I’m from a very small town in rural New England. Want to guess the chances of being stationed anywhere close?
I’ll help: It’s about one in a million.
There is just one base within an hour of my hometown. The next closest likely duty station is about ten hours away. Going home for the holidays just isn’t an option most years. Between the long drive or the pricey flights, it’s impossible to make it happen. Instead, I’ve fully embraced Friendsgiving.
Most people know this as a way to test-run your dishes before the big day. You cook a few fancy things and try out your turkey recipe on a smaller roast chicken. Wine is poured and inappropriate jokes are told. It’s a great excuse to have a dinner party and break out the good china.
Or you might think about How I Met Your Mother and their infamous Slapsgiving/Friendsgiving combo holiday. We don’t enjoy hitting people, so that’s not going to happen. (Plus, I definitely don’t have a friend like Barney, mansplaining everything to me.)
My Friendsgiving is more along the lines of traditional Thanksgiving. (Except we invite all our closest friends!) And it’s amazing.
The mother of invention
Friendsgiving started, for me, in 2010. I lived in a gorgeous house almost overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I could see a sliver of sea out a top floor window if I squinted and tilted my head just right. I had tons of friends around and a sweet little pup.
What I didn’t have? A husband at home or family near by. I was dreading the holiday season as soon as September 1 hit that year.
Instead of moping around, I started talking to my best buds. We realized that all of us were Thanksgiving orphans: No spouse and/or no family around. We started to joke about just having our own Thanksgiving celebration.
The joke took off and the rest is history! One friend made the turkey and the rest of us brought sides or desserts. We all contributed something to drink. Instead of spending the day being miserable and lonely, I was surrounded by love and joy!
We enjoyed our little celebration so much that we ended up continuing it for Christmas and Easter and all of our birthdays. Now–more often than not–no matter where we are stationed, we enjoy our holidays surrounded by our military friends.
Make your life easy
I’ve watched my mom and aunts “do” Thanksgiving feasts for years. When my mom solo-hosted, it was more stress than anything else. She was in charge of the turkey and a whole bunch of sides. After a few years, they all got smart and went potluck. Everyone is guaranteed at least one dish they love and can try new things, too. It’s just a lot less work. Why cook everything when you can cook just one thing?
In my current neighborhood, that’s exactly what we do. I’m cooking one of the turkeys this year, plus a few dairy-free sides because I’m super allergic. Our neighbors are all adding another side or dessert to the table. Someone is bringing the plates, napkins, and utensils. One mom is also bringing drinks for the kids!
There is a massive group text to everyone coming so that we can coordinate food and timing that day. We’ve been shooting recipe ideas back and forth since mid-October! Plus, with most of the neighborhood moms involved, this means that all the dads are in charge of the kids for the morning. Finally, I’ll get to enjoy cooking in my peaceful kitchen.
It’s just more fun
Celebrating holidays alone is just not as much fun. Whether you are stationed OCONUS or just far from family, banding together with other families locally can help boost the joy on Thanksgiving (or any holiday). Going through a deployment? Don’t spend the day alone and inside (unless that’s your thing). Instead, reach out through your unit, neighborhood, or online community to find others looking to celebrate together.
You’ll be able to share your friends’ favorite holiday foods and swap funny stories about Thanksgivings past. Everyone will leave the table stuffed to the gills and feeling a whole lot closer.
And don’t forget. . . the cost of the traditional Thanksgiving bounce house is always less when you split it between a bunch of families. Did I not mention our Thanksgiving bounce house? Oh, we rent one every year for the kids to burn off all that turkey. This year, we got a Mickey Mouse themed one!
By Meg Flanagan