When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was a family holiday. I remember heading to my grandmother’s house in central Pennsylvania and walking into a room full of aunts, uncles and cousins. Not only was the old farm house brimming with people, it overflowed with farm-fresh dishes loaded with whole milk and butter.
Today, traditions are changing. Not only are we trading traditional dishes for healthier versions, but with families spread out across the country and the increasing cost of travel, more and more people are staying put and creating new local traditions with their "family of friends."
Friendsgiving, as many now call it, isn’t really a new concept. I remember back to my first Thanksgiving with my in-laws in San Francisco over 15 years ago and I am pretty sure “friends” outnumbered “family” around the table. My mother-in-law loved, loved Thanksgiving and if she discovered you were going to be alone, you suddenly had an invitation – and there was no getting out of it.
Everyone had a seat at Hildy’s table. My in-laws had a very small home in the heart of San Francisco, and to this day, I don’t know how she did it. No matter who showed up at the door, she always found a way for everyone to have a seat at the table and there was always enough food to go around. Even the year their house was under construction, she built a table out of saw horses and plywood, and commandeered all the empty kitchens on the block to make her feast!
While Hildy’s fascination, dare I say obsession, with Thanksgiving could be a little overwhelming at times, her heart was in the right place. She believed in and loved community, and she loved bringing people together. It wasn’t about being the coolest Thanksgiving spot in town. No, for her, it really came down to the gathering itself. She reaped joy in seeing the happiness in room, the conversations, the new friends making memories and the old friends and family reconnecting. It was her cherished moment in time.
Hildy showed me that Thanksgiving wasn’t necessarily about tradition or family or travel. While all those things may and can be part of it, it was really about bringing people together and being thankful. It was just that simple.
This is a sentiment that continues in our house today. My mother-in-law is no longer with us, but the tradition lives on for Thanksgiving, Christmas and for every holiday, and sometimes just because we want to bring friends, new and old, together.
So, if you are not traveling this Thanksgiving or find yourself alone, take a page from Hildy’s book and start a new tradition with your friends. Even if it’s last minute, be spontaneous and make the day your own. You might even forgo the Thanksgiving dinner staples and go for something new like cranberry bread as opposed to the expected sauce. Or maybe do something other than, dare I say it, turkey.
Your meal can be gluten-free, vegetarian or filled with the old standards, but above all, Friendsgiving is about nurturing and fostering the community around you, and being with the people in our lives that matter, whether they are new friends that you just recently met or ones you’ve known forever. It might be cliché, but it’s about living in the moment and relishing every ounce of it.
A Friendsgiving can unbelievably fun and memorable. And just think, you can invite who you want and not worry about what embarrassing things Uncle Ralph used to say year after year.