By Pieter De Wit

Few things can beat sitting around a decadently set dinner table with a family you love. The American tradition of Thanksgiving dates back to 1621 when pilgrims settled in New England and celebrated their first harvest. In 1863, Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, convinced Abraham Lincoln to make it a national holiday and set aside one day a year to express gratitude to the prosperity Americans lived in.

Throughout the following century, it evolved into the most important family gathering of the year. On the third Thursday of November, people travel from around the country to be “home for Thanksgiving”.

But more recently, a similar holiday has been on the rise: Friendsgiving, which is not quite a replacement for, but for some, it’s the perfect alternative to it or an added bonus. 

What Is Friendsgiving? 

As the word itself explains, in this unofficial holiday, friends replace family in a cosy get together. Friendsgiving can be celebrated on any day of the year, but most people organise it a week before the real Thanksgiving. The main idea is to share a meal with your friends and have a good time. There are no strict rules, but often the atmosphere is more relaxed, and there is less etiquette involved. Sounds great, but it also made me wonder if we aren’t losing the authenticity of the real Thanksgiving by trading it for “another meeting with friends”? 

Changing Family Circles 

I was born in the eighties, and like many millennials around me, I’m not in a hurry to get married, am still childless and travelled the world before thinking about a career. Millennials often have more diverse family structures and therefore, might feel more connection in other communities outside of their relatives. A couple of decades ago, people lived closer together in their community and relied a lot more on their family to help them manage their lives. For them, it was easy to celebrate Thanksgiving within the family atmosphere. Now, those boundaries and bonds are becoming less entrenched. 

What’s more, possibly because the world changes so rapidly, and the life choices we have are almost limitless, we often connect more with the friends who live in “our world” and people we have a common bond with. My family will always be my family, but my friends have a better understanding of how I live my life. I seek them out for advice and share my passions with them. I’m not saying friends are more important than family, but I see both as having a profound impact on my wellbeing. And because getting all of my friends together sometimes becomes more challenging than visiting my family, I think having one day a year set aside to celebrate our friendship, would be very special for me. 

A New Ideal

Thanksgiving has become very commercialised; economists see it as the beginning of the holiday season and another shopping period, celebrating consumerism instead of expressing gratitude for what we already have. Personally, I get along very well with most family members, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. At my family gatherings, everybody dresses up, the decorations on the table are breathtaking, and the food is exquisite, yet I don’t always feel as if I am blessed. 

However, when I invite my friends over for my birthday, (I haven’t had my first Friendsgiving yet!), everybody squeezes into my little apartment, and I try to keep the catering simple with wine and healthy snacks. But everybody is happy to be present, and the atmosphere is always great and full of fun! For me, that is what it’s all about; genuine connections with those close to your heart and sharing stories with a laugh or a tear.  

I think Friendsgiving is a great idea. Especially now, in a time where social distancing has become the norm, it is crucial for our health and wellbeing that we keep powerful connections with those we love and care about. In a materialistic world where we can buy almost anything we want by tapping on our screens, people feel more lonely, anxious and depressed than ever. Coming together with friends or family (as long as you get along!) is always a good idea. And since there is no reason to choose between both, Friendsgiving is a great excuse to strengthen bonds with friends, just as we do with our family during the holiday season. 

For those who feel lonely and can’t rely on close family or friends, coming together with anyone you relate to can be meaningful. Therefore, I suggest approaching Friendsgiving with utmost flexibility and celebrate humanity at the table of brotherhood with whoever you feel connected to. Invite a colleague, an acquaintance, or heck, even a stranger. I think I just invented Flexgiving!