Holidays in the Pandemic

Morning, everyone. This past week, Benjamin Rosenbaum and I recorded our podcast again, and with Thanksgiving coming up fast, I wanted to give you a 5-minute piece of it to listen to, because this is where we talk about how the pandemic is affecting our holidays — Thanksgiving and Diwali mostly.

I admit, I got a little teary — in my house, we’re planning on just the four of us, and that’s hard for me. My mom is the oldest of nine, and though I wasn’t always able to be there, to me, family gatherings are about as many of my 30+ cousins being there as possible; it’s such a joy seeing them, learning what’s been going on in their lives, etc.

And when we can’t be there, I’m usually trying to recreate that feeling with 40 or so people at our house in Oak Park for Friendsgiving.

We’re doing a Zoom Thanksgiving for the family this year (and thanks to my aunt Priya Vytheswaran for organizing it), but it’s just not the same as having little kids running around and eating Marina Aunty’s rolls — or even better, staying up late the night before, making short eats together, talking and talking and talking.

I think it’s okay to take a little time to grieve what we’re losing at Thanksgiving this year. If you’re still planning a large gathering, I hope you’ll reconsider — it’s not too late to cancel plans, I swear. If you live near each other, consider Trunksgiving — you drive around and drop off food on each others’ porches and doorsteps, so when you come together on Zoom, you can actually eat each others’ food. Sadly, Marina Aunty is all the way in CT — I’d totally drive an hour to pick up some of her rolls.

Ben has a very different perspective on all this, which I kind of had a hard time hearing when we were in the midst of the episode, but it’s giving me a little comfort now, where he said that his family had mostly done 4-person immediate family holidays, and that he really liked the intimacy of that. I’m thinking about how we can make Thanksgiving special for the four of us, and maybe build a little more immediate family intimacy for part of the day.

I also heard something on the Milk Street podcast that helped me too — they reminded us that virtual Thanksgiving lets us invite more people than maybe we would have been able to feed normally. I’m definitely planning some game night gatherings this week with various friends who are far-flung, who we wouldn’t normally be able to see in person for Thanksgiving.

Looking for the silver linings here, in a big storm of miserable grey clouds.


I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote last year:

kin song

in the village they married
cousin to cousin, old ways
down generations. maybe
that’s why (scattered diaspora
across a planet) we are

fierce girls, kind-hearted boys

weary, tear-stained, and yet
we drag ourselves up again
hurl ourselves into battle
determined to save the world
or fall down trying – and when

it’s all too much, we’re here

for each other, throwing bodies
into dance, sweating it out
on a crowded floor; never mind
who can’t carry a tune, just
sing with us all night, cousin,

laugh and cry with us

I want this for my children too
that they may know brown skin
and quick tongues, chilies burning –
the perfect balance of upu-pulli
salt-tang, sweet-spice; it works

for families as well as food

drag them complaining onto planes
but they’ll learn to anticipate
the laughter and the quick embrace
hello, goodbye, oh, one more hug

it can’t be time to go already

back to the lonesome solitary road

talk late into the night. sleep
will claim us soon, dragging
at our heels and heads, but brief time
together must be stolen and savored;

never quite enough, keep talking

sometimes lying to ourselves
(not as strong as loving
as brave as we desperately
want to be) but we don’t lie
to each other; honest
to the point of pain, or

silent for kindness’ sake

we are not a tall clan
and I, the shortest of all,
but hearts are not measured
in inches. my kin, we beat
for each other, to bursting.


for my sisters and my cousins

(blood or otherwise)

grateful for you all

Mary Anne (Amirthi) Mohanraj

September 2, 2019


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