THE BLOG
11/25/2014 12:10 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2015

Latkes in Jersey

If red is the color of love, orange is the color of gratitude.

Tinged with the hue of flaming foliage, Thanksgiving, like all other holidays, has been translated to Hallmark cards, specifically emblazoned with festive turkeys and footballs and the occasional joke about tryptophan. Along with the autumnal tones, the commoditization of giving thanks has become explicitly materialistic, with Black Friday riding the coattails of the supposedly selfless holiday. The irony of stuffing our faces in gluttony and then stuffing shopping carts in different department stores (followed by stuffing stockings a few weeks later) is not lost on me, especially as the redeeming aspects of the holiday have the tendency to be overshadowed. Just as Valentine's Day resembles an excuse to not be romantic the other 364 days a year, the idea of dedicating only one day a year to gratitude has always seemed a little strange to me. I have admittedly become somewhat of a Thanksgiving skeptic.

But I shan't dwell too much on the undertones of consumerism for the sentiments of gratitude are still there. As was reiterated by the dean of our college in an email to undergraduates this past weekend, there are far too many things right in the world that merit appreciation for us to focus on the negatives. In an environment as analytical as Harvard, he writes, "Critiquing, when it means careful reasoning, deliberate inquiry, trying to improve an outcome, and questioning taken-for-granted assumptions, is one of the hallmarks of a good education. But unchecked, the habit of critiquing can narrow our vision so that we only see what is wrong in the world and blind ourselves to what is right."

And he has a point. If I were to follow Dean Khurana's advice and make a list of things that are right in the world, it would stretch much further than the attention span of any reader (except for maybe my mom). Sunshine on my face. The laughter of new friends. Planned Parenthood. Anything made with figs. I could write a list as mundane as it is prolific, spanning all seasons. But especially around this time of year, there is one blessing in particular for which I thank my lucky stars.

For the fourth year in a row I am celebrating Thanksgiving in someone else's home. Sure, it would be great if I could afford to go home for a day that meant a lot to me growing up, to play in what may be our last annual family football game, to inhale some of my grandfather's stuffing, but I feel equally grateful to have East Coast families that will readily welcome me into their homes, despite my tendency to raid their pantries. If there is one thing I've learned over the years, it is that taking in a lonely West Coast fugitive is one of the greater acts of kindness a person can do during the holidays.

Last year I went home with my roommate from New Jersey. Her family is Jewish, and as many Jewish American families know the 2013 Thanksgiving fell on the first night of Hanukkah (sparking the portmanteau 'Thanksgivukkah'). In a first for me, not only was I treated to turkey and sweet potatoes, but also chocolate coins and zucchini latkes. I chatted with my roommate's nutty uncle (because who doesn't have one of those?) and she humored me by letting me watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation in her bed--a tradition my family has upheld for as long as I can remember. With my adopted Jersey family, we exchanged seasonal customs and broke bread, fashioning our own semblance of Thanksgiving traditions. This Thursday I will be heading to their house yet again, and while I don't anticipate any chocolate coins, their generous household has been a warming thought with the temperature dipping below freezing.

Thanksgiving is not about cranberry sauce or pigskin, fall foliage or sales at Macy's. It is not even about family in the strictly biological sense. It is, however--in the words of Dean Khurana--about reflecting on what is right in the world. And latkes in Jersey are certainly one of these things.