The first time I hosted “Friendsgiving,” I was a newly married 20-year-old whose culinary expertise was limited to ramen noodles, and if I was feeling fancy, Rice-A-Roni. I had never lived far from my mom, but here I was three states away from home, living in a cramped apartment with my husband just outside the gates of the Air Force base where he was stationed.
When you’re a military family, you often find yourself away from your family for the holidays, and most of your friends and neighbors are in the same boat. So rather than feel lonely and homesick for Thanksgiving, we decided to gather all the similarly displaced people we knew for a feast, so nobody would have to be alone.
The food was probably a disaster. I don’t remember everything I cooked, but I do remember that the long, vaguely tube-shaped thing I pulled from the cavity of my thawed turkey was horrifying, and I called my mom in shock to ask if this was the turkey’s penis (she told me it was the neck, but only after laughing at me for five solid minutes). Considering my inexperience, I’m sure the rest of the meal was similarly awful, but nobody seemed to care that we had to literally slice the gravy. Friends brought frozen pies and rolls from the bakery and bottles of cheap wine, and we ate and laughed and had a great time.
It’s hard to be alone sometimes, but the feeling is exponentially worse when you’re alone on a holiday — especially one like Thanksgiving. If you’re alone on, say, Halloween or St. Patrick’s Day, it’s not so bad; they’re not so family-centric, and every bar is having a party.
Thanksgiving is different though. The entire holiday is centered around family gatherings and traditions, and when you’re not able to participate in that — whether it’s because you’re far away or because you just prefer not to spend it with your relatives — the feeling that you might be missing out can be fierce.
Enter: Friendsgiving. It’s a celebration of the holiday with others who might also not be celebrating with family or in the traditional way.
When you share your Thanksgiving with friends, everybody wins. First off, since they’re friends, you automatically know you’re going to have a good time, which isn’t necessarily true of a family-only Thanksgiving, where you may be subjected to your sloppy-drunk Uncle Frank or your rabidly Trump-supporting cousin Terry whose MAGA hat makes you lose your appetite.
Friends bring their own traditions to the table. In fact, at our house, it’s not uncommon to find a heaping plate of pad thai between the dish of stuffing and the sweet potato casserole.
Plus, if it’s a potluck meal, there’s less work for the host and more time to relax and enjoy.
But my favorite thing about hosting Friendsgiving, now that I’m a parent, is the important message it sends to my kids. It says, we care. We share. We include. Nobody should have to feel lonely.
I’ve come a long way from my inaugural Friendsgiving nearly two decades ago. I’ve never given anybody food poisoning, and I can cook a damn good turkey nowadays (without even batting an eye at its “penis”).
But one thing never changes: the diversity around our Thanksgiving table. And the fact that anyone, from anywhere, for any reason, is welcome. Our home is always open, and I hope our children take our philosophy of togetherness to heart, carrying on our tradition of Thanksgiving with friends when they’re old enough to host their own.
Even if the food sucks for the first few years.