, with more restrictions likely coming soon, it might feel tough to even get excited to cook for the holiday. We put our heads together here (and our hearts) and have the most fun virtual food festival for you, coming in just two weeks…

Thanksgiving Food Fest (sign up here for full schedule and updates!) will be a full Instagram weekend of fun cooking, thoughtful Q&As, and the joyful tastes of Thanksgiving from a myriad of American viewpoints — from Priya Krishna learning her mother’s Thanksgiving matar paneer over Facetime, to Tiffanie Barriere sharing the cocktail of 2020 (hint: sorghum is involved), to Claudette Zepeda getting whimsical with a can of cranberry jelly — all hosted by YOURS TRULY. I really hope you drop in, have a bite, and use it as a launching point for your own Thanksgiving of the old and the changed, together at your table. 

Credit: Rachel Barehl

All my love to all of you, 


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