Not every Thanksgiving resembles a Norman Rockwell painting, a wholesome picture of a family quietly sitting in reverence around the table as grandma places a perfectly cooked turkey at the head.
For many, Thanksgiving means your second cousin complaining none of the food works with their Paleo Diet, your uncle belching his way through a six-pack, and your grandma loudly asking when you’re getting married.
For those who are party to these less pleasant versions of Thanksgiving, Friendsgiving has provided a happier alternative holiday.
Throughout the country and even across the globe, more Americans are celebrating Friendsgiving for a variety of reasons—perhaps it’s too expensive or logistically difficult to travel to the family Thanksgiving spot or, as alluded to above, some simply would rather enjoy their deliciously gluttonous meal without the side of family drama.
“I prefer Friendsgiving,” said Maya, a 27-year-old journalist based abroad who has attended and organized Friendsgiving meals both in the U.S. and in Europe. “I come from a family with a lot of long-simmering undercurrent of drama and tensions. Nothing’s ever exploded, but it really colors a lot of the interactions between certain family members, and at the end of the night everyone’s just drained.
“Plus, I don’t feel obliged to put on Spanx,” she added.
Celebrating Friendsgiving for a third consecutive year, New Yorker Zack Kolin, 28, explained that his friends have come to fulfill the role of his family with whom he has a strained relationship, so it is logical to him to spend his holiday with them. “I don’t see my family a lot these days, anyways. My number one Thanksgiving thing now is doing stuff with friends,” he told me.
In fact, the reason he and his friends hold an annual Friendsgiving is the same that many families do Thanksgiving: to maintain bonds amid the typical hustle and bustle of the year.
“It was very important with everyone having their lives going on to have these big get-togethers once or twice a year,” Kolin said, citing how one friend moved across the country for work and another had left the city for graduate school in the past year. “Friendships mean a lot to me. It’s important to keep these relationships strong.”
Despite the emphasis on friendship, Kolin and his pals actually have a different name for their Friendsgiving: Kegsgiving. As the moniker suggests, imbibing is a critical part of the festivities.
“This year (the group celebrated two weekends ago), we had a keg and 15 different six-packs of craft beer,” Kolin said, which was for around 25 people—a total he reached after remembering there were two teams of 11 each for the drinking game Flip Cup, with a few others just watching.
“We killed everything by 2 in the morning,” Kolin said. “It was just the right amount. If there had been more beer, we would have kept drinking.”
Nearly every person I spoke to said that boozing was a part of Friendsgiving festivities, but these are more than glorified grown-up frat parties.
Food was as much a part of the celebrations as with traditional Thanksgiving, but with an emphasis on the potluck structure. Instead of one person slaving away in the kitchen, each guest is supposed to share the culinary responsibility.
While the potluck tradition has remained country-to-country, Maya said she did notice differences in the amount of food, depending on which country she was in for Friendsgiving.
“In Germany so far, [Friendsgivings] have been characterized by just less food overall. There were barely any leftovers because everyone brought just exactly the amount they thought everyone would want, and that was it,” she said. “Everyone had one plate of food and then was like ‘OMG! It’s all so good, but I can’t possibly have more I’m sooooooo stuffed’—but, you know, in German.”
Friendsgiving feasts do not necessarily follow the traditional Thanksgiving menu, either.
Susan Steinman, a 27-year-old in New York, said she and her childhood friends celebrated Friendsgiving with pizza one year. With many vegetarians in her Friendsgiving group, turkey doesn’t necessarily make the cut.
Others said they also didn’t feel beholden to serve the classic Thanksgiving turkey.
“We don’t do a turkey because my brother and I think turkey is dumb,” said Debbie Scher, who hosted with her brother in Queens, New York. “My brother makes mac and cheese and chili because he thinks it’s Thanksgiving food.” She added, “It isn’t, but it should be.”
Scher, 34, said she’s been celebrating Friendsgiving for seven years. “It’s something now we actively look forward to all year. It’s a tradition just like Thanksgiving. People text, ‘Aren’t we doing it? How could we not do it?’” Scher said, adding with a laugh. “For a while we felt special, like we came up with it. This year, I saw more and more photos on Facebook of people doing Friendsgiving. I realized it’s not just us.”
It’s not clear who invented the term “Friendsgiving” nor when the tradition began. But it seems exceptionally ubiquitous this year. Kylie Jenner even happily documented her Friendsgiving via Snapchats. Is any further proof needed to corroborate Friendsgiving’s accepted holiday status among millennials (and even those a shade younger)?
While some interviewees for this article said they prefer Friendsgiving as a happier, calmer replacement for Thanksgiving with family, others considered it a unique addition and celebrated both.
“It’s nice and fun to hang out, but it doesn’t compare to seeing family you haven’t seen in a while,” said Sean Teng, a 30-year-old living in Queens, New York who has celebrated Friendsgiving in the past but played host for the first time this year. “Friendsgiving is a nice way for everyone to celebrate something together, but I don’t think it can compare to Thanksgiving with family in terms of significance.”
However, the traditional separation between friends and family isn’t so distinct, especially for American millennials.
“Sixty years ago, people got married in their early twenties. Today, in big cities, they’re putting off marriage on average until 30,” said Eric Klinenberg, a New York University sociology professor and the author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. “They’re waiting much longer or not marrying at all, and that means people are developing and building the families they choose as opposed to the families they’re born into.”
Friendsgiving is arguably the most millennial holiday. Its rise in prominence is not merely a manifestation of festering family tensions or avoiding high travel costs, but of twenty- and thirtysomethings’ desire to create new rituals that reflect their lifestyles.
“Many traditions are up for grabs these days. We used to have clear, pre-established paths we followed during our life course, and these days, there are all kinds of options for how to live,” Klinenberg explained. “We see that reflected in the way people spend their holiday time, as we do in how they spend their everyday life.”
Scher confirmed that sociological assessment with her own Friendsgiving experience.
“With people getting married later and living in the cities, your friends in many ways become like families. We’re so thankful to have friends in our lives. It makes sense you want to find ways to spend holidays with them.”