Friendsgiving tips: Friends, food and fun
Sometimes you can't make it home for the holidays, or maybe home is not where you want to be. Such is the premise for a celebratory gathering that has come to be called "Friendsgiving."
For Marissa Carlson, 34, of North Adams, friends are "another extension of family."
On Sunday, she and 13 others gathered at the North Adams home of Liz Urban and Tim Mangun for their 12th annual Friendsgiving -- a special time near the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, dedicated to food, friendship and fun.
Typically, Friendsgiving is held the Sunday before Thanksgiving or the Friday after, though Friendsgiving celebrations have also been extended into December as well.
For Carlson, the tradition began when she and her friends found themselves living and working in the Berkshires after college. They began their annual gathering as a way, in part, to celebrate the fact they've all stayed friends over the years.
"One of our traditions is to go around the table and talk about what we're thankful for. It feels really wonderful to look around and see all these people who have become part of our chosen family," said Carlson.
Not too far away on Sunday, Amanda Egan Poirier, 27, and her husband, Jesse, hosted their second Friendsgiving in Clarksburg for a couple dozen friends and their children. They rented 15 chairs and three 8-foot tables, to make sure everyone had a place to eat.
Egan Poirier said she decided to initiate a Friendsgiving gathering to guarantee she and her husband would get to spend time with friends during the holidays.
"We get to see each other in the summer for picnics and cookouts, but when you get into the winter months, people don't go out as much," she said.
The couple recently bought their home and had a baby in March. Part of settling down for them has been settling into this new tradition.
"My advice to myself this year was to not sweat the small stuff. Last year, I think I stressed out too much on having everything look just so. This year, to make it more enjoyable for myself, I've resolved that nothing has to be perfect. As long as everybody is able to make it, I'm happy," Egan Poirier said.
The origins of the term "Friendsgiving" and the frameworks for it aren't definitive, but pop culture seems to have played a role.
A recent Business Insider article on the holiday references the television sitcom "Friends," when the gang celebrates Thanksgiving together.
Mariclare Hulbert, 30, of Pittsfield, took cue for her first Friendsgiving from the 1973 animated film short, "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving," featuring the casts of characters from the comic strip "Peanuts."
In the movie, Charlie Brown and his little sister Sally are getting ready to go to their grandmother's house for Thanksgiving when Charlie Brown gets a phone call from Peppermint Patty. She first invites herself over to Charlie Brown's house for a holiday dinner, then expands the guest list to include Marcie and Franklin before Charlie Brown can get a word in otherwise.
Linus helps Charlie Brown sort through the situation by suggesting that Brown have two dinners: one for Peppermint Patty and her friends and one at the grandmother's.
Charlie Brown goes for it, though his culinary skills are limited to "cold cereal and toast."
"For our first Friendsgiving, our theme was ‘Charlie Brown Thanksgiving' with buttered toast and popcorn and peanuts and stuff," said Hulbert, who also learned, with the help and multiple phone calls to her mother, how to make a proper turkey.
"Reynolds oven bags are the key," she said.
For Hulbert, as with most Friendsgiving celebrations, it's tradition for the host to make the turkey and gravy, while potluck side dishes and desserts are brought by everyone else.
This year, she hosted her fifth Friendsgiving for nearly 25 people from Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York, who popped in and out during Sunday afternoon.
"When I moved here about six years ago, I knew absolutely nobody. The people that come to dinner are my Berkshire family," she said.
Alexandria Sniezek, 24, also of Pittsfield, hosted a dozen people at her home Sunday for her third Friendsgiving, which she planned this year with her sister-in-law, Krista Sniezek, and best friend, Sabrina Dobsz.
"We spend the night eating, drinking, catching up, reminiscing on past adventures, listening to good music -- sometimes dancing -- and playing games. It is the one time I look forward to all year, and the one day I laugh endlessly," she said. This year, Sniezek's table also recognized what's been dubbed "Thanksgivukkah," due to the fact Thanksgiving and Hanukkah share a date this year. She served potato and cheese latkes.
Though he'll be celebrating with family this year, Matt Mellace, 26, of Pittsfield, knows what it's like to be away from loved ones on Thanksgiving. He used to work out in Las Vegas.
"The thing about Las Vegas is it's a city of transplants. People come from all over to Las Vegas," he said.
So one year, he and about a dozen friends held a Thanksgiving potluck.
"We had people from the south, to Alaska to Hawaii. People brought family cooking styles of all kinds to the table," said Mellace.
Though he passed on the Hawaiian casserole dish made with Spam, pineapple, egg, turkey and cheese, he did warm up to the idea of trying some turkey bacon grits.
"I've never traveled to the south and it was my first time having any form of grits. I was standoffish at first about it, but I wound up having two scoops," he said.
Mellace's specialty for the first, and subsequent other Friendsgiving gatherings, was his grandmother's recipe for a sausage stuffing, making him feel a little closer to home.
"Of course in many cases, you want to be with family as much as possible, but whether it's funding or too far, you can't. Doing something like this, you get a feeling of comfort, it makes you feel like you are at home," he said.
As part of their Friendsgiving tradition, Mellace and his friends all put money into a pot. Before dinner, they all say a prayer for military troops abroad. After dinner, the money is brought to a Salvation Army or other charitable organization.
Last week, the call center department at Jane Iredale Cosmetics in Great Barrington hosted a Friendsgiving for its employees. Jamie Roberts, business services manager, said the tradition's at least four years running. They grab extra tables and turn their conference room into a banquet hall where a potluck buffet is set up. This year's feast served 17 people.
"I think we all agreed that our co-workers here are like a second family," said Michelle Griffin, a sales support specialist. "We spend 40 hours a week together. It was nice to sit down with everyone and have a nice meal and talk about what we were thankful for while away from all the phones emails."
Roberts said the tradition is so popular, she's plans to host another Friendsgiving at her home, around Christmas time.
"It's a great excuse for getting everyone together," she said.
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