The real meaning of Thanksgiving

November 21, 2007

by Alison Arnett

The angst over the perfect Thanksgiving is getting to me. So much fuss about the way to cook the turkey, getting the pie crust just right, how to fluff the mashed potatoes. Each day my e-mail box is full of messages from Williams-Sonoma, restaurants holding classes or offering Thanksgiving feasts. Lately, those have been matched by admonitions about obesity.

It took a young woman from Southern Sudan to put it in perspective. Tuesday morning, I interviewed Yar Ayuel in her apartment about the food she cooks from home for an article on local African food. Ayuel loves to cook, and mostly makes dishes from childhood memory, since she spent years fleeing civil wars in East Africa.

Last year, she told me, she made Thanksgiving for her family and friends. The turkey takes so long to roast, she said, laughing, and she was mystified by stuffing. But she and her friends want to be part of America, so the holiday meal was important. Her Thanksgiving dinner was good, she said, smiling shyly. At least she thought it was. “There was no one to tell us it wasn’t right.”

Ayuel may have not grown up with Thanksgiving, but she got it. A meal with family and friends. That, not perfection, is the Thanksgiving we should all have.

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