Sammy Nickalls
November 25, 2015 7:29 am

Last Sunday, I spent all day cooking in the kitchen, making turkey filled with stuffing, smashed potatoes, butternut squash, and gravy. My friend and her boyfriend slaved away over sweet potatoes, a green bean casserole, a corn dish, and desserts, while my boyfriend bought wine and cranberry salad (and cleaned my apartment while I busied myself with the turkey). I invited four of my closest friends over, and together, we all sat down at the table and ate, laughing, spending a lovely evening together, thankful for each others’ company at our second annual Friendsgiving.

This may have only been the second year we’ve done this, but it’s already one of my favorite traditions.

It all started last year, when I was going through a rough breakup; one of us was going through a difficult divorce. And all five of us were navigating our early 20s, trying to figure out what we were doing and what our purpose was. Four out of the five of us were still living with our parents, trying to save up to move out while still navigating student loans, feeling like we were precariously balancing on the fence separating adolescence and adulthood. We spent more time than ever together that fall, supporting each other through, leaning on each other through the dark times until we found the light.

At one point in November 2014, we were talking about Thanksgiving—how there’s always that one awkward uncle, and the one grandparent who gets way too drunk, and the teenager who just wants to leave so she can start Black Friday shopping. Sure, it’s great to spend time with your family during the holidays, but sometimes, it can feel forced—where it’s just another thing we have to do during the holiday season. We forget to feel gratitude because we’re too worried about family dynamics, about if Uncle Tom tries to start a political debate with Grandpa, about if Aunt Susan is going to bring up her grudge with Aunt Teresa.

Family is important, but what if the people who got you through the hardest times aren’t even related to you at all? We’re told to be grateful for everything in life, and although Thanksgiving can be great in so many ways, why aren’t we spending a day to express true gratitude, not only for our family, but for our friends?

So we decided to create that day ourselves by starting an annual Friendsgiving. We couldn’t choose a day for it, because we all have different work schedules, but we decided: One day every November, we will set aside an entire evening for this new tradition. Everyone will pitch in, and we’ll make a big feast and celebrate friendship. We’ll celebrate the year, celebrate each other, celebrate what we’ve all been through and the lengths we’ve taken to get to where we are.

They say you can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends. That may be true, but to a degree, your friends are your family, minus the genes. They’re there for you just as much as your closest family members, and certainly a hell of a lot more than that awkward uncle and that one drunk grandparent. Friends are something to be celebrated just as much as family.

So, a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, we spent an evening laughing over turkey and stuffing, clinking our wine glasses together. We split up the leftovers for us all to share. We sat on the couch together, sleepy and stuffed, happy and content. And not only was it one of the best days of the whole year, but it has made me appreciate Thanksgiving with my family more. I spend more time with my mom helping her in the kitchen as she prepares the turkey and potatoes. . . and more time talking to those family members who I might not be so close to, but still love with all my heart.

Why not get your friends together and challenge yourself by cooking dishes you’ve never tried before? Why not enjoy a beautiful feast with your friends? It’s so important to be grateful during this time of the year, so don’t forget to celebrate the family you can choose.

Happy Friendsgiving, everyone!

(Image via Warner Bros.)

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