Letter 51

November 19, 2020

On holidays

This is my first year not going home for Thanksgiving, and may also be the first year I don’t go home for Christmas. And it’s weird! I miss my family, and I will deeply miss the ritual of getting out of the city and going to the house I grew up in, eating dinner with my family, seeing my parents’ dog, feeling warm. This year, I guess, I’ll find new rituals—I’ll walk through Brooklyn to my boyfriend’s apartment to make dinner with him and his roommates, I’ll Facetime my parents, I’ll watch the movies my mom and I watch every year alone. I won’t get to help my parents decorate the house for the holidays, but I can get decorations for my own apartment. I won’t get that cozy feeling of being home for the holidays, but I can light some candles and burrow under a blanket and put a virtual fireplace on my TV and do my best to pretend.


Holidays are always a little weird in my house. I am an impatient person and think that trait features itself most prominently in my family’s celebration—if we are able to have something now, why wait? We open Christmas gifts ridiculously early, asking each other exactly what the other wants so there are no surprises; Thanksgiving is a weird holiday to celebrate in general, especially as Palestinians; Easter has one ritual that I love, but we’re Orthodox Christians and celebrate it a month later than the rest of the US—our timing always feels off, and so we make our own. Maamoul and ‘atayif are traditionally sweets served at the holidays, but we make it when we want. This morning, I had berbara, which is barley or wheat-berry with basically oatmeal fixings, meant to honor either Saint Barbara or a child’s new tooth—the holiday is not until December and I do not know any toddlers. Watching people navigate their families in the pandemic makes me feel this anxiety of timing more clearly—the urgency to gather, because we feel like we are supposed to. The urgency to feel holiday cheer, because we feel like we are supposed to. In a normal year, there are so many factors complicating that; in a year like this, how is it remotely possible?


We recommend

🔗 More cute masks

A few months back, Jill recommended a spot to buy masks; I’ve got a few more! The ones that have worked best for me so far are from Baggu, with the adjustable ear-loops. Jill and I split a pack of these daisy ones. Super comfortable, don’t make my glasses fog, incredible secure and easy to wash! I also got a bunch from this account on Instagram, they’re all beautiful and have a pouch for a filter. Despite popular belief, the pandemic is ongoing and horrible, make sure you’re taking care of yourselves and not endangering loved ones.


📱 SimplyE

When I was a kid, I used to love going to the library. I would sit on the ground and flip through books and decide which to add to the huge stack I wanted to take home with me to read. In school, the library was one of my favorite places to be—I remember accidentally missing the start of classes more than once because I was so engrossed in a book. As an adult, I don’t go to libraries very often. But I’m rediscovering my love for them (in a COVID-safe way, lol) with the NYPL SimplyE app. If you’re in NYC, you can use SimplyE to check out and read e-books from one of the local libraries, even if you don’t have a library card.


🍽️ Making salted caramel

For some reason, couldn’t imagine why, I’ve been feeling down and sad and only really want to consume sugary things. I made a pumpkin pie recently and wanted to make it a little more interesting, so I folded in salted caramel to the filling. It was SO good. And the next week, after the pie was gone, I made caramel again to add to Ghiradelli brownies. Just for fun! Making caramel (maybe it’s actually butterscotch, shhh) is incredible easy, surprisingly—I used this recipe. I used normal butter instead of salted, and added 2-3 tsps of ground Himalayan salt to compensate. What a wonderful little joy.


📖 Indie bookstores

This is an evergreen recommendation, but with the holidays coming up I wanted to call special attention to it. A lot of small businesses are struggling this year, and buying holiday gifts from them instead of huge, exploitative retailers (Amazon, I’m talking about Amazon) is a really good way to help them stay afloat. Indie bookstores are especially good sources for gifts, in my opinion, and a few of my favorite local ones are McNally Jackson and Books Are Magic. If you’re not in NYC, give your own local indies some love or order from IndieBound or Bookshop.