Since moving away from my hometown in South Florida more than a decade ago, I’ve learned that just because you can’t afford to fly home for the holiday, it doesn’t mean you have to eat alone. In those ten years, traditional Thanksgivings haven’t been my thing. During my first ever Friendsgiving that my husband and I hosted, we carved turkey in our small Chicago condo with other urban-dwelling millennials and all our pet dogs. In Washington, D.C., we celebrated with work friends and had a Thanksgiving-themed chili cook-off with beer.
Intermittently, we’ve celebrated the traditional way with my in-laws, and let’s just say that I lived to regret it. For one failed Thanksgiving, everyone came to our condo and my dog bit my niece and landed in the ER. Another time, we got stuck with a huge bill at a fancy restaurant hosting my husband’s aunt who “forgot” her wallet.
Those epic Thanksgiving family dinner fails and being so far from home are the reasons why I lean on friends who are like family. It’s also why I savor Friendsgiving celebrations: We’ve lived in New Jersey for five years now, and about to have our third Friendsgiving here. Sure, it began small, but now it’s grown to include new families (not to mention new siblings). Over the years, I feel fortunate that our circle of friends has become so tight-knit, that we’ve cultivated a tradition of hosting get-togethers for all the major holidays. For Halloween, I typically order pizzas at my house for everyone before a wild night of trick-or-treating. For New Year’s Eve, we go to our neighbor’s house where we eat, drink and be merry, then send the kids off to the basement so that we can play terrible games like Cards Against Humanity. Friendsgiving is always up for grabs though—partly because no one seems particularly thrilled to volunteer their house and feeling the Thanksgiving burnout that comes from hosting.
But here’s the real beauty of Friendsgiving: There are no rules. Because made-up holidays don’t have rules! I’ve learned to do anything I want with who I want. We can plan to do it on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or do it in December. If the gang wants to play a game of flag football à la the cast of Friends or play classic holiday movies on the TV, we’ll do it. Sometimes, we feel like setting a formal table with the all the trimmings or sitting around a coffee table with finger foods. We serve Thanksgiving foods, or spaetzle if we feel like it—basically, we do what we want.
Perhaps my favorite Friendsgiving memory was the year my girlfriend (and featured NJMOMpreneur) graciously hosted a potluck dinner at her play-space after hours. I had just given birth to my third child less than two months before, so I was especially thankful I didn’t have to plan for or cook an entire Thanksgiving meal myself just for my little family. The play-space had a large dining area with long tables (and an oven) that easily accommodated all 20 adults and 20 kids in our friend circle. It was a big public space complete with fun toys and a jungle gym to give our wild pack plenty of ways to run off steam. Best of all? It was NOT my house and everyone pitched in to help clean up.
As for this year’s Friendsgiving, well, we’re still trying to sort that out. Nothing like the eleventh hour, but with growing families and obligations, it seems to get trickier each year nailing down logistics. And yet, we press on trying to hold on to this creative, DIY holiday that we enjoy so much. Like the Thanksgivings we grew up with, Friendsgiving will quickly create memories that we’ll laugh about for years to come, and truly miss once the tradition fades away. So, this begs the question—at what point does this happen? When the children get to be a certain age, or when we’re empty nested? In the meantime, while I ponder this, I’m just going to sip and savor my Friendsgivings for the time being—heck, maybe we’ll even shoot a TikTok video this year.