Thanksgiving is almost here, which marks the official start of the holiday season. ‘Tis a time of trees and lights, of cookies and latkes, of mulled cider and Santa Claus and 24-7 carols reminding us that this is the most wonderful time of the year. Now I’m a pretty festive person, prone to wearing Santa hats and organizing gift exchanges. I listen to my “Holiday Spirit” playlist almost exclusively for the month of December, and most evenings you can find me curled up with “Love Actually,” “White Christmas,” or some other appropriately festive film (or TV special). But while this holiday season can be wonderful — a time for giving thanks, showing the people you love how much you care, and eating obscene amounts of baked goods — for the ex-pats among us, Southern or otherwise, it can also be really, really hard.
The holiday season is a time for family, everything from the media to our co-workers tells us. There’s no shortage of songs waxing poetic about how there’s no place like home for the holidays but, for many twenty-somethings, scrounging up the days off and the plane fare for a visit home isn’t always possible. And so it’s easy to find yourself far from home and all its comforts at a time when everyone else is gathering together.
It’s a hard thing to deal with, the first time you spend a major holiday away from home. For some people, it happens during college, particularly if your school is too far from home to justify the jacked-up holiday rates for a three-day visit. For me, it was the year I lived in Paris after graduation, and so my anxiety about missing my family’s traditions was amplified by the fact that 99% of the people around me not only weren’t celebrating but also had no idea that the fourth Thursday in November had any significance whatsoever. I spent a good chunk of my day trying to explain to a bunch of five year-olds what a turkey was, not to mention Pilgrims, cranberries, and the Macy’s parade.
There are a few different ways to deal with holidays away from home. One is to sink into a depression, Scrooge-ing it up hardcore and laying the bah-humbug’s on thick whenever someone offers you a candy cane. Another is denial (easier in a foreign country than America, where the holiday bombardment starts early and consumes every subway ad, radio spot, and retail display until January). But the third and, I think, most productive method is to gather your fellow holiday orphans close and engage in a rapidly growing custom dubbed Friendsgiving.
Now Friendsgiving is not a new concept (as evidenced by Scout’s list of TV specials, almost all of which feature a family-free holiday celebration). But as more and more twenty-somethings move far away from home, and more often than not find themselves working multiple jobs or retail/serving gigs that won’t let them out for the holiday, Friendsgiving has become an essential part of this festive season. Holidays can be hard, a reminder that you are far from your family (or a reminder that you like your family much more when they are far away). But it can also be a reminder of the importance of friends, and of the strength of the families that we forge for ourselves when we are all confused and lonely and far from our comfort zones.
Your friends are the ones you call at two in the morning when you’re freaking out about your lack of direction in life. They’re the ones who bring you cookies when you’re upset or who will meet you at the emergency room at one a.m. when you get your earbud stuck in your ear (sometimes wearing the same shirt as you — ask Scout to tell you about that one). They are the ones who get — more than any parent, however well-meaning — how it feels to be lost and frustrating and exhilarated by this weird limbo stage of our lives. Plus, your friends are the ones who, at the bare minimum, will bring enough booze to go around the table.
So how did I spend my first Thanksgiving without my mom’s turkey and my dad’s gumbo? First, I queued up all the “Friends” Thanksgiving episodes on my laptop. Then, I whipped up some green beans and a couple of pies, trekked over to a friend’s pad, and feasted with my French family. It wasn’t home. And those girls don’t share any of my DNA. But there was food and wine and the Macy’s parade (downloaded in its entirety by my resourceful roomie so we could pretend we were in America). And while we had only known each other for a couple months, something special happened that night, over imported cranberry sauce and local baguette. We became a family, just as my college friends were before that and my New York crew is now. And that was our first Friendsgiving.
P.S. Even if you do find yourself home for the holidays (or for a little pre-holiday celebration, as in my case), Friendsgiving as its own holiday can still be a great way to bring your “framily” together. Because sometimes we need reminding that family isn’t quite as far away as we think.