Our first Friendsgiving was in a dorm apartment on the third floor; we carried my friend, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, up the stairs along with her manual wheelchair. We drank cheap wine and ate home-cooked turkey and mashed potatoes on the couch. It wasn’t held in the ADA-compliant apartment that we lived in, with multiple elevators and grab bars in the bathrooms, because ours lacked a proper kitchen. The wine was served in plastic cups and one of our friends locked himself out of his dorm after the celebrations ended. But it was ours and it started a tradition that has become one of my favorite holiday staples.
According to Merriam-Webster, Friendsgiving refers to a large meal eaten with friends on or around Thanksgiving. The term didn’t become popular until the 2010s and there is no definite research that explains exactly why it did. Seven in 10 Americans between the ages of 18 and 38 prefer Friendsgiving to a traditional Thanksgiving, according to new research conducted by OnePoll in conjunction with Sabra. For my friends and I, Friendsgiving is essentially an annual chosen-family thankfulness celebration, as I called it last year. It started on our college campus, but we’ve carried on the tradition post-grad in our various apartments and houses. And we aren’t the only generation who loves it; my Gen X mother-in-law attends a Friendsgiving with her friends every November. Unlike Christmas (and Secret Santa parties that many friend groups host), Friendsgiving isn’t about spending money or partaking in traditions that you hate.
In my group of friends, a majority of us are LGBTQ+ and/or disabled. Our subsequent Friendsgivings have all been significantly more accessible than the first and are designed around including everyone: We serve vegetarian dishes for friends who don’t eat meat and include non-alcoholic beverages among the offerings. The events are potluck style at one person’s home, usually with the offer to stay over so that no one has to drive home tired or under the influence. When I’ve had trouble driving long distances due to my disability, my friends have offered to carpool instead. We talk about accessibility early on, ensuring everyone has the information they need about transportation to Friendsgiving, how to get inside and navigate the home, what food will be served, where they can sleep, and anything else they might be concerned about.
The reason I love Friendsgiving so much is because it’s all about choice. It doesn’t come with pressure or expectations; if someone can’t make it one year because they’re traveling or sick or just lost a loved one, the rest of us understand. Families of origin often make their loved ones feel guilty for not coming to the holidays, but our chosen family keeps the invitation open without the added guilt. We all have different abilities and needs, and no one is judged based on what they can cook or their transportation to the event or the mobility aids they might bring with them. When I started using a cane and switched from sleeping on air mattresses to real mattresses for my Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, my friends were accommodating and never made me feel uncomfortable.This year, I decorated my cane with rainbow holiday lights and danced around with it in the living room of my friends’ new home.
There are no awkward questions about what we’re doing with our lives and if we are accomplishing traditional goals, like we might hear at Thanksgiving: Are we in serious relationships? Have we finished school? Will we ever find a better job that’s actually in our field? Are we going to live with our parents forever? Fifty-eight percent of people from Sabra’s research say they prefer Friendsgiving to a traditional Thanksgiving because they get to avoid personal questions from their families of origin, and over half also feel less pressure to impress their guests at Friendsgiving.
Among my chosen family, there is an implicit understanding and compassion for one another; we’re all at different places in our lives. In a group that’s majority queer and disabled, we don’t place as much value on heteronormative, abled measures of success like home ownership, car ownership (or the ability to drive), marriage, or children. It’s completely normal to have someone leave the dinner table to take their medication, call their therapist’s office, or put on noise-canceling headphones for sensory reprieve.
I’m fortunate that my family of origin is accepting and nontraditional as well, but not everyone is that lucky—and Friendsgiving is a place where we don’t need to hide our feelings about the world. This holiday is about making up our own traditions, and ours are about unconditional love, access, and intentional community.