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It's more than turkey ...

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

When asked, "What is your favorite holiday?", most of the people I have known throughout my life have responded with "Christmas". The world puts so much effort into the magic of Christmas so that response makes sense.


My answer has been the same since I was a kid. Thanksgiving. Always Thanksgiving. That's where the magic lived in my family. And for me, it was never about the food. I never cared what was on the table, it was always about who was sitting around it.


Fact: My Mom's family landed in the United States as refugees from Africa the day before Thanksgiving in 1972. All they had was each other and a family in Manheim, PA who sponsored them.


I don't remember each Thanksgiving. I don't have specific memories I could tape to each year (except that one time they put the turkey on a plastic tray and back into the oven to stay warm 🫠). But I remember the way it made me feel. The excitement of finding out who was going to be there, talking about what games we were going to play, planning out the menu, and doing hours of prep the night before. Our family of five would always coordinate outfit colors because that was when Mom got the photo she'd use for our Happy New Year E-cards. Pre-dinner photos were as traditional as the meal itself.


The Wednesday before always turned into a little vibe preview. We'd listen to Celine Dion blasting throughout the kitchen as we prepared cookie trays, broke out the egg nog, and carefully crafted the deviled eggs (fully aware that those eggs would never make it to the next day). Mom, Dad, Aunt, and Uncle always bustling around the kitchen... chopping for the stuffing, doing a million dishes, and discussing whether the giant turkey would even fit in the oven. Some years the guest list was so long that we needed two turkeys.


Those were the best years. Everyone together. Intense games of Spoons taking place on the kitchen floor. The 'second dinner'. Moments and memories created and sewn together with the most unfiltered and genuine love. Happy people just coming together, cooking, and laughing until the sun kissed the horizon - and having seemingly no idea how meaningful it would be. As the years went by, the cousins in their late 20s became husbands and wives. And then parents. And despite an open invite, the table seemed to be emptier every year. We'd come home from Penn State to find out that it would "only be us" this year. Time would pass and we'd get a new face here or there. But as we became the cousins in our thirties, the "us" dwindled down to two families. 40 table settings turned into 12.


November 25, 2021 was be the smallest Thanksgiving I can remember. 7 of us.

November 25, 2021 was also the last time I took a Thanksgiving photo with my Dad.




Writing that sentence made me cry.




When my parents decided to move to Arizona, one of the things my mom talked about a lot was hosting Thanksgiving. Eventually, the plan became that (for the first time in 20 years), we'd have our dinner at a different table. We all talked about it a lot - I think we were all trying to get used to the idea of change. As it turned out, the house we were in wouldn't be the biggest change of Thanksgiving 2022.


To be honest, I'm not sure my heart would have survived a Lititz Thanksgiving that year.


So everyone came to Arizona. It was uncomfortable. It was hard. We were only mildly organized. And nothing really seemed to go the way I envisioned it. We ended up having our actual dinner with a whole new family of humans (my Mom's AZ bestie). And you know what, we were okay. Great even. We still played games and laughed and stayed up until 5:00 in the morning. We made deviled eggs and listened to Celine Dion. Sure, we cried a little. And bickered a little. And sometimes needed space from each other. But as I look back now, I may have been happier in those moments together than I had been at any moment in that half of 2022.


On this day that he loved, even with our broken hearts - we showed up. We gave each other the same genuine and unfiltered love that I remember from my childhood. Despite all of the change, the love this family has built felt the same. And that is my holiday magic.


This year, Lititz Thanksgiving is making its way to Georgia. Another year of embracing change. Trying to be helpful without stepping on each other's toes. Family photos. All of the games. Unpredictable emotions. More place settings. And basking in the endless love.


Oh, and I guess there will be turkey there too.


Here's to the holidays, y'all. 🍻

May your hearts be full and your glasses be fuller. 💙

1 Comment


Salimah Handa
Salimah Handa
Nov 12, 2023

Thanksgiving is my fave too. And I’ve seen the same ebbs and flows from PA to GA and large to small and back again. Can’t wait to share this one with you!

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