The first time that Meggan Merrick held a Thanksgiving dinner with friends, it was simply a way to practice for the main event of hosting her family later that month.
“I was newly divorced and just had gotten my own place, and I was going to be hosting Thanksgiving for the first time with my family by myself,” she recalled. “I thought I’d do a trial run the week before and just invite a few friends and cook a turkey.”
That first November, about 10 years ago, perhaps 10 people came for the celebration, she said.
This year, around 50 people crowded into Merrick’s rural Dubuque home on Saturday for her annual celebration of Friendsgiving, a national trend that has grown in popularity in the last decade.
Friendsgiving events often feature all the classic trappings of Thanksgiving, from the turkey-centric menu to group activities and football games on television, with one major difference: the majority of attendees are friends and neighbors, rather than family members.
“Family holidays can be tricky, but Friendsgiving is just easy,” said Merrick. “You don’t have a lot of expectations or stresses, it’s really relaxed, and everybody looks forward to it because you’re going to one house and hanging out with the people you’re really close with.”
The word “Friendsgiving,” defined as “a celebration or meal shared among friends on or near Thanksgiving,” was added to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary in January 2020.
The dictionary notes that the earliest print use of “Friendsgiving” appears to be in 2007, with the term quickly gaining national prominence from 2012 onward. From 2013 to 2019, the number of people invited to a Friendsgiving celebration on social planning website Evite jumped from about 100,000 to more than 580,000, according to Axios.
For some people, Friendsgiving replaces a family Thanksgiving celebration, but many others celebrate both holidays, often hosting Friendsgiving shortly before or after turkey day, so that attendees can be with their families on that day.
Merrick, for example, always plans her Friendsgiving for the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
“It just seems like everybody’s giddy because it’s a shorter week the following week, and it preps everybody for Thanksgiving,” she said.
She prepares the requisite turkey and mashed potatoes, with each guest bringing a side dish to add to the feast. The group enjoys party games, including a prize for the diner who ends up with the paper plate that has a paper turkey taped to the back of it.
“Last year, I gave a turkey waffle maker for the prize,” Merrick said. “Sometimes, somebody will bring their karaoke machine, and we just let the kids run wild and play. It’s all very family-oriented and casual.”
Arianna Webb and her husband, Logan, have hosted a Friendsgiving celebration in their Dubuque apartment since at least 2018. Ten to 20 people attend, mainly friends from the Bible study groups to which the couple belongs, and the group shares a turkey dinner and plays board games.
“It’s just a fun thing, especially for those people who might not have immediate family in town … so it’s always good to have at least some sort of Thanksgiving for them if they can’t make it to one with their family as well,” Webb said.
For Bernard, Iowa, resident Shanette Adams, an annual Friendsgiving celebration brings joy and comradeship to a difficult time of the year for her family.
Adams’ 16-year-old son, Justin Shaffer, died on Nov. 30, 2015, as a result of injuries sustained in a car crash on Thanksgiving days earlier.
Beginning in 2016, Adams, her husband and children have hosted Friendsgiving on Nov. 30 in Justin’s memory. Around 50 friends and neighbors typically gather at the Bernard fire station near Adams’ home, where they enjoy sloppy Joes and other similar potluck fare.
“I enjoy it greatly,” she said. “I find it fun to get together and socialize. It’s such a sad time of year for us, with (the anniversary of Justin’s death), so when we have people come over, it really lifts our spirits. … We sit back and relax, laugh and cry and have all kinds of good times.”
This year, Adams is adding a competitive twist to the gathering. Attendees will bring different types of soups and desserts for a tasting contest, and Adams and her daughter will serve as the judges, awarding money and lottery tickets to the winners.
“I love different kinds of soup, and I consider myself to have fine taste, so I thought that would be fun to make it a little bit of a contest,” she said.
Whatever the menu, the date or the number of attendees at a Friendsgiving celebration, local hosts agree that the people are the most important part.
“I think at the heart of it, we just really love tradition, and it’s just been super fun to be able to host all of our friends,” said Adrianna Webb.