Whether you’re avoiding the third degree from family members at the dinner table or you’re just not up for the hassle of flying home during the hectic holidays, Friendsgiving — when you gather for Thanksgiving with friends instead of family — can be your saving grace.
“Friendsgiving is a creative and wonderful concept, and a celebration of Thanksgiving,” Barbara Greenberg, PhD, teen, family and individual clinical psychologist, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “What a delightful way to spend a holiday where you are giving thanks, especially for those who have become your friends and maybe even ‘family’ — after all, friends often become family.”
Greenberg points out that Friendsgiving has an array of benefits, especially for people who either don’t have family members with whom they can celebrate the holiday, or who don’t have close relationships with their family. “Many people regress when they are celebrating holidays with their families of origin,” notes Greenberg. “Holidays and families are fraught with all kinds of history, not all of which is positive. Siblings who are grown adults may behave like they are children and similarly grown adults re-enact childhood issues with parents. This often leads to stress, tears, and disappointment.”
She continues: “Friendsgiving provides a healthy and happy alternative. And, for those who don’t have families, it allows them to celebrate rather than to feel isolated and alone. The holiday doesn’t have to be a depressing time.”
So if you’ve graciously offered to host Friendsgiving dinner and then immediately panicked over how, exactly, you’re going to pull this off, Yahoo Lifestyle is here to help. We tapped Elana Horwich, chef and founder of the private cooking school Meal and a Spiel, for her best tips on how to have a fun and easy Friendsgiving.
Enlist your friends. When it comes to preparing a big holiday meal, one of the easiest ways to make it less stressful is to ask your friends to each bring something, whether it’s a side dish, some wine, or a dessert. “People are going to want to participate — it’s more fun,” notes Horwich. “The more people that participate in the meal, the more fun it is and the less stressful it is.” (But if you’re jonesing to do it all by yourself, Horwich has a handy step-by-step, no-stress Thanksgiving prep guide you can follow). Doling out some dishes is also a smart move if you have friends with dietary restrictions, whether they’re vegetarians, have allergies, or are lactose intolerant, since they can bring edibles they know they can eat. However, don’t only count on friends to bring those vegetarian, nut-free, dairy-free dishes. Horwich stresses that “it’s very important to be mindful of having vegetarian side dishes. But also this is a meal that is about a lot of food and can be very food-coma inducing. So have a lot of vegetables as sides. Not all of the side dishes have to be superrich.”
Get organized. Come up with a system for who is bringing what so you don’t all show up with salads and white wine. Since there are few things more annoying than group emails, try creating a shared Google doc where people can enter their name and what they’re bringing so everyone invited can see. Also, make sure you’ve got enough plates, silverware, and cups for all.
Choose your turkey. Choosing, let alone cooking, a turkey can be intimidating — how big of a bird do you need? To brine or not to brine? It doesn’t have to be. In general, assume that you’ll need about three-quarters of a pound of turkey per person. So if you’re having, say, 15 people over for Friendsgiving, plan on getting a 12-pound bird. And don’t get fancy with the recipe. “If this is your first turkey, choose an easy, foolproof recipe and give yourself a break,” suggests Horwich (or follow her “Easiest Turkey Ever” recipe). “Get a kosher turkey, because it’s already brined. If you can’t find a kosher turkey, you can still get a brined bird as well. Brining is sticking the turkey in saltwater, usually with some sugar — it tenderizes the meat and it can even add water to it so the turkey becomes juicier.”
Select a signature drink. Nothing says “I’ve got my act together as a host” more than having your own signature drink. “Any party starts better when there’s a signature cocktail,” says Horwich. “That’s a lovely welcome. It anoints the night as something different, and it’s festive.” She recommends doing something simple and delicious, such as mulled spice wine (try her recipe here), or go even more low maintenance: champagne with strawberries or pomegranate seeds. Also, be sure to have some alcohol-free options for friends who don’t imbibe, such as sparking apple cider.
Set a festive table. You don’t have to break the bank at HomeGoods to get your table holiday-ready. “The number one thing to do to create décor for any party setting is to dim the lights and light lots of candles,” says Horwich. “You can turn the ugliest dining room into a setting for a sumptuous meal by lighting candles.” Horwich also suggests placing baby pumpkins or pomegranates along the table, or if you want more of a modern, monochromatic look, choose white pumpkins. You can also place eucalyptus leaves or rosemary around the pumpkins for some fragrant greenery, as well as small candles or a candelabra. “I also use burlap as a tablecloth,” she says. “You can use it as a runner down the center with a tablecloth underneath or use it as a tablecloth.” And before you know it, you’ll be giving Martha Stewart a run for her money.