Turning Thanksgiving with friends into a real family event

I realized today that I haven’t been home for Thanksgiving in four years. It’s just so close to Christmas; I find myself saying, “maybe next year” every year and saving the expensive plane ticket for the end of December. Thanksgiving has become the unlikely holiday I inevitably spend with friends.

But it wasn’t always that way.

When I was younger my grandmother would welcome our large, Italian clan to her house for an annual delicious Turkey Day feast. My Grandma would sit at the head of the table beaming, a perfect Blanche DuBois, complete with a natural Southern accent and impeccable sense of style. My Sicilian grandfather would sit next to her, usually rendered uncharacteristically quiet by the holiday. My cool older cousins would ride in on motorcycles, bringing their long hair, sweet piercings, and amusingly strange girlfriends. We would all talk and laugh and catch up on whatever changes the year had brought. There were always at least 15 of us seated around that large dining table, and I feel so lucky to have those memories.

After taking some time to reflect on my past few “Friends-Only Thanksgivings” I compiled a list of ways to really add that family feel to your holiday:

1.     Make the crescent rolls

If there is a Thanksgiving food/dish that really reminds you of home, make it! There is never any shame in making a dish purely for selfish motivations—others will probably end up enjoying it too! I was shocked when I first discovered that not all families have Pillsbury crescent rolls and homemade macaroni and cheese as a part of their Thanksgiving meal. (I was an absurdly picky eater when I was little. I suspect my spoiling Grandma probably started making the mac and cheese just so I would eat something). This adult revelation concerning crescent rolls and mac and cheese, however, doesn’t change my feelings about their place at Thanksgiving. To my all my future Thanksgiving guests—you’re welcome.

2.     Invite the drama

What’s a family holiday without a little drama or disappointment? Friends-Only Thanksgivings are usually a hodge-podge of who’s going to be stuck in town. Don’t be afraid of letting the awkward collide. Someone needs to represent the weird uncle.

3.     Let the animals in on the action

Family-less Thanksgiving are usually lacking in tiny humans. To make up for the lack of the customary kids’ table, consider brining your pet into the festivities.

 Just look at how excited Littlefoot is to be a part of this year’s fun:

4. Embrace the unexpected

The year before last I celebrated Thanksgiving with thirteen other Peace Corps volunteers in a small town in the Cherkasy Oblast of Ukraine. My friend Samantha hosted us all in her very old, rickety, Soviet house (no heat, outhouse, limited water). Despite the hardships (and frankly disgusting hygiene that ensued) it will always be the Thanksgiving that I think of when I hear the quote below from the Judd Apatow film, Funny People

“It’s always easier, always easier without the family… so just enjoy this. Enjoy time. Time slips away, I promise you. I had a dinner like this 20 years ago with guys that we just, like, lost touch with each other. I never talk to them anymore. Some of them are dead. Things slip away. If you love somebody, don’t let them slip away. I swear to you, this will be your most memorable Thanksgiving, the one that you’ll want the rest of your life, the one that you say, ‘Man, it was never as good as that night.’”

At our Cherkasy Thanksgiving there were 14 people and only 10 chairs to be had. We ate chicken that we pretended was a turkey. The electricity went out immediately after dinner. A house in the village burnt down across the way. It snowed off and on.

And it was one of the best times I ever had. We couldn’t have planned it better.

A Cherkasy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

– A Grateful for Indoor Plumbing and Central Heat, Lindsay

About Lindsay Golder

Freelance writer, book-fiend, lover of shamefully bad films regularly featured on TBS or TNT.

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