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Friendsgiving is cultural flourishing, not cultural decay

Today, I’m one of the millions of Americans who will be celebrating Thanksgiving with friends instead of family.

It’s not that I don’t love my family. They just live hundreds of miles away in St. Louis. I’ll instead be heading to downtown Los Angeles and hanging out with a whole bunch of other gay men. Some, like me, have families they adore but are perhaps separated from because they live in the city. Others, though, have been rejected by their families. And some are older men whose families have passed on, and they are not among those LGBT folks who have started families of their own now that gay marriage is legal.

We will all be celebrating what has become known as “Friendsgiving,” which as far as I can tell, is mostly a marketing term. Merriam-Webster traced the first use of the word on the internet to 2007 and added it to its dictionary in 2020. A Google search today will lead to “trend” stories that are essentially brand-driven exercises in marketing food and recipe choices. Don’t consider this a complaint—capitalism is awesome. My point is that my downtown group is not an outlier; Friendsgiving has a large market.

Friendsgiving is a relatively new term, but it’s not a new concept. People who have been deprived of family (either by circumstance or by choice) have been gathering for their own Thanksgiving observances for decades.

In the case of my downtown group, we are a chosen family. We spend a significant amount of time together and take care of each other in some ways that conventional families take care of each other. We even somehow on Thanksgiving in 2017 got into the stereotypical big-dinner-table fight over then-President Donald Trump. (It turned out that one of us had voted for him.) I even got to say, “Don’t blame me, I voted for Gary Johnson.”

We are thankful for the support we provide each other, especially considering the current culture war that seems to have landed some folks back into lamenting the state of the family and the general secularity of our culture surrounding the fall holidays.

Concepts of freedom and liberty don’t just apply to our relationship with our government but also our social decisions. Freedom and liberty allow for the cultural truth that each person’s relationship to community is going to be different, and that it’s not some sort of sign of cultural decay. That people seek out nonfamily communities during major cultural holidays is not an anomie—a breakdown of standards or connection to the world. It is, in fact, the opposite. It is an embrace of our social well-being, of our need to spend time with each other. Even among the most conservative or cultural traditionalists, concepts like Friendsgiving should be acknowledged as a valid tool for preserving and growing community ties.

And those ties may eventually lead to love connections that start new families. Again, it’s not an either/or scenario where we have to choose between family and some sort of lesser, not-real family. For those who don’t have family to turn to, Friendsgiving is a way to being and remaining part of a community, not some poor substitute for family or a sign that society’s gone wrong.

Enjoy whomever you’re with today, and be thankful if you actually had the liberty and freedom to choose to spend the time with them.


November 2022