“Friends” have been described as the family one gets to choose. Here are fives tips to honor your fabulous family of friends this Thanksgiving, with a Friendsgiving fête full of love, fellowship and, of course, food!
Is it just me, or does Thanksgiving seem to officially announce the holiday season? Backed by the tunes of The Temptations’ “Silent Night,” wreaths hit the window and fireplaces light up, as we enter the time of year where one may guiltlessly abandon any-and-all non-fatal dietary restrictions with bold and beautiful proclamations of, “Yes, I will have seconds, please.”
I have lived much of my adult life as a nomad, moving from city to city every two to three years. Often, that change in address has left me far from family, and my location at Thanksgiving has rarely been a given. If I’m near family, I happily spend that time with them.
I was introduced to my first official “Friendsgiving” in Los Angeles circa 2008 or 2009. There were six of us, some of whom chose not to travel to be with family and some of whom the choice had been made for us – waiting one week before the holiday to get a plane ticket can do that to a girl. Those who had planned to be in L.A. decided to invite friends over for Thanksgiving, and I was honored to be one of those friends.
From that point on, Friendsgiving became a semi-regular part of my existence. Sometimes it fell on Thanksgiving Day, sometimes friends would get together before or after. Each time this occasion happened, I was always struck by the love and care we all put into making sure each other had special Thanksgiving holidays. I’ve been malade by mulled wine in London and had my Sangria soaked soul sequestered to the sofa in L.A. I’ve movie marathoned and “Taboo”ed the night away – all with my family of friends for Friendsgiving.
And each time, I’ve left stuffed with gratitude for the gift of friendship.
With this in mind, I’ve put together five tips to throwing a fabulous Friendsgiving. I hope they bring you fantastic ideas on how to host your own fête in honor of friendship.
5 Tips for a Fabulous Friendsgiving
Tip Number 1. Fabulous Food
Truth is, when it all comes down to it, when you get past the thankfulness and the fact that you have Friday off (unless you are a Black Friday worker, and in that case, thank you for your service), Thanksgiving is all about food! From turkey to dressing to the pecan pie, from butternut squash soufflé to roasted lobster with garlic ghee, from cauliflower mash to Seven-Up cake, I start daydreaming about what glorious grub God will bless me with days, sometimes weeks, ahead of time. And for a traditional Friendsgiving, you can not slack off on food.
But there are great ways to get everyone in on the fun while putting your own flavor on it.
One, you can cook yourself, like my friend Dale did at an epic London Friendsgiving where she invited our entire Master’s program to her home for dinner. Dale cooked a fantastic feast for about 25 students, and all we had to do was show up. It was one of the most memorable events of my time in London, and the amazing thing was that all I – who lived in a teeny tiny flat with barely two pots and certainly no Tupperware – had to do was show up, sit back, and indulge.
But for the hosts, this can be overwhelming. Especially trying to juggle everyone’s dietary needs and restrictions. Also, you can end up in the kitchen the entire time. Still, if it’s in you, it is a wonderful way to welcome and spoil your guests. And I was certainly thankful for the thought and effort Dale put into welcoming people, most of whom she’d known for only a month, and giving the Americans a little taste of home and our classmates from the rest of the world a big taste of American hospitality.
However, if it is not in you to cook a full feast for your group of friends, you can go “potluck.” Hosting a potluck party is quite simple. All you do is let the guests know that to gain entry, they must bring a dish. There are many benefits to this approach – you don’t have to spend all day cooking, if a guest has dietary restrictions, they will usually honor that with their own contribution, and you don’t have too much to clean, because everybody takes their dishware home with them.
There are a few cons to a potluck, which are easy to avoid. One, that there is no variety in dishes – like, everyone shows up with macaroni and cheese. Two, all you end up with is a bunch of side dishes, because nobody chooses to tackle the turkey. To remedy this, I would suggest that you take inventory of items beforehand and assign dishes to not double up.
Take inventory of items beforehand and assign dishes to not double up.
You can do this with a light touch: “Why don’t you do a carb side – something in the macaroni and cheese or sweet potato souflée family?” Or, you can do this with a heavier hand:, “Your dressing is great, will you make it for Friendsgiving?”
There is also the “half potluck” option. In this, you handle the main dishes – the meat, the dressing and maybe the greens, and after that let anyone bring whatever they’d like. Just make sure someone covers dessert.
It ain’t Thanksgiving without pie.
The times when I’ve had the pleasure of participating in potlucks, it’s always been nice to see what guests choose to bring. Usually, they will bring their favorite dishes or the dishes they feel they do best. Some bring dishes traditional to their culture. It’s also fun to see people’s personalities reflected in their choice – like the friend who never plans ahead and shows up with store-bought guacamole and tortilla chips (not to be confused with the friend who makes the best homemade guacamole you’ve ever tasted in your life, complete with hand-sliced oven-baked plantain chips). It’s a great way to try new things, and you may even leave with a recipe or two.
Tip Number 2. Location, Location, Location
A cool thing about Friendsgiving is that it doesn’t have to be formal. One year, a group of friends and I got together potluck style (I made the Sangria). The kitchen was small, and they didn’t have a dining room table, so we ate in the living room, then played games and watched movies. The most important thing about the chosen venue is that everyone fits, and there is a chair for every body. You don’t want anyone standing, eating plate-in-hand on Friendsgiving. This can be remedied by picking up a couple of folding chairs and even a few cheap side tables. You can add them to whatever you have going on in your living room, or to your existing dining room situation. If you need to, move some furniture around for the event. Guests will appreciate being able to eat in comfort.
Tip Number 3. Invite Early, and Invite Again
Every year that I am far from home, I think I am going home for Thanksgiving. And every year I am far from home, I decide to just extend my Christmas trip. The decision is often made very late in the game. Inevitably people ask me a month early to join them for Friendsgiving, I say “no,” and week-of, I end up crawling back, hat in hand, asking if there is any room left for one more. Of course, they always say yes.
So if you are hosting Friendsgiving, check-in with your friends with out-of-town family early, and then again closer to Thanksgiving. Those whose plans have changed (like mine always do) will be so appreciative that you remembered them.
Tip Number 4. Break the Ice
Friendsgiving can bring together quite the motley crew of friends who all know you but have never met each other. Your office mate, plus your Salsa instructor, plus your bestie, plus the friend from college who you haven’t seen in two years but ran into at Erewhon, and it turns out she’s in town for work, and, hey! Want to come over?… Sure, you can bring your boyfriend, the more the merrier!
In these situations, icebreakers can help.
A few easy ones:
Who am I– Grab the “Hello” name tags from the convenience store and write the name of a celebrity or politician on it. As guests arrive, stick a tag on their back without allowing them to see. As people mingle, they can ask each other questions and try to guess who they are. For example — if they are a politician, they may ask the other guests questions like: Is it a man or a woman? Republican or Democrat? Have they ever run for president? Every three questions, they have to guess. This also works as a drinking game. Every time you guess wrong, you take a swig of (fill-in-the-blank alcohol).
Thankful – This one is a little more heartfelt. When guests arrive, they write one thing that they are thankful for on notecards and drop it into a box. Right before dinner, everyone chooses a card out of the box and reads it out loud. The host can go last, as a way to lead into formally welcoming everyone into their home.
Board Games – Sometimes, you just gotta keep it simple. A few board games I’ve played that work great as icebreakers: Taboo, Jenga, and Crimes Against Humanity (for the naughtier Friendsgivings).
Tip Number 5. Get Unconventional
At the end of the day, Friendsgiving is about fellowshiping in gratitude of and with your friends, motley crew and all. Nothing about it has to be traditional. You can get together for a Friendsgiving hike, then grab a drink at the one spot in the neighborhood that is open. You can go on a Friendsgiving film fest and let your dinner be movie theatre popcorn – Thanksgiving weekend is great for big budget movie releases. You can plan a Friendsgiving brunch the Friday after Thanksgiving as a way to include friends who were with their family on Thursday. You can do anything that allows you to honor the spirit of Thanksgiving with the people in your life whom you care about that you may not be related to.
I’ve heard “friends” described as the family one gets to choose.
This year, I am thankful for many things in my life, including the myriad of friends who desire that I be included in their plans. I don’t know if I’ll just show up with wine, or if I get to bring a dish, or if we’ll do Salsa night the Wednesday before, or drinks and dinner the day after. But I do know that with love, food, and fellowship in mind, Friendsgiving will be a fabulous event that will leave my heart and soul as full as my belly.