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Illustrations by Elena Resko

The Evolution of Friendsgiving

Why we’re eager to evolve from the stuffy traditions of Thanksgiving and go all-in on a more casual, more delicious Friendsgiving.

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It’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving in Miami’s Alice C. Wainwright Park, and long-awaited Friendsgiving festivities are in full swing. Disco beats are blasting, blankets are spread picnic-style in the grass, food from all over is served, and most importantly, a group of 30- and 20-somethings is having a great time together.

After the craft beer from Miami breweries and local favorites like corn souffle, pulled pork mac and cheese, Cuban croquetas and empanadas (some delivered right to them with just a few clicks from nearby restaurants, courtesy of Grubhub) are all gobbled up, the group heads to the nearest boat or bar to top off the night.

This is how Lane Nieset, a travel journalist based in Paris, celebrates her Friendsgiving (flying back home to friends in Miami), and she’s certainly not alone.

Friendsgiving is like all of the best parts of Thanksgiving, minus the family drama and the pressure of putting on a home-cooked feast.

Friendsgiving — which, for those who don’t know, is the celebration of Thanksgiving with friends — has evolved from a holiday substitute, a “Plan B” for Americans who couldn’t be with family, to a celebration in its own right over the last decade. And the flexibility and fun that comes with Friendsgiving lets friend groups adopt their own rules and norms for the day. Instead, Friendsgiving is all of the best parts of Thanksgiving, minus the family drama and the pressure of putting on a home-cooked feast. There’s no surprise that we’re also now seeing a transformation of the friend-filled holiday itself.

“Friendsgiving is like the ultimate dinner party,” Nieset says. “It’s been seven years since I started attending, and I make a point to come back from Paris to Miami for Friendsgiving each year.”

The idea of spending the harvest season with friends isn’t exactly new said Sandy Oliver, a food historian who co-authored the book Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie. “I can point to references from the early 1800s where people were coming back to New England from Ohio and places like that to see family and friends,” she said. “There were weddings scheduled around the Thanksgiving time because it was when people gathered together.”

In modern times it was everyone’s favorite NBC television sitcom Friends that primed Americans to view Thanksgiving as an occasion to be with buddies. From 1994 to 2004, the characters had hysterical moments around the festive dinner table. In season five, for example, Monica danced with a turkey on her head. In season six Rachel made a suspicious-looking “English Trifle Cake” that Ross said tasted like “feet.” (If only it had been 2019, she could have saved herself some embarrassment by ordering dessert in from Grubhub.)

In 2008, when the recession hit, recent graduates without jobs or laid-off millennials couldn’t afford to travel home for Thanksgiving so they held makeshift meals with friends in the same position. They ended up having so much fun (more wine, fewer awkward moments than with their families) they vowed to do it again the following year regardless of their financial status. And so the concept caught on. In 2009, Urban Dictionary defined the term Friendsgiving, making it official. In 2011, Bailey’s used the term in an ad campaign, and Teresa Guidice hosted a Friendsgiving on The Real Housewives of New Jersey. (Let’s just say that a Friendsgiving dinner in the Bravo franchise is not so stress-free as we prefer our get-togethers to be.) Now the #Friendsgiving hashtag appears in over 1.2 million posts on Instagram and counting.

One likely factor for this Friendsgiving revolution: technology, and the convenience of having Facebook Events, Google Sheets, and (arguably the most handy) extra cooking help from apps like Grubhub at one’s fingertips. On the money transfer app Venmo, mentions of Friendsgiving doubled back in 2015. Hosts of large Friendsgiving events also use apps like Eventbrite to keep track of guest lists, and Handy to help tackle cleaning before and after the big party. And when throwing a huge bash, ordering from apps like Grubhub is practically a mandate, to both save time in the grocery store and in the kitchen (and probably headaches, too). And because Grubhub can deliver anywhere, hosts can easily get food straight to their event spaces.

Another arguable reason for why Friendsgiving has become a Gen Y standard: Millennials often delay marriage and parenthood until later in life (when compared to those boomers, and other previous generations). So without kids and partners to mark the holiday with, turning to close friends and communities seems like a natural fit.

“I love Friendsgiving because it’s a great reason to get together with friends, old and new,” says Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert who runs The Protocol School of Texas. “It’s invigorating, it’s fun, and it’s another reason to celebrate. The holiday season should be uplifting, and this makes it more so.”

“One of the reasons Friendsgiving has caught on is because it’s much more relaxed and laid-back than Thanksgiving,” said Gottsman. “Because it’s Friendsgiving, it’s already unique and creative, not traditional,” she said. “Hosts can choose to do whatever they want.”

Sure, there are those who still opt for a traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie on Friendsgiving. Many turn to Grubhub because it works with numerous restaurants that prepare entire meals, even throwing in pretty napkins. But more diners are opting to think out of the box for this pseudo-holiday. Nieset cherishes her Friendsgiving meal, because participants bring food from all over the world. “The food is just as much of a melting pot of cuisines as Miami is of cultures,” she said.

Oliver interviewed a Jamaican woman who has the butcher chop up her turkey so she can make a dish from her homeland. “My vision of the holiday is this whole bird sitting on this table,” said Oliver. “But she had this marvelous dish she made. It’s the same turkey, but it’s a little different.” Many immigrants use the holiday as a chance to indulge in ethnic, meaningful foods.

Gottsman said she sees many people, both hosts and guests, ordering their favorite dish or meal from a restaurant on Friendsgiving. “If it’s a really good dish, by all means bring it,” said Gottsman. “Say, ‘It’s one of my favorite dishes, I didn’t cook it, but I love it so I’m sharing it.’” And with so many restaurants available on Grubhub now, people can easily pick-up or pre-order their favorite foods, avoid long lines, and head straight to their Friendsgiving event.

With so many restaurants available on Grubhub now, people can easily pick-up or pre-order their favorite foods, avoid long lines, and head straight to their Friendsgiving event.

Ko Im, an editor based in New York City, is staging her first Friendsgiving meal this year for 25 people the Friday before Thanksgiving. She wants her holiday to be stress-free, so she’s having all the food catered. “I don’t have an oven,” she said. “And it would take all day to prepare.” Her guests will be treated to cheese, hummus, and challah (traditional bread eaten by Jews on the Sabbath). There will also be seasonal vegetables, turkey, and pumpkin pie cheesecake.

Friendsgiving is hardly just about the food, and many gatherings include thoughtful activities. Im is holding a meditation and prayer session during Friendsgiving. Gottsman is having her friends bring their favorite bottle of wine or cocktail. Friends of all ages giggle over games of pin-the-tail-on-the-turkey. Some groups insist on going around the room and having everyone declare what they are thankful for this year.

But no matter the activity, what’s arguably most important for a successful #Friendsgiving is simply getting all your friends that serve as family together under one roof, and having a great time. And if you’re planning on hosting a large party, don’t forget about Grubhub’s catering option to save yourself the hassle of cooking for everyone. So if you’re hosting your own bash for the first time this year (or still get a little anxious every year), don’t sweat the details — just focus on having fun with the people you cherish most. As Gottsman puts it, “I want my guests to remember the fun for years.”

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