8 Friendsgiving Hacks That'll Make Everyone Feel at Home

By Max Wong on 20 November 2015 0 comments

Thanksgiving can be a lonely and depressing holiday. For others who can go home, Thanksgiving can be a stressful onslaught of family dysfunction, terrible commutes, and questionable side dishes.

Luckily for my bummed-out friends, I love Thanksgiving. It is, by far, my favorite American holiday and I am sooooooo happy to share my celebration with them. I am one of those insane Turkey Day evangelists who actually makes a grocery shopping spreadsheet (and schedule) to plan out what ingredients I need to buy at each grocery store chain to receive my free, "one per household" turkey (my record is six free turkeys!). Boom.

Every year, instead of a traditional sit-down dinner, I host a Strays Party for my friends who cannot or will not go home for the holidays. I am very proud that this annual party has become THE Thanksgiving tradition for many of my friends, some of whom have attended every year for the past 12 years.

Here's how I ensure that my Friendsgiving feast stays super fun every year.

1. Keep a Flexible Schedule

Thanksgiving is often a logistical nightmare. Airfare is expensive. Traffic is terrible. The turkey takes two hours longer to roast than the recipe suggests. Instead of trying to schedule and cook for 50+ people, I start cooking at 10 in the morning and don't stop cooking until 10 p.m., and let my guests show up, eat, and leave whenever they want.

Some people stay all day, while others come for just a late night snack. I never know who is going to show up when, so every hour the party changes up with a different mix of guests. Just removing the time constraint from the party helps people to relax and enjoy themselves.

I know that my 12-hour Thanksgiving Day schedule is daunting to many just from the endurance cooking standpoint, but I like the ever-changing cast of characters. It's like a progressive dinner party that never leaves my dining room.

If I ever decide to tighten my party schedule down to just a few hours, I am going to borrow a slick scheduling trick from my friend Giselle. Every year, Giselle manages to get all the members of her enormous family to the dinner table at the same time, without hassle, by serving Thanksgiving dinner on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Do her relatives care that they eat cranberry sauce a day late? No. Do they like the fact that it's cheaper to fly on Thanksgiving, than the day before Thanksgiving? Yes.

2. Create a Non-Traditional Menu

I am just going to say it: a lot of traditional Thanksgiving sides look like vomit in a casserole dish. I mean, really. How anyone can screw up a recipe that involves cream of mushroom soup is beyond me. I know I am not alone with this criticism because every year I pick up more friends who come to my Strays Party as a means of subsidizing the terrible meal that awaits them at Grandma's house.

I used to really throw down in the kitchen for the Strays Party. I made a stuffed goose. I made Turducken. I made my Cajun family's recipe for WTF-en (ahem, What The Ducken), which is a Turducken but with game meat. Although I loved impressing my friends with my Iron Chef skills, I hated spending the rest of the holiday weekend washing every single pan and dish in my kitchen.

A few years ago, I realized that the dish that everyone craves, without exception, is not some elaborate entree, but my very simple Swedish pancakes. Instead of cooking Thanksgiving dinner each year for my friends, I now serve Thanksgiving breakfast — which consists of Swedish pancakes and a variety of toppings and fillings — all day long. My friends look forward to eating special crepes for Thanksgiving and my kitchen stays much cleaner.

3. Plan for Dietary Restrictions

Back in the days when I was cooking a full Thanksgiving spread, I used to include a menu with my invitation. Now, I ask every guest to bring a dish to share. This allows people to have a "safe" dish that they know they can enjoy. Self-described terrible cooks are allowed to bring wood for the fireplace, ice, or store bought goodies.

At every potluck, I provide pens and little place cards to my guests. This allows people to label the dish that they bring, so everyone knows what is vegan, kosher, gluten-free, etc…

4. Don't Give Dietary Advice

Often, Thanksgiving dinner is one of the only meals that people with severe food restrictions allow themselves to enjoy each year. One of my best friends is on an extremely limited, medically supervised, gluten-free diet to help keep his Multiple Sclerosis in check. Thanksgiving and his birthday are the only two days each year that he allows himself to eat "normally." According to him, the worst thing about eating Thanksgiving dinner is not his resulting, pie-crust induced joint pain, or the week-long bout of depression that he risks by eating cornbread stuffing, but having his bread pudding bliss interrupted by that busy-body who feels compelled to lecture him on nutrition.

More importantly, Thanksgiving is extremely stressful for people suffering from eating disorders and for their friends and families. Although it is extremely hard for me to sit by and watch my binge-eating relative engage in self-harm at the dinner table, Thanksgiving is the day to enjoy good food and give him some extra love. Thanksgiving is not the day to discuss my own body image issues, joke about calorie counts, or ask if he's gotten therapy yet.

5. Say No to Drunk Driving

Sadly, this needs to be said. I let all my guests know in advance that I expect them to take Uber or public transit home if they plan on drinking. Drunk driving is dangerous and unacceptable.

6. Let People Contribute in Their Own Way

Many people have a favorite family dish that they are nostalgic to eat. So, even if I don't need any extra food, I let my guests share their favorite Thanksgiving treat.

Coming alone to a holiday party can be nerve-wracking for introverts, so I recruit my shy guests to help me in the kitchen. Just like there's that friend who volunteers to grill the burgers at every barbecue as a shield for his social phobia, there's that friend who always offers to help me wash the dishes.

7. Allow All Naps

My brother-in-law always shows up hours early to help me prep for parties, eats voraciously, talks to everyone, and then falls into a dead sleep on my bed while the party is still going. Thanksgiving after-dinner napping is a great American tradition. I never see napping guests as a host failure, as I am giving my friends exactly what they want and need: more sleep.

8. Plan Activities

Obviously, I like my Thanksgiving dinner to be a slightly chaotic, choose your own foodie adventure. But some of my friends like a little more structure. For those friends, I organize pre-dinner ping pong tournaments, mid-dinner parlor games, and post-dinner walks by the river. Planned activities often make socializing with strangers a little easier.

Are you a host with the most? What's your secret to throwing the best Friendsgiving party?

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Mary Ellen

Ranchboy and I would love to experience this wonderful Thanksgiving! I hope we can someday spend the holidays together!

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Julia Park Tracey

Max, you're the best. <3