In Praise of Friendsgiving
Let's start by saying this: I love my immediate and extended family, and would very much like to be in my mother's or mother-in-law's house this Thursday, sharing the most family-oriented of holidays. Missing out on the Thanksgiving being held by my cousin this year in Georgia breaks my heart, particularly because he has a new baby, whom I have not yet met, and also because my uncle will no doubt be bringing the really good wine. I'm lucky enough to not be one of those people who hates the holidays or is annoyed by my relatives. All that said, let's take some time to praise the alternative: that celebration now known as "friendsgiving."
"Friendsgiving" is an annoying word, and one that this year seems to have been glommed onto by a host of marketing types. But beyond the catchphrase ickiness of the word itself, there exists a real thing that, particularly in cities like L.A., with its large population of young transplants, provides reason to look forward to a holiday that might otherwise be a bit too lonely. But not anymore -- it's now commonplace for people to host friends for the holidays, and many people do it gleefully, as a way to escape the emotional acrobatics required for family gatherings.
The first Thanksgiving I spent without my family was in New York City in 2001. Only weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center, it was the year that, more than any other, I longed for my family, longed to get out of the city that had the atmosphere of a huge, communal wake. My boyfriend and I thought of the prospect of sitting alone in our apartment and tried not to despair. "Can we at least roast a turkey?" I said, "Even if it's only for us?"
In the days leading up to the holiday, a few conversations with random people revealed that another friend I rarely saw wasn't leaving the city either and was going to be alone. A co-worker said quietly that a family falling-out was keeping her from her mother's table that year. Seeing as we'd already bought the turkey, which was ridiculously oversized for just the two of us, I started just inviting whoever to come over and eat with us. None of these people were super-close friends; in fact some of them I didn't know well at all. And none of them knew each other. It was going to be a ragtag party, and I worried it would be dispiriting -- all of us without our families, stranded in a city that was seriously, collectively depressed.
See also: Giving Thanks: An Ode to Gravy
And the day started strangely. I had to run to the corner deli to get some butter, and I found my co-worker in the lobby of the building, holding a bottle of wine and a bunch of flowers and sobbing. "I forgot your apartment number!" she wailed, and fell into my arms, this spitfire of a girl whom I had only ever known to be tough as nails. I took her upstairs and got her a glass of Champagne, knowing exactly what her tears were about: When we all felt so lost, the experience of being actually lost was unbearable. Other friends who were already there, who didn't know her, comforted her, and soon she was laughing and still crying, and it felt like we'd all turned some kind of corner. It was going to be OK.
We had the time of our lives. In our tiny apartment kitchen, I turned out all the dishes my family had always cooked -- turkey, stuffing, gravy, creamed spinach, lemon potatoes. I've never had such a grateful audience. We drank too much and ate like pigs and didn't clean up until the next day. It was magical.
Since then I've had plenty of Thanksgivings at home and plenty in my own place with my friends. And while I miss my family terribly during the holidays when I'm not with them, I love the strange magic that tends to happen when I get a bunch of random people in my house who don't know each other that well, and try to feed and nurture them the way their own families might. My post 9/11-Thanksgiving was an extreme example, and there's no way to say this without sounding like a sap, but it reminded me that when you need family, it often can be found in unlikely places. Friendsgiving can be a way to that, especially for people who aren't at home in their own families, but even for those of us who miss our families terribly.
Here's hoping your Thursday feels like family, whoever you're with.
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