Shauna Alexander’s Friendsgiving story began in the traditional way: She was avoiding her family.
“I was having some tough times with my parents — as one does when they’re 25,” she recalls. “It was just growing pains with the folks.”
So, instead of going home to New York for Thanksgiving that year, Alexander lied and told her parents that she had to work on Friday and was stuck in Washington.
Then she went out and bought the video game “Rock Band,” cooked a bunch of food and invited all her friends who were left in town over for dinner.
The evening was laid-back and boozy and so, so much fun. That was five years ago — and Alexander hasn’t been home for Thanksgiving since.
She is among those who ardently believe in the superiority of a Thanksgiving spent with friends. Benefits: no travel, no drama and the ability to sleep in your own bed, assuming that you don’t pass out on your buddy’s couch. It’s not that Friendsgiving advocates aren’t thankful for family. They definitely are. Just, you know, from a distance.
“There’s something to be said for friends being the family you choose, as cliche as that statement is,” says Alexander, now 31. “You get to be with people you actually want to be around, and aren’t just obligated to be around — crazy aunts and uncles and brothers you might not get along with.”
These days, Alexander’s Thanksgivings have a wonderful “Island of Misfit Toys” feeling. A dozen or more people show up every year, bearing side dishes and bottles of wine. Movies like “Home Alone 2” play on the television of her Columbia Heights rowhouse while preparations are underway. And by midnight, Alexander has usually sneaked off to bed, but the party will rage on without her.
It was the travel that finally got to Oscar Gonzalez. He and his wife, Andrea, had been traveling back to their home state of Texas for years. But five years ago, they decided to skip the Thanksgiving trip. “And it was nice, not hunting for airfare that wasn’t extremely expensive,” he says. “Not having to deal with delays and all of that.”
They were happy to find that there were plenty of people around to celebrate the holiday with them. “I think D.C. is the kind of town where there are a lot of people who are from somewhere else, and sometimes friends aren’t able to go home,” says Gonzalez, 39.
Now all their friends know that there’s an open invitation to Thanksgiving at the Gonzalezes’. People start coming over at around 1 p.m. and open a few bottles of wine. After dinner, there are board games and jam sessions, and everyone who is still there in the morning — at least a few usually are — will head out to brunch together.
The best part, Gonzalez says, is getting to spend this relaxed but significant time with friends. “When you live far away from home, friends really are your new family. They are the people who know you best,” he says. “So to be able to share a special holiday with them means a lot.”
Christie Chew grew up in Silver Spring but has only been back for Thanksgiving two or three times over the past decade. She’s a 30-year-old civics teacher in San Francisco now and firmly prefers to stay put for the holiday. Some years, she’ll host dinner. Other times, she goes to a friend’s.
Chew doesn’t like the travel or the hassle. And, she says, “I like that I can drink. If I was back with the family, they frown on it. And then you have to drive home.”
Plus, she adds, the family Thanksgiving “tends to be at my relatives’ house, and I’ll see them once or twice a year. Its nice to have tradition, but at the same time, there’s really only so much small talk you really want to do.”
In San Francisco, all her friends live in close proximity, so they can get together without driving. The food is always really good and very creative. This year Chew is making pumpkin mac ’n’ cheese. “I tried it out,” she says. “It’s amazing.”
And at the end of the evening, everybody usually ends up at a late-night karaoke bar — which definitely wouldn’t happen if she were at home with her folks. “It’s just nice to have a special day,” Chew says. “Everyone has the next day off. It’s a reason to get together.”
Annie Craig also wanted a reason to get together. “Any excuse for a party is a good one,” says the 29-year-old lawyer. And Thanksgiving “seems like a friend-appropriate holiday.”
But she didn’t want to miss celebrating with her family in Indianapolis, either. So she decided to do both, hosting a Friendsgiving celebration last Sunday before going home for Turkey Day. There was a spreadsheet to organize who would bring what among the nearly 20 guests who gathered in the community room of a Northwest Washington apartment building.
To Craig, this is the best of both worlds, and more of everything — including cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.
This year, Shauna Alexander is preparing to move to Middleburg, so her annual Friendsgiving will be held at a friend’s house. But the traditions will remain intact. They will name the turkey and give it a 48-hour brine. Everyone will come, and she will again attempt an Irish goodbye — slipping out the door without saying farewell.
And for the record, she once again has a great relationship with her parents — people she refers to as “amazing.” But she’s still not going home. This is her day.
“My parents totally get it, and they’re okay with it now,” she says. “They’ve come to know that that’s my holiday weekend to just exist. It’s nice to have those four days to just breathe.”