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Extend the Season of Gratitude with a Friendsgiving Dinner

Most of us are resigned to the fact that Thanksgiving will look very different this year. Instead of a large gathering of family members, we may end up celebrating this most American of holidays with friends who share our “bubble” as COVID-19 rages on. And if that seems too risky, we may even choose to celebrate virtually.

If this is the way your Thanksgiving plays out, you may be surprised to find you are following in the footsteps of younger family members who celebrate Friendsgiving with whichever friends are available. Since its inception more than a decade ago, this informal counterpart to Thanksgiving has become entrenched, even inspiring a new movie.

The term Friendsgiving entered the Merriam-Webster Dictionary earlier this year, but the celebration dates back to at least 2007. It refers to a Thanksgiving gathering of friends instead of family members. And although Friendsgiving celebrations can be quite extravagant, they mostly take the form of a potluck-style meal of traditional menu items as well as more creative or off-beat fare.

Friendsgiving is typically celebrated the weekend before Thanksgiving in the case of those who plan to spend the actual holiday with family, or on Thanksgiving Day for those who will be on their own. Sharing the feast with friends provides an attractive alternative for those who live far away from family and don’t want to pay up to travel by air on the busiest travel day of the year.

While Friendsgiving is mostly observed by younger Americans—typically 20- to 30-year-olds—that doesn’t mean it can’t also work beautifully for older ones, especially when COVID-19 is making mincemeat of our usual plans. Some may even appreciate the advantages of celebrating Thanksgiving in a way that leaves more room for fun and less pressure to produce Norman Rockwell-style perfection.

There are no rules but for many, Friendsgiving is more about the company than checking all the boxes for the typical Thanksgiving dinner. This means you may opt for a roasting chicken instead of large and time-consuming turkey, take the opportunity to make just a single traditional dish, or order out from one of the many restaurants that offer turkey and the fixings.

Some Friendsgiving celebrations bypass the big Thanksgiving dinner entirely in favor of a Friendsgiving brunch or by limiting the meal to favorite side dishes or desserts. Others leave the good china in the cupboard and serve the meal on paper plates and plastic silverware.

One of these less-ambitious options may be especially suitable this year, especially for those who will choose to stay home. In that case, organizing a virtual Friendsgiving or Thanksgiving will allow you to share the holiday with friends or family members while remaining safe and socially distanced, as some Monarch Landing residents do each time meatloaf is served for dinner.

The first step is to choose a user-friendly platform, such as Zoom, and enlist a technology-savvy helper to arrange the “meeting.” While you may be cutting corners on the dinner—or having a delicious prepared meal delivered to your door by our dining staff, be sure to set a festive table and dress up for the occasion.

Sharing a virtual feast also presents new opportunities to connect with friends or family. For example, you may start your Zoom get-together early enough to share favorite family recipes or extend it to include game time. Apps like Jackbox and QuizUp bring everyone in on the after-dinner fun.

Or add a little competition to the day by challenging your friends or family members to complete the Naperville Noon Lions Turkey Trot. The 5K race is traditionally run on Thanksgiving morning. But due to COVID-19, entrants can run the course anytime through November 29 by signing up on the website.

The idea is to be innovative at a time when our routines are upended. It might help to consider that Thanksgiving itself was an innovation back in 1621, when the Plymouth colonists shared corn, venison and fowl with their new Native American allies. The day didn’t get enshrined in the calendar until President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.

So why not start a new tradition in the midst of a very untraditional year? Consider sharing a special skill with your Zoom guests, remembering lost loved ones by lighting a candle or recounting happy memories, or settling in for an unhurried conversation with far-off friends or relatives.

Thanksgiving is said to be the quintessential American holiday. This year, let’s celebrate good old American ingenuity by drawing close virtually for this great annual feast.