Stories for a Very Different Kind of Thanksgiving

11 perspectives on food, family, and American history

Human Parts
Human Parts


Before we log off to join our respective Zoom Thanksgivings, we wanted to share a few memorable perspectives on this holiday — how it started, the stories we tell ourselves about it, and what it means to give thanks (especially this year). You’ll find humor, revisionist history, and some advice on coping with homesickness (if that’s what you’re feeling this highly unconventional holiday season). Also, a few of our favorite family-themed personal essays.

Until next week,
The Human Parts Team

1. “What Poverty Taught Me About Being ‘Too Generous’” by Kristine Levine

I was five years old when my mom took off with me to the coast. She said she needed a do-over. We were starting fresh, with no belongings, no toys, no furniture. She said we had empty hands so that we could catch new blessings.

We also had empty pockets, and she had no job. She’d drank our whole life away, and the booze had left us washed up in a tiny beach town called Rockaway, Oregon. She was hoping the ocean would catch her tears and loosen her chains…

A Black person standing in front of a white person who’s got their arm around a white child in an abstract room.
Illustration: Sarah Mazzetti

2. “The Best Homesickness Cure When You Can’t Go Home for the Holidays” by Veronica Walsingham

A reminder that, in Walsingham’s words, “When you’re feeling stressed or sad about your current circumstances, re-experiencing familiar stories can bring a soothing sense of control.”

3. “The Surprising True Story of the First Thanksgiving” by Sam Ursu

On refugees, colonizers, and porridge.

Painting of Pilgrims and Indigenous people having dinner together outside.
‘The First Thanksgiving’ (1621) by J.L.G. Ferris via Library of Congress

4. “Kimchi: How My Heritage Became a Hipster Pickle” by Julladonna Park

There’s a special violence to the way we are born craving our mother as our source of food. Once we are weaned, the bonds of family and love enable us to consume her time, her labor, her dreams.

Simple crayon drawing of a dish of kimchi, a spoon, and a set of chopsticks on a blue-gridded placemat.
Illustration: Julladonna Park

5. “When I’m Gone” by Rafael Zoehler

A short story about fathers, sons, and a forgotten box of letters.

Abstract mixed-media work. A black scribble next to brown cardstock with a square cut out on a splotchy pink paint background
Illustration: Jane Corwell/Flickr

6. “When Thanksgiving Day Was Rescheduled to Maximize Shopping Time” by Stephanie Buck

Have you ever thought that whoever decided to time Thanksgiving just weeks after presidential elections was an American sadist? Welp, it was Abraham Lincoln who made that call. And Franklin Roosevelt actually tried to make the annual family meal/debate even closer.

Black-and-white photo of FDR carving a turkey, seated next to Eleanor Roosevelt and some children.
Photo: Bettman/Getty Images

7. “What’s the Best Thing You’ve Ever Cooked? No, Seriously.” by Purnima Mani

When I was first learning to cook, I asked my grandmother how everything she made tasted incredible. “You might laugh because it sounds silly, but if you think about the people you are cooking for as you do it, and how you want them to feel when they eat it, your food will tell them that,” she said, as though it were just that simple. I was 22 then, and this sounded simultaneously profound and cheesy. But I’ve never forgotten her words, and they ring truer the older I get. The meals that linger on my tongue are always the ones I make with intention, and those intentions somehow do reach their intended recipients. The meals I remember are the ones that tie me to people I cherish. The aromas rising from the stove rarely lie.

8. “I Can’t Understand Your Daddy’s Accent” by Alexandra Szczupak

A personal essay about immigration, embarrassing dads, and learning to appreciate where you come from.

A man with his arms around his two teenage daughters on a Polish street. One is smiling and the other looks embarrassed.
Photo: Alexandra Szczupak

9. “Ketchup Sandwiches and Other Things Stupid Poor People Eat” by Anastasia Basil

America loves helping the shoeless, iPhoneless, voteless, bug-infested Street Jesuses. These are the lost-cause poor; all they want is your pocket change. (Bless their hearts.) But the working poor? Those who claim to not have enough money for food because they also need clothes for work, water for bathing and laundry, rent for housing, heat in the winter, money for daycare, a smartphone for their job, car insurance and gas — those are some shifty motherfuckers.

10. “My Family Is a Lot of Fun on Thanksgiving” by John DeVore

I read once that Sigmund Freud believed laughter was a response to fear, which is why you don’t laugh when you tickle yourself. I believe families should laugh together because life is terrifying. If we’re all going to be afraid, then we should all be afraid together.

11. “A Letter to My Newborn Daughter” by More To That

Two cartoon parents pushing a baby carriage on a city street at night under a crescent moon.

The most valuable resource you have is not money and not time, but the way you spend your attention. The way you use your mind will color the way you view the world, so be mindful of the information and people you are in regular contact with.

By surrounding yourself with people you love, you build a world where you are loved. By applying yourself to worthwhile challenges, you live a life where everything is meaningful. By choosing to see the good in humanity, you feel empowered to live up to that standard.



Human Parts
Human Parts

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