‘To Thanksgiving, a Date Which Means Nothing to Me’

By Anya Khalamayzer

Each year since they learned to cook, the three Mishra sisters have prepared a traditional Iroquois “three sisters” soup on Thanksgiving. The girls are as American as potatoes, squash and beans: Meenoo, the oldest, comes from Bangau, India; Ajita, the middle sister, was born in Denmark, and Ankita, was born in Ohio. Raised in New Jersey, the three fiercely keep their Thanksgiving menu close to its pre-colonial roots. “We’ve never been exposed to jellied cranberries,” said Ankita, 20, my roommate, while explaining their annual tradition.

Some people like the traditional holiday rituals; others observe them with irony.

Three Sisters Soup:
  • 2 cups white or yellow hominy, drained
  • 2 cups fresh cleaned green beans
  • 2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1½ cups peeled, cubed potatoes
  • 5 cups water
  • 1½ tablespoons bouillon cubes
  • 1½ tbsp butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • ¼ tsp pepper


  1. Mix hominy, green beans, squash and potatoes in a large soup pot.
  2. Mix bouillon cube into water; pour over vegetables.
  3. Boil the water, then simmer vegetables for 10 minutes.
  4. Blend flour into the butter, and this mixture into the soup.
  5. Increase the heat to “medium” and cook for 5 minutes or until soup thickens.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Take the Khalamayzer family, which sprinkles its holidays with a grain of salt, despite being a bunch of emotional saps. We don’t buy into sudden, massive displays of sentiment, and, in any case, it takes a lot of planning to rope 20-something riotous, drunk and mostly unrelated Ukrainians into one suburban house.

“To Thanksgiving, a date which means nothing to me, but to which I’m grateful for giving us another reason to celebrate life together,” my mother, Kate, toasts.

She turns to the younger kids. “What are you thankful for?” she asks, a question both sincere and sarcastic.

Alex, my 8-year-old cousin, answers, “We’re grateful for the Indians and Chris Columbus!”

Two middle-school-aged boys, connoisseurs of the politically incorrect, snicker behind their Playstations.

Two weeks ago in Edison, N.J., my paternal grandfather, Alexander Khalamayzer, called to remind me that I should be proud to live in America (he says my grandmother, Ella, was the only reason our sprawling family tree organized itself and left Ukraine). The subject of my grandfather’s call surprised me; I thought that he and my grandmother felt some guilt for moving the family to this country, in which my father and baby brother were killed in a hit-and-run accident in 1997. No, my grandfather said, they never felt a pinch of remorse for the move. Never, no matter what happened. He ended the call with a curt, unanticipated “God bless America!” (He might be the only one in my family who even believes in God.)

My grandpa lost Ella, his partner of six decades, this past autumn. They married when they were 18 and she lived to her 70s.

Ankita Mishra and I are products of very separate geographic locations and family traditions. Yet when it comes to celebrating holidays, we are both surprised by how things can feel so different when so much stays the same. We eat a similar meal every Thanksgiving Day, rarely with new companions. But our tastes change, and our reasons for celebrating. We can’t foresee what the mood will be like in 365 days, but we know we’ll be eating turkey, whatever we start the meal with.

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