‘Friendsgiving’ offers Utahns a fresh holiday take away from the ‘family drama’

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Charmaine Keck shares a laugh with her sister, Amberly Miller, and Christy Ricketson as they prepare the Friendsgiving dinner, in South Jordan, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018.

Finding the traditional Thanksgiving dinner with family on the fourth Thursday of November too stressful, too formal and too judgmental, some Utahns are turning to another, often earlier course: Friendsgiving.

For Charmaine Keck, 41, the holiday has usurped Thanksgiving altogether. She said her event, hosted this year on Thanksgiving Day at her home in South Jordan’s Daybreak, is characterized by signature cocktails, a relaxing environment and the family she’s chosen.

“When my mom passed away, like, the siblings didn’t get along,” she said. “She was kind of the glue that forced us to get together. And when she passed away, I didn’t know what to do. So I just called friends and was hoping I could join their Thanksgiving.”

The best part of the new tradition? There’s no “family drama,” she said with a laugh.

Google Trends graphs, indicating how often people have searched for the term “Friendsgiving,” show it rose from relative obscurity in 2012.

While Thanksgiving has long been considered a family holiday, Friendsgiving may reflect the way families have changed, The Atlantic speculates in an article about the phenomenon. As millennials delay marriage and parenthood, “nonrelatives have become more likely to take on family-like roles in people’s lives.”

True to form, Friendsgiving has become a popular holiday, not only for those who’d like a little less time with their relatives, but also for those who want to celebrate the importance of friends in their lives.

Andrew Farley and his wife are Utah transplants with family scattered from Washington state to Wyoming. Because their family isn’t nearby, Andrew said their friends have become a more tightknit community than their family, with Friendsgiving as a way to honor those connections.

“It’s just a way to keep the spirit of being thankful and being around people who matter to you alive,” he said. “But also not having to go through, you know, flying when it’s such a busy time to fly or driving when the weather might be poor.”

Farley, 32, plans to meet his family in Moab for Thanksgiving Day but hosted a Friendsgiving celebration Wednesday. One thing that makes their event different from a traditional gathering, he said, is the emphasis they put on the food.

“We tend to like to try different things and cook really good food," he said, “rather than the traditional gravy and turkey and ... what you might think of as traditional Thanksgiving food.”

Justin Van Ausdal, 38, said his Friendsgiving also plays with new and nontraditional foods. He and his wife, Crystal, hosted the event in their Farmington home this year and cooked 4 pounds of prawns and 20 fillets and drank nearly 10 bottles of wine among 20 guests.

“When we first started, we were making steak and shrimp and stuff for our friends, and then people would ask us if they could give money to help us pay for it because it gets kind of expensive,” Justin Van Ausdal said. “And we would just say, ‘No.’ And then last year we thought if people are going to ask, then maybe we should take their money and give it to someone else.”

This year, their event raised more than $500 for the International Rescue Committee.

While some Utahns say an added emphasis on the food is an important part of their Friendsgiving, the opposite is true for Westminster College student Maggie Regier, whose celebration usually consists of pies and mashed potatoes.

“It’s not sitting around at a table,” she said. “We’re usually sitting on the floor. We’re listening to music, and we’re hanging out. And it’s much more relaxed, and it’s just fun.”

She said the holiday also offers an important way to subvert the history of Thanksgiving, which occurred after colonizers settled the United States to the detriment and death of numerous indigenous peoples.

“Friendsgiving is so fantastic because it gives us an opportunity to play with our long-held traditions,” said Regier, 21. “The holiday is based in a lot of, you know, terrible history. And then sometimes there can be a lot of horrible family things going on. And so when you make it Friendsgiving, it’s not only removed from the tense family atmosphere, but it’s also removed from that.”