The Past, Present & Future Of Friendsgiving, Everyone's Favorite Fake Holiday

If Thanksgiving is a holiday defined by great food, terrible travel experiences, and prying relatives with questionable political leanings, Friendsgiving is its opposite: boozier, easier to get to, much less emotionally trying than the holiday that spawned it, and the food is, admittedly, usually not the main draw. For some, it’s a chance to host their first adult-ish dinner party; for others, it may be a way of reclaiming a holiday that has uncomfortable historic origins. For those who can’t afford to travel home (or just prefer not to deal with family whatsoever), it’s a solution to how to spend the day; for others, it’s a way to ensure the celebration is extended.
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Not that we really need to tell you any of this. If you’re anything like the 32% of 18- to 35-year-olds that, according to millennial market research firm YPulse, hosted or attended a Friendsgiving celebration last year, you’re probably already well-versed in the benefits of eating turkey and stuffing with your BFFs. Over the course of the past decade, it has become so popular that companies ranging from Whole Foods to Taco Bell have used it as a marketing opportunity. But where did this (mostly) beloved pseudo-holiday come from, and will it last even as millennials grow up and (theoretically) move on to more traditional modes of celebration?
Many point to Friends, which aired from 1994 to 2004, as the inspiration for contemporary Friendsgivings. Each year, the Central Perk gang — for the most part inexplicably untethered by familial obligation — got up to wild, autumnal hijinks. There’s the one where Joey gets a turkey stuck on his head, the one where they all play football, and the one where Rachel concocts an unholy combination of English trifle and shepherd’s pie. To the millennials raised on the show’s constant reruns, it looked pretty fun. Even if the food didn’t always turn out great.
“I loved the tradition that was Thanksgiving on Friends. It was assumed they would spend it together and it seemed like they all felt at home. I craved that as a child and teenager I think,” recalls 25-year-old Natasha, who lives in Alabama.
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illustrated by Isabel Castillo Guijarro.
But, of course, people have been planning seasonal meals with their friends long before there was a cute name for it — or even a pop cultural reflection of it. Peg, a psychology writer in New York, recalls having such celebrations in 1970s when she was in her 20s and didn’t have enough money to travel home. “Honestly, I think young people have always done this, especially if they move to a city that's not home or there's tension on the home front,” she says.
Kelsey Miller, author of the new book I’ll Be There For You: The One About Friends (and a former Refinery29 staffer), says the notion that Friendsgiving was directly inspired by the show is something of an internet myth. "Friends didn't invent the concept of Friendsgiving. But Friends was perhaps the first show to actually feature Friendsgiving, and identify it as a tradition,” she says. “Whether or not the show actually influenced the tradition, it's definitely a part of it now.”
The term was first used on Twitter in 2007, just three years after Friends went off the air. According to Merriam-Webster, which published an extensive “words we’re watching” blog post on the portmanteau, “Given the fact that the word isn't explained in these posts and tweets, it's likely that Friendsgiving was floating around in spoken English for a bit before it showed up in written English — and this is pretty standard for new vocabulary.” It’s worth noting that “Friendsgiving” has yet to make it into the dictionary.
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It gained a new degree of national prominence in 2011, when Bailey’s Irish Cream used it in an ad campaign centered on celebrating friendship by, well, drinking Bailey’s. The same year, the word made a cameo in an episode of The Real Housewives of New Jersey called “Gobblefellas” in which Theresa holds an ill-fated celebration (is there any other kind of the Real Housewives world?) for fellow castmates at her home. But 2014 is the year the concept appears to have really become A Thing — publications as varied as The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, and The Guardian all published pieces on the holiday. (Refinery29’s coverage dates back to 2012.)
“We see millennials being a generation really obsessed with food and experiences, and also one that has delayed starting families. So [Friendsgiving] has really appealed to them as a group,” says MaryLeigh Bliss, YPulse’s VP of Content.
Generational stereotypes notwithstanding, there are plenty of reasons for people of all ages to love an event that takes the best parts of Thanksgiving — eating, drinking, being with people you love — and subtracts the stress, racist origins, and forced familial interaction. And when you think about it, there’s really no other holiday that champions friendship in the same way that others celebrate family, romantic partnership, religion, country, and in the case of birthdays, one’s self.
illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Both Lauren, 22, of Florida, and Shelby, 24, of New York separately noted that they liken Friendsgiving to another faux holiday recognized by many TV-obsessed millennials: Parks and Recreation’s Galentine’s Day. “It’s a nice opportunity to show your friends that you care and are there for them in what may be a difficult season for them. We spend most holidays with family or romantic partners, so for people who don’t have those things, these friend holidays can mean the world,” Shelby says of both occasions.
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Even if the de facto family chef lets you into the kitchen for anything other than dish duty, Thanksgiving with your extended family might not be the best venue to try out that new vegan recipe you found on Pinterest. A potluck meal with your similarly culinarily-inclined friends, however, totally is. And as long as we're talking millennial cliches, your pals probably won’t mind if you bring your phone to the table to document the whole thing. Unless your mom is Kris Jenner, it’s likely that she will.
The big question is how Friendsgiving will fare once a tipping-point majority of millennials do decide to get married and have children. “I think you do age out of it as you kind of reach new adult milestones,” posits Bliss. “We'll really have to see if it's something that Gen Z as a generation embraces as they enter their college years. But they're also a different generation — they are more used to spending time with their friends digitally.”
Most of the Friendsgiving fans we spoke to were more optimistic that they could continue the celebration alongside, or as part of, more traditional ones, even as time wears on. “I will absolutely continue the trend of Friendsgiving into my adult life in some form. I think as a generation, we are moving away from cultural norms and expectations,” says 23-year-old Olivia, who lives in California and has been doing Friendsgiving in some form since high school.
“Oh yeah, I definitely plan on continuing to celebrate,” agrees Natasha. “Just growing the circle with partners and maybe some kids… but probably no kids.”
Does this mean we’ll all be honoring two or more giving-centric holidays for the rest of our lives, watching them multiply year over year as we gain new friends? Must we keep coming up with ever more inventive dishes? Is it possible to have too much Friendsgiving? Only time will tell. But maybe go start perfecting that balsamic roasted Brussels sprouts recipe.
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