With Thanksgiving fast approaching, we asked several of our writers to tell us about their favorite Thanksgiving traditions and stories. Whether a quiet affair at home, or a boisterous congregation of friends and extended family, the richness of gathering with loved ones unites us all in this harvest season.
This year marks our 10th annual Friendsgiving in our home. It started the same year my boyfriend, now husband, and I moved into our apartment we still share today. Both of us are Minnesota transplants with our families scattered across the country. The nearest member is a five-hour drive away, but most are nine hours to “oh geez, just fly.”
Thanksgiving was never really huge on either side of the family, so that first year we decided to stay home. I was intrigued by the idea of making my own Thanksgiving meal. Cooking for two consistently instead of one for the first time ever, I found I enjoyed it more than I ever knew. A good friend of ours mentioned that his mom, who usually did all the cooking, wasn’t up for it that year due to her cancer treatment. We invited him, his mother, and (at the last minute) a friend of hers who was also without a place to go that day. It felt wonderful to make the holiday special ourselves.
In fact, it was so fun I decided to do it again the next year. I reached out and found more friends whose families were not in town and the guest list grew. Growing up always having to choose between my many family sides or just going to multiple dinners, I took for granted that everyone just has one or more places to go. I realized that this was actually a fairly common issue with this holiday. If you’re without family or maybe not comfortable with your family, a family holiday can be lonely whether you like turkey or not.
Word started to get around that I was serving up quite the feast. “The more the merrier” became my motto. But then friends started coming who DID have somewhere else to be, and I heard I was not making friends with certain mothers. Definitely not okay with making enemies with my best friends’ moms, I moved our meal to the evening. That way if someone did have family obligations, they could do both and my mom-karma was repaired.
Another tradition my husband and I included was “bring nothing but yourself.” If I was getting to redefine the holiday by making it all friends and at actual dinner time, I wanted to take the stress out of it for everyone altogether. That way anyone coming from a family gathering who might be – well, on edge – could come and just unwind for the rest of the night. Controlling the dishes also allowed me to really craft my menu and show off my culinary art.
Every year the guest list would grow. It now seems to have capped out around 15-20 people. There’s always the usual cast, but we manage to have two or three new faces each year. Our friends get excited as the date starts to approach, and find the most thoughtful ways to say thanks for hosting with things like handmade cards and beautiful centerpieces. Before the meal I give everyone a lay of the land food-wise and try to tell them what it means to me that we have a “family” here. I can usually get in a half sentence or two before the tears end me (another tradition), but I know they understand.
Over the years, Friendsgiving helped solidify our constant decision to live in Minnesota. Then the time came when we wanted to have a baby. I can’t speak for everyone, but nothing has made me reexamine all of my life choices like being responsible for another person. We decided that even without a single family member nearby, this was where we wanted to be and where we want to raise our family. A huge part of that is our family of friends.
The year our daughter was born, we decided to spend her first Christmas with family in Missouri. This helped reinforce that we’d have another Friendsgiving here so as not to travel twice in two months. The idea of a marathon week of cooking while caring for an infant was quite daunting, so that year I hesitantly asked if anyone would be opposed to bringing a few of the dishes. I was worried it would change the spirit of the no-stress day. Of course everyone happily came through, and there were still leftovers after twenty people were stuffed. That year’s quick speech was especially difficult, seeing my daughter surrounded by her Minnesota family.
It’s hard not to let the guilt of raising a child far away from her grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins overcome me and I start plugging my childhood zip code into a real estate search bar. Friendsgiving reminds me that we are by no means raising her without family. The people that come to our home on Thanksgiving aren’t once a year guests. This isn’t the only holiday or celebration we share together. We’re there for each other in good times and bad. They’ve shown that they love and support our daughter just as much as they do us, if not more (she’s pretty great). I can’t think of a better way to show her what they mean to us than to set aside this family holiday for them.
Find our other Thanksgiving Series articles here!