I still can’t escape the look of mild pity and bewilderment every time someone asks me what my Thanksgiving Day plans are and my response is, “nothing!” After nine years of no major plans revolving around family gatherings and uncomfortable prying from distant relatives, I am used to it. When I was 18, I moved away from my sunny hometown in Puerto Rico to the middle-of-nowhere, Iowa for college. And thanks to ridiculous holiday airfares and the fact that going home for Thanksgiving — while also going home for Christmas — seemed excessive, I made do with no turkey plans or family turkey trots. That is until the art of Friendsgiving came into the picture, and being far away from family during one of the most important holidays of the year no longer seemed so bad.
Sometime after an unmemorable Thanksgiving break freshman year where I was one of maybe four people in my entire residence hall who had stayed on campus, (and all I did was binge Grey’s Anatomy and, stupidly enough, stream “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”) I decided being holed up all week did not need to be my only option. And ever since, as a single woman in her 20s, it has become a tradition to rally up the all lonely souls I know around town for a potluck meal.
The memories I have made are like reels highlighting the best of every season of life. There was the Thanksgiving party at a clubhouse with pool tables and a lot of dancing, the gathering with more than 20 friends that involved karaoke and Pictionary, the road trip to see Usher in St. Louis, and most recently, the get together at a friend’s house where someone made a whole turkey but no one knew how to carve it. Someone stepped in as tribute and made an attempt that made sure that at least half the turkey positively went to waste. In case you have never made one, that turkey is so much work: it takes someone who is savvy to know how to season and stuff it and then wait basically a half day for it to cook. Getting to the finish line to then realize you can’t even dig in is terrible enough.
Every single Thanksgiving has turned into a sort of bookmark my friends and I refer to when trying to recall specific seasons in our lives. We will recollect our crushes by sayings things like: “Remember that Friendsgiving potluck when my crush brought a plus one I never invited?” or who was dating who with “I think Rebecca was still dating Jared Friendsgiving last year, remember they came together?” Or times we were jobless and broke with, “I remember that Friendsgiving I literally brought plastic bowls so I could take home all the leftovers I could.” There is something about yearly traditions that always feels surreal. It is returning to a place, in this case an event, that remains unchanged, only to find out instead ways in which you have changed.
It is not solely about not having Thanksgiving plans, it just requires wanting to celebrate the other family in your life.
It is no surprise Friendsgiving has gotten so popular over the year, so much so that Google Trends show searches for the term have exponentially spiked over the last three years, and most foodcentric media platforms have released some sort of Friendsgiving guide. The thing is that in the global world we now live in, it is more common than ever to have a fragmented family who lives all over the country. Families themselves have changed, and it is easy for non-relatives — our friends — to take the role of family members in our lives. They are coworkers we share our day-to-day lives with, the friend that knows the nitty-gritty about our dating life, the friend who is our trusted fellow concertgoer, or the one who is always down for some gym time. It is not solely about — and doesn’t require — not having Thanksgiving plans, it just requires wanting to celebrate the other family in your life.
There are not that many secrets to a good Friendsgiving, and the time people host it varies, but for us, it has always been the weekend before Thanksgiving week, before those with families nearby head out of town for their own shot at the family turkey trot. Every group of friend’s dynamic is unique, but the most important ingredient in any Friendsgiving recipe is — wait for it — a group of close friends. The rest is all up to you. Make it a potluck where everyone brings one dish that they love, or a pizza party where you just order in and drink wine. Make it a bite-size food only event where you get to show off your Charcuterie board-building skills, or simply a movie or game night.
The latest two Friendsgivings I have attended have been full of good food, a group of around 15 peeps, and many rounds of Cards Against Humanity, Taboo, What Do You Meme?, Red Flag, Exploding Kittens, and Fishbowl. Sometimes, the good time lies in how much fun everyone gets to have when they are boasting about how awesome their casserole turned out when they literally own two kitchen utensils, or looked up a recipe two hours before the party. Then, there is always a surprise Betty Crocker who pulls off a fancy chocolate tart for dessert or, in the case of the last gathering, made a turkey but did not know how carve it. Sometimes we just sit around and swap stories of family traditions, memorable trips we have taken, or intentions for the new year.
And then, when I come home, I have eaten my share of food for the rest of the week, but I am as buoyant as a boat. I come home, call my parents and sit through an hour-long conversation about the non-plans they also have. We all relish on the fact that we may not be close in geography, but good conversation and fellowship is all anyone has ever needed to feel like the world is a friendly place, and we can all make it through the rest of the holiday season feeling a little less alone.
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