Traditionally, Thanksgiving is a holiday marked by overcrowded airports, lively family reunions, lavish dinners and inevitable food comas. However, for many Princetonians like myself, returning home for Thanksgiving is not an option, whether it be due to the distance, the inconvenience or other conflicts in our lives. Instead, we have managed to find many alternative, if not more enjoyable, ways to spend our short reprieve.
As a native of Hong Kong, Christina Huie ’13 has never returned home for Thanksgiving. Instead, she travels to New York, where she meets with her extended family for a huge Thanksgiving celebration. “It’s a big Asian-American Thanksgiving,” she said. “It’s not traditional in the sense that you say ‘thanks.’ It’s all about food.” Huie finds comfort in the family gatherings, which, ironically, are larger family celebrations than the ones she experiences at home. In Hong Kong, Thanksgiving is not a national holiday and Huie’s family would celebrate by going over to a family friend’s house on Saturday. In contrast, the celebrations in New York are large family gatherings, and one of the few times in the year that she gets to see many of her relatives. “It’s different because I’m related to all these people,” Huie said. “It’s just a time to catch up on our lives when we don’t talk to each other all the time and to see each other in one place.” Even though Huie may not spend Thanksgiving with her parents, for her the holiday still holds a deep familial significance.
For Alan Zhou ’16, while home in Iowa may not have been an entire continent away, it was still an unreasonable travel given the length of the break. Instead, he took advantage of the USG buses to Boston, where he spent Thanksgiving with a friend he had met at camp. While there, he also got to explore Boston and experience a more traditional Thanksgiving dinner. “I think the four days at Boston were better than the four days I would have spent back home,” Zhou said. “I’m going home for winter break anyways, so it’s kind of pointless.” With this next break just around the corner, Zhou used his Thanksgiving to maintain a long-distance friendship.
Unlike Zhou, Sally Butler ’14’s reason for not returning home was not the distance. Instead, it was because Butler, a member of the women’s ice hockey team, had two back-to-back games, one on Friday and one on Saturday, against Ohio State. Despite not going home, Butler had a delicious Thanksgiving feast at the home of one of her teammates, whose parents offered to host them on Thursday evening. “The entire team was there, as well as the family members of some of the players,” Butler said. “We spent the evening hanging out, playing games and watching movies.” This celebration was not unusual for Butler, who has spent her previous two Thanksgivings with the team as well. These annual gatherings have deepened her connection with the team, making it feel even more like a family.
Other students celebrated their Thanksgivings in Princeton. Nathan Quinn ’16 spent his Thanksgiving at the home of Henry Horn, emeritus professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. Horn and his wife, Betty, both members of Princeton’s Chapel Choir, invited Quinn and other students in the Chapel Choir who had stayed on campus to their home for Thanksgiving dinner. “It was similar [to my family’s Thanksgiving], but it was a more traditional dinner, so that was interesting,” Quinn said. The dinner included delicious staples like turkey and pies, as well as a family recipe passed on from Mrs. Horn’s grandmother. “We sat around the table, ate food and talked,” Quinn said. “We were there for hours.” Under the auspices of Thanksgiving, Quinn found himself enjoying a delicious dinner with people of all walks of life and interests who are very different from his family, from a former professor to a fellow student.
Like Quinn, I found myself staying on campus for Thanksgiving break after deciding that a trip back home to California would be too much travel and too little time at home. Luckily, I was invited to a Thanksgiving dinner at my friend’s house, where I was treated to a simple, but delicious meal of duck, ham and ribs. Non-traditional, but still very delicious. As we went around the table saying what we were thankful for, it occurred to me that here I was, thousands of miles away from home, having the most memorable Thanksgiving meal of my life. (Note: my family doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving.)
Returning back to our dorms that night, I discovered the carcass of a turkey in our first floor kitchen, a remnant of the celebration that must have taken place earlier. And it struck me, standing in front of the bones of that once fine animal, that the true spirit of Thanksgiving was not about being at home. It was about the food. Lots and lots of food. Oh, and the thanks.