Having Friendsgiving at your place this year? Luckily, it’s easy to find advice on the internet. Well, not advice as much as rules. So many rules.
For instance, Epicurious has “The 7 Golden Rules of Friendsgiving.” (Rule No. 3 is “Sit on the floor.”) Chowhound sets forth “9 Rules for Planning a Perfect Friendsgiving,” including “Use nature for your tablescape,” which apparently you can do by spray-painting “some of those fall leaves from outside.”
The Kitchn has “The 10 Essential Rules for Every Friendsgiving Host.” Rule No. 4, “embrace technology,” tells you to coordinate who is bringing which dish by using Google Docs or an online tool called Perfect Potluck.
There are 10 Friendsgiving rules in Washingtonian magazine, too. The third, “Buy bulk booze,” also happened to be my own impulse when I saw a Friendsgiving article on Thrillist that lays down not rules, but commandments — 19 of them, including “Have (Extra) Toilet Paper.”
The good news about some recent Friendsgiving advice from the website Bustle: No rules! The bad news: there are “15 Books to Read Before You Host Friendsgiving.” Among the titles on the syllabus are “The Gift of Gathering: Beautiful Tablescapes to Welcome and Celebrate Your Friends and Family” and “Beautiful Boards: 50 Amazing Snack Boards for Any Occasion.”
By the time you have seen all 50 beautiful snack boards, if not long, long before then, you may ask yourself: How did Friendsgiving, originally a low-key, low-stress get-together with nonrelatives whose company you enjoy, become a bigger pain in the wishbone than Thanksgiving?
This is not just a case of the internet making everything worse, although that is also true. Friendsgiving really is getting more complicated in the three-dimensional world.
Because the event is gaining popularity and does not have a set date, Friendsgiving invitations can stack up; very popular people may attend two in one week or even one night.
Many Friendsgivings are held on the weekends before or after the fourth Thursday in November, so some brave souls go home for the traditional holiday and travel somewhere else for Friendsgiving.
Just as there are destination weddings, there are destination Friendsgivings. Guests will pay round-trip airfare and, if they don’t stay with the host, the price of a hotel room or short-term rental.
For each of the past six years, Barbara Bisoni, the president of a New York City company that sells engagement rings and other jewelry, has put together a Friendsgiving dinner in Paris. The first time, she was going through a breakup, and a friend living in Paris had offered her a place to stay. As a kind of hostess gift, Ms. Bisoni offered to cook an American Thanksgiving dinner. On the day of the meal, about 10 people showed up for turkey and sides prepared in what she calls “the teeny, tiniest Parisian kitchen you could possibly imagine.”
When she did it again the next year, the guest list and the menu grew. They’ve kept growing. A friend from New York, “an amazing cook,” now comes with her to help make the food, and others come to help eat it. The local butcher, who has been asked to supply bigger and bigger turkeys, recognizes Ms. Bisoni. And before it closed, she was an annual customer at a store in the Marais, called Thanksgiving, that specialized in American ingredients. What the shop didn’t carry, she packed in her luggage: cornbread mix, pecans, a turkey baster.
While it’s hard to feel sorry for the friends whom Ms. Bisoni invites for dinner in Paris, one can muster a little sympathy for James Norton’s Friendsgiving guests, particularly because he lives in Minneapolis and has chosen to celebrate the day in February.
Mr. Norton and his wife held their first “Febgiving” in 2008.
“I get a bit of seasonal blues every year,” said Mr. Norton, an editor for The Growler magazine. “So we thought, ‘Let’s take the best holiday and copy-paste it into the worst part of the year, and see if we can get friends to join us for a big feast.’ ”
For guests flying from out of town for Mr. Norton’s smoked turkey and dulce de leche pumpkin pie, “travel is a snap” compared with November, he said. “There are still a lot of logistics, planning and stress involved, but if you put it into February, it’s an asset not a liability.”
For those who observe Friendsgiving in November, though, the stress remains. And, because people in their 20s and 30s have been the quickest to embrace the idea, Friendsgiving meals are often hosted by people who are relatively new to entertaining. This helps explain the rise of the rules and commandments, as well as Emily Stephenson’s decision to write “The Friendsgiving Handbook,” which Chronicle Books published in August.
Ms. Stephenson is the gentlest of rule-givers. Apologetically, she advises a spreadsheet to avoid redundancy if the meal will be a potluck. The year she failed to do this, the feast consisted of 12 salads and five pies.
Although Friendsgiving is “more casual” than Thanksgiving, she said, “you still need advice to pull off a dinner for eight-to-however-many people you’re having over. And a lot of Thanksgiving advice just doesn’t apply.” Articles about how to tell Aunt Marcia that nobody likes her green-bean casserole, for instance, are of limited relevance to the Friendsgiving host, given that avoiding Aunt Marcia is one of the points of the meal.
Not having to weather familial microclimates, in fact, seems to free up vast reserves of energy that enable Friendsgiving hosts to prepare meals that would otherwise be exhausting. Fans of the custom say they throw themselves into celebrations because it’s a chance for them and their chosen social group to invest meaning in a day with no prior significance.
“You’re not taking over from your mom,” Ms. Stephenson said. “You are kicking off this new tradition for your friends.”
Bri Lurie, an epidemiologist who lives in Brooklyn, has survived her share of Friendsgivings. With a group, she rented a house on Long Island one November, and calls the expense “the happiest money I spent all year.” She has also passed several Friendsgivings at the home of a friend whose cooking tends toward the goofily surreal, like hot queso flowing in a punch fountain, or lumpia filled with turkey, gravy, stuffing and cranberry sauce.
Ms. Lurie thinks that what might strike some people as Friendsgiving excess is just a reflection of cooking culture. “We’re all watching shows on Netflix filmed in high-definition video, and it’s so beautiful,” she said. “So people are plating their food, and they’re very cognizant of the source of their food.”
“I’m sure it’ll come around,” she said. “In five years, Friendsgiving will be only things out of a can.”