Welcome. Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving, and whether you’re celebrating at home, away or not at all, it’s likely that this year’s holiday looks different from last year’s. The vaccine’s changed the options for many of us, opening up possibilities for family gatherings and Friendsgivings. As with everything these days, we’re figuring it out as we go, negotiating new situations awkwardly (maybe) but with compassion (hopefully).
I find myself this year savoring the questions that, pre-pandemic, were the stuff of polite small-talk: What are your plans for the holidays? Doing anything fun this weekend? Now, it feels like a privilege to even ask such questions, to live in a world where plans for the future are being made. Last week, I asked what you’re doing for Thanksgiving. Here’s what some of you said. (Responses have been edited for length and clarity.)
“Looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with my mom, sister and sister’s family in person this year! Last year, with my sister eight months pregnant and Covid cases on the rise, we opted for a Zoom get-together. I can’t wait to spend the holiday together, although last year did have its advantages: With no traveling, I had plenty of time to try out a new challah recipe that turned out beautifully.” —Annie Brown, Chicago
“Both my husband and my first husband, father of my children, are now gone. They died during the time of Covid, not of Covid but rather through effects of old age. My husband was almost 101; my first, a mere 82. In the past 35-plus years, we worked hard to create a happy and functional expanded family, post-divorce, rather than let our differences cause a permanent rending. Our children and I will all travel to the Midwest, home of their stepmom. We will regroup during the holidays, as nights grow shorter once again, and begin to evolve the next chapter of family love.” —Lyn Corder, Oceanside, Calif.
“I’ll be joining other friends who don’t have family in the area. We’ll be having a potluck, with each person bringing a homemade side dish.” —Carol Adney, Palm Desert, Calif.
“I used to cook a big meal for friends and relatives, or visit friends. Now I am living alone; my husband died last January. I am lucky that here we have Community Harvest, which delivers Thanksgiving and Christmas meals to those of us who are alone, or need help. I called in a reservation and they called back to say that they will deliver midday. I will give them a donation, which is not required.” —Marcia Madeira, Kennebunkport, Maine
“We are a couple in our mid-60s with no children. Family lives too far away — what to do? We are going to a Greek restaurant. It will be fun and lively with delicious food!” —Bidu Tashjian, Cold Spring, N.Y.
Check out Wordle, a guessing game that roughly follows the rules of the old plastic-peg game Mastermind. You guess a five-letter word, the computer tells you which letters that you’ve guessed are in the word and whether they’re in the right place. You get six tries to figure it out. There’s only one word to guess per day, thank goodness, or I’d never meet a deadline again.
Max Read’s taxonomy of and love letter to ’90s Dad Thrillers makes for a fun read and provides a watching list if you’re into films like “The Hunt for Red October,” “Die Hard” and their ilk.
Are you having mixed feelings about returning to work in an office? Emma Goldberg’s story “The Worst of Both Worlds: Zooming From the Office” captures the joys and sorrows of hybrid work.
What are you watching, listening to, cooking or reading over the holiday? Tell us: firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include your full name and location and we might feature your response in a future newsletter. We’re At Home and Away. We’ll read every letter sent. And of course you’ll find more ideas for passing the time below.
Tiny Love Stories: ‘Your Husband Will Probably Leave You Now’
Never Mind the Naysayers
“My mother says your husband will probably leave you now,” my friend said, two weeks after I told her I’d tested H.I.V. positive. “Your mother doesn’t know him, or me, or even what real love looks like, apparently,” I replied. My husband and I had skipped the traditional marriage vows, but that conversation showed me their value: “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” Thirty-one years later, we’re still married, he’s still H.I.V. negative and our 25-year-old twin daughters (also H.I.V. negative) are thriving. Sometimes, people’s comments say more about them than they do about you. — Rebecca Denison
‘Mixed With Love’
My youngest was born with blue eyes, fair skin and curly blond hair. Nurses marveled over genetics and said that his appearance might change in months. It didn’t matter to me; my son is my son. Most strangers don’t think twice about our family. There’s context when they see his caramel siblings. But when it’s just us two? I’m often mistaken for the nanny. When people stare, I briefly wonder how I’ll explain or prove myself before I realize that I don’t have to. My skin is brown, my husband is white and our son is mixed with love. — Wendy Newbury
The Taste of Home
I’ve always hated melons. To me, they taste strange and have a repugnant, rotten smell. In Lebanon, my jiddo (slang for “grandpa” in Arabic) would always invite me to eat melons for breakfast with him. After cutting the melon into small pieces, he would put the bites straight into my mouth. I pretended to love melon as he glimmered with pride, extolling the fresh, local produce. Years after I immigrated to the United States, I accidentally ate some melon in a fruit salad. Only then did I remember how much I hated melons, and how much I miss home. — Youssef Saklawi
Listless, Lost, Then Found
“I am listless!” my friend said, happily. “I have stopped making lists. I am free!” I was horrified. My beloved list book gently guides my days, boasting all of my tasks and accomplishments. After my friend’s internet bill went unpaid and her sink pipe rusted through, I was secretly pleased. Then I got the flu. I lacked energy to write in my list book. I lay lost, hopeless, listless, thinking of everything I could be doing. Then one morning I awoke and reached for my list book — a clear and happy sign that I was on the mend. — Janet McGiffin
At the Fashion Awards in London, Mourning and Celebration
It was bitingly cold in London on the evening of the Fashion Awards, Britain’s glitziest annual style event, and on the red carpet the model Jourdan Dunn snuggled into the makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury for warmth. “Have you seen Maria Sharapova,” a producer barked, clipboard in hand. “Where is Sharapova?”
She arrived a few moments later in a dress created from recycled water bottles, a collaboration between Iris van Herpen and Evian.
Inside, Rick Owens, svelte in black, posed with the model Adriana Lima, in plunging white. Tommy Hilfiger, who was there to receive the Outstanding Achievement Award, sat close to Kris Jenner, wrapped in a satin shawl in the red, navy and white colors of Mr. Hilfiger’s brand’s logo.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in a Boss suit, sat between Anna Wintour and Edward Enninful, the editor in chief of British Vogue and European editorial director of Condé Nast. “Oh my God, that’s John!” said the designer Henry Holland, pointing to John Galliano, on Ms. Wintour’s right. Next to Mr. Enninful was the musician Dua Lipa, in somber black.
“I love Dua Lipa. She’s the best Londoner — don’t tell Adele,” Mr. Khan said, “‘Future Nostalgia’ got me through the pandemic.” He was feeling buoyant. “This shows that London’s back,” he said, gesturing to the throng of sequins, frills and tuxedos.
The jubilation has a frenetic air; the mood of a last party, a final blowout, with a fearful mania beneath the fun. A reflection both on the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant and the possibility of another lockdown, and on the news, received the day before the event, that the designer Virgil Abloh had died at 41. He was a lingering presence in the room, with almost every winner paying homage to him.
“Virgil told me that he didn’t go a day in high school without wearing my clothes,” Tommy Hilfiger said in his speech, just after a mini catwalk show of models, who lip-synced and strutted to hits including “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones and Naughty by Nature’s “O.P.P.”
The actor Idris Elba read Maya Angelou’s poem “When Great Trees Fall” in Mr. Abloh’s honor. Later, Mr. Enninful read a quotation by the designer from a manifesto given out at Mr. Abloh’s spring 2021 show for Louis Vuitton: “‘As a Black man in a French luxury house, I am well aware of my responsibilities. Rather than preaching about it, I hope to lead by example, and unlock the door for future generations. I believe in making my mark with poise, style and grace.’”
The words offered a rare moment of self-effacement in an evening rich with posturing that twisted and turned, uniting not just — as one would expect — the great and good of the fashion industry, but also often disparate characters that even the strangest dinner party dream couldn’t summon: the actress Demi Moore, striding arm and arm with the Olympic diver Tom Daley to present the award for Designer of the Year to Kim Jones; the soccer player Patrice Evra presenting an award to the former GQ editor Dylan Jones for Culture Commentary; and Kylie Minogue, performing a special rendition of her hit song “Slow” in bespoke Richard Quinn, while surrounded by dancers in full face-covering floral bodysuits (the only attendees, other than servers, who were masked).
The evening’s host, Billy Porter, used wit to puncture the pomposity, welcoming “the old, the young and the old who have made their faces young.” Between several outfit changes, he quipped, “I really didn’t think I was going to make it, but luckily I got a job as a truck driver and they let me in” — a nod to Britain’s supply chain issues and the fallout of Brexit, another of fashion’s many headaches.
The award categories, in the past simple and to the point (best women’s wear designer, best men’s wear designer, best model), had been expanded to include looser, and more grandiose, themes, including “Leaders of Change,” an accolade given to 15 industry figures, under three different categories: “Creativity,” “Environment” and “People.”
An absent Alessandro Michele, the creative director of Gucci, was the winner of the Trailblazer Award, presented and accepted on his behalf by the activist Sinead Burke, in pink feathers.
“I am physically disabled, I have dwarfism,” she said when she introduced herself, noting that the award was dedicated to those who “move hearts and minds.” She praised Gucci for its work in supporting L.G.B.T.Q. rights and the rights of the disabled. Mr. Michele, she said, has made a corner of the world “where people feel safe to be themselves.”
Other winners included the up-and-comer Nensi Dojaka, who was given the BFC Foundation Award, the stylist Ib Kamara (also absent), who won the Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator, and Simone Rocha, who took home the Best Independent British Brand and whose label recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary. The pandemic has been tough, she said, especially for those without a big group behind them and with a small, young team.
“It’s humbled a lot of people on a lot of different levels. It’s humanized the industry, and taken away a bit of the gloss and the sheen,” she said. “Anybody who shows, I respect them. Anyone who managed to keep going.”
Later, the dancer and internet phenomenon Lil Buck moonwalked and glided his way around the grand hall. His performance was apparently part of honoring Chanel for its contribution to art and culture. “Chanel: Creating the conditions for artists to dare,” announced the giant screens behind Lil Buck, before being replaced, inexplicably, by a quotation often attributed to Mother Teresa.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples,” it read, though most guests seemed primarily focused on the fancy footwork (also footwear). Even Ms. Wintour craned her neck to watch the slides and twists. When Lil Buck finished, she broke into one of her few claps of the evening.
Jill Biden’s White House Christmas Looks Very … Normal
Gone are the blood-red trees. Gone are the icy, sparkling boughs and the imagery of a woman isolated in a winter wonderland (or a horror story, depending on your point of view).
In their place: red-and-white striped knit stockings with green heels dangling brightly from a hearth, family photos, handwritten thank-you notes and an arch of presents in bright red boxes.
The Biden White House Christmas décor, unveiled on Monday, isn’t nearly as stylized or surreal as the Trump-endorsed looks that preceded them. Oh, it’s plenty cheerful and sparkly, but in the context of recent White House holiday styles, it’s positively … accessible.
In this, it is fully in line with the tactile, unpretentious image that the current first couple likes to project. The president and first lady: Just like us! Their home is your home, only a little more so. It did, after all, require 6,000 feet of ribbon, over 300 candles, more than 10,000 ornaments and about 78,750 holiday lights to dress the White House for the holidays, according to the office of the first lady.
That may sound extravagant, but like Dr. Jill Biden herself, whose (unofficial) job it is to oversee the decoration, the effect was rather homey — social media categorized it as “normal.” Whether the response was complimentary or pejorative, it nodded to part of her husband’s campaign sell: a return to normalcy, after the turbulence and extremes of the Trump years. Since his election, it’s been an underlying theme, a foundational element of “Build Back Better.” For the holidays, it’s “Gifts From the Heart.”
That’s why Christmas at the White House is such a useful moment of pageantry, especially at a time when the usual communicative ceremonies of office — state dinners, White House tours — are on hold. Indeed, Dr. Biden’s office said she had been working on the decorations since late May. Decking the halls is one of the few widely shared, or at least widely recognized, rituals we have. That’s useful. Most people can relate.
It’s why Melania Trump’s choices caused so much controversy. Some — especially late-night TV hosts — found her alley of unnatural trees alienating; others saw them as aspirational, if unachievable (and all the more desirable for being so out of reach). And it’s why the fact that the Biden look is so unremarkable is, itself, worth remarking on. It’s a hard balancing act to pull off: walking the fine line between fancy and folksy; between representing the republic to the most polished degree, and relating to the republic. Not just politically, but visually.
Yet it’s a look that has come to define Dr. Biden’s style, which can pretty much be summed up in the dress she wore to do her Christmas hostess duties: a short-sleeved, full-skirted forest green Oscar de la Renta number splashed with white magnolias. Oscar de la Renta is, of course, a New York-based luxury brand, founded by a Dominican, now designed by Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia; a similar style, albeit pink and sleeveless, is available at Saks for $3,990. That’s a lot for a dress, even one worn for an occasion that will be documented in photos for posterity.
But what about two occasions? Or three? Because the workaround Dr. Biden has devised and made her own is not to do what Rosalynn Carter did, when she was attempting to be relatable during the stagflation of the late 1970s, and wear seemingly homespun clothes (that got Mrs. Carter criticized for being frumpy), but rather to wear very expensive, high-end clothes — to represent both the American fashion industry and the ambitions of the country — and then to re-wear them.
She did it during her first international trip, during the G7 in June, and when she represented the president at the Tokyo Olympics. And she did it again with her Christmas dress, which she wore only a month before — in Italy for a lunch with spouses at the G20. This week she wore it to read to a class of second graders and to thank a group of volunteers who helped with the decorations, but chances are it will get another airing sometime soon.
It may seem absurd to laud someone for re-wearing an expensive dress, or to see it as anything other than normal behavior, but then, that’s the point. Because for the last few administrations — and for many people in the public eye, even if it’s only the eye of Instagram — the pressure to promote new stuff was an accepted part of the job. It’s extremely rare to see a celebrity wear the same thing twice (most of them don’t even want to wear a dress once it’s arrived in stores); such was also the case for Michelle Obama and Melania Trump during their times as first ladies.
Like them, Dr. Biden understands that decoration — of her house, of her person — is a tool at her disposal, but unlike them she is using it to normalize what is by any account an abnormal role. Just like the way she is using tinsel and turtledoves. They are secular expressions of the “faith, family and friendship” described in the welcome letter of the commemorative 2021 White House Holiday Guide: everyday examples of the things — sometimes as simple as favorite shirtdresses and poinsettias — that “unite us.”