Old Fashioned Thanksgiving {Book Club}

Old Fashioned Thanksgiving

You will read this after American Thanksgiving, but I am writing it before. So let me tell you about last year’s Thanksgiving.

Since we’ve been in Kenya, we have returned to the US in November and December once, and we had my parents here one year. The other 5 years we invited Kenyan guests to eat Thanksgiving dinner with us. It is always an adventure.

Most people haven’t eaten turkey, even though an increasing number of farmers are raising them. Though their staple food is maize, and the maize flour they grind is close enough to cornmeal for me to make cornbread dressing, no one has ever eaten cornbread or dressing. People here usually don’t try new foods. The first year, one of our guests brought beans and chapati, just in case anyone couldn’t handle the American food. Our experience that first year was that, once people try it, they really enjoy American Thanksgiving dinner (except for green beans – Kenyans don’t eat green beans).

Last year, we invited some of my husband’s cousins and an aunt. Though he is Kenyan, all of our previous Thanksgiving guests had been non-relatives.

They told us that 11 people were coming, so I cooked Thanksgiving for 11 of them and 4 of us. It’s a lot for my tiny oven to handle, but it worked out. I started prepping Monday to be sure I had time to make everything. The spread included turkey, cornbread dressing, green beans, sweet potatoes, a veggie tray with Ranch dip, tortilla chips and queso, pumpkin pie, chocolate pie, and a chocolate bundt cake.

The anticipated day arrived, and so did our guests! And more guests! And even more! They were all related to my husband, but he didn’t know several of them. The final count was 20 – they brought almost twice as many people as they said they would.

The good thing about Thanksgiving dinner is that you cook an abundance of food. Everyone ate, but there were no leftovers, except for the green beans, which I joyfully ate for lunch for the next 3 days.

This week, we read An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott. I read Little Women when I was in junior high – and loved it – but I haven’t yet made the time to read any of her other books. I was thrilled to discover that Alcott also published collections of short stories in a series called “Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag.” This story is from volume 6.

I really liked it! I think I will read it aloud to my kids this week. They will probably get a big kick out of Gad’s prank (pretending to be a bear) and Prue’s cooking mistakes.

So much was relatable to my own memories of family gatherings: miscommunications, mishaps, unexpected turns of events, pranks, and laughter. Not to mention the extra guests who turned up at the end!

Can there be a family gathering without things going wrong? The more people involved, the more likely miscommunication is. Some recipe is bound to go wrong. Something is going to be burned. But it will be alright. There will be enough dishes that turn out great that no one really minds that the stuffing has wormwood and catnip in it. And of course there will be laughter.

What did you think of this story? What memories came to mind as you read? Does your host country have a traditional time of year for family gatherings or giving thanks?

P.S. No reading for next week. I will be here sharing my top 5 books of 2019 and asking for recommendations for my 2020 reading list.


  1. Michele December 3, 2019

    I didn’t have a chance to read the story yet, but am I the only one who wants to ask Rachel about this year’s Thanksgiving? 🙂 Fun side note (at least I think it’s fun)… I have celebrated Thanksgiving less than half of my Novembers in Asia, even forgetting it some years. But it was fun to see one of my Indonesian ‘nieces’, who graduated from college in Florida a couple of years ago, and got a job in my hometown in Wisconsin, post pictures of the first Thanksgiving meal she cooked herself… For her Kenyan husband and his family!

    1. Rachel Kahindi December 3, 2019

      🙂 One of our guests from previous years told me her teenage daughter made them a little Thanksgiving dinner at their house this year.

      At our place, it was declared “best Thanksgiving ever.” We had 3 adult cousins, with 2 kids and 3 of their adult friends. It was the perfect size gathering. AND they ate the green beans this year. I hardly had a spoonful leftover.

  2. Sarah Hilkemann December 5, 2019

    Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays! Rachel, I loved reading about your Thanksgiving celebration. 🙂 I also thought this story was sweet! I’ve had to learn to let go of my expectations that holidays will always look the same. Obviously that was the case when I was living overseas but even now that I’m back in the town I grew up in, things are different. Not everyone can make it like they did before spouses and kids came into the picture. Even the location has changed, since my grandparents are no longer living and we used to gather in their living room/dining room every year and then fight over whose turn it was to do the dishes. 🙂 But I am so thankful for the all the sweet Thanksgiving memories I have! This year we did bring back a rousing cousin/aunt game of Pit, which was always a hit when I was growing up.

  3. Phyllis December 7, 2019

    I loved this story and really got into it. It felt like it reflected current events in our family. I read from the big fluffy cancer chair, with my husband sitting next to me in the capital city… while our children (oldest is 16, like in the story) were home alone far away from us having their own adventures for a few days. Our modern version involved photos of cooking problems sent to my phone, Advent readings instead of Thanksgiving prep, and transportation or logistics problems to be conquered instead of a bear, but still it was close enough to put a real smile on my face.

    Thank you for choosing this story for us!

    1. Tami December 8, 2019

      My oldest is also sixteen. And I remember my mom sitting in a big fluffy cancer chair. Phyllis, I’m praying healing for you and your family. I’m so sorry that you are all going through this difficult time.

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