Friends Thanksgiving

by , posted on November 24th, 2010 in Ideas and Inspiration

All week long, we’ve invited our friends to stop by and share their Thanksgiving stories as part of our series: a Thanksgiving with Friends.



And now, my friends, it’s time for our final essay. I find this piece, written by Kirsten Nilsen (who, incidentally, inspired this series), to be a beautiful tribute to the spirit of Thanksgiving and a perfect ending to our open house.

In Friends Thanksgiving, we discover that when friends and neighbors gather together for a Thanksgiving meal, they end up sharing more than food, they share a bounty of friendship, support, stories and develop a kinship all their own.


My very first Thanksgiving away from home involved sliced turkey from the deli counter, iceberg lettuce, and mashed potatoes of the flaky dried variety. We’d cooked the whole feast up on a single hotplate in our English dorm room, my roommates and I, 6000 miles away from home. Pathetic though it was, we toasted our far away families with cheap wine in plastic tumblers, told stories of disastrous Thanksgivings past, and laughed like only college girls can.

That night, Thanksgiving changed forever for me. With that one evening, my eyes were opened to the joy of celebrating—of giving thanks—with friends.

Since that long ago evening, I have spent many Thanksgivings away from my family. It’s never been easy—every time I got the phone call with dishes clattering cheerfully in the background and family members shouting their greetings around the phone receiver, the lump in my throat was harder to swallow than over-cooked turkey.

But every one of those far-away Thanksgivings was spent with friends. With the Other Kind of Family. The people who know the dark truths of your heart just as well as your siblings, the people who laugh with you at your silliest and your most neurotic, the people who would gladly suffer a massive hangover the next day just so they could spend the evening with you and the red Sancerre you brought back from France.

As the years went on, the Friends Thanksgiving Feast grew to epic proportions. We shifted the day to Saturday, as the dastardly European Union refused to recognize the 4th Thursday of November as a bank holiday. The menu changed from turkey-breast-cause-its-cheaper to Heritage Bronze Turkeys, raised on a local farm. The start time inched back from dinner to 3, and then 2, just so we could fit in all the appetizers and prosecco cocktails that had been dreamed up since the previous year. The gatherings always stretched late into the night, as the inevitable rating of movies, and discussion of vintage port took on profound seriousness.

But the point, every November, was never really the food, or the wine, or the fancy chrysanthemum centerpieces. The point was the profound gift of community—of a group of people bound together by shared experience, by commiseration, by terrible jokes. The point was honestly, openly, and genuinely connecting.

When we returned to the States, after many such Thanksgivings, we returned to my family’s Thanksgiving table with renewed joy and thankfulness for a family that—literally—welcomed us in their home. But my first holiday back in the States was one of the most heartbreaking moments of them all, as I missed my Other Kind of Family with the same huge dry-turkey lump in my throat.

This year marked a return to Friends Thanksgiving (early, of course, so as to fit in the family still, on Thursday). Certainly different, with crowds of swirling kids in and out of the kitchen, pickup games of tag alternating with putting finishing touches on the food, and the start time shifting due to nap schedules. But the same: the same in that our home was filled with people that we love, and that love us. Old friends, new friends; neighbors across the street and friends from an hour away. It was a day to celebrate connection—to give thanks for the people who get us through. I wish you all could have been here.


Kirsten feels like she is a stranger in a strange land: suburbia. She is a mother, and a thinker. (Contrary to popular belief, the two are not mutually exclusive.) She wonders about a lot, writes about some of it, and keeps a running commentary on the rest for the entertainment of her household. Her mantra? “It’s no laughing matter, but it’s no matter if you laugh.” Three kids, one husband, one old house, and some measure of chaos to leaven the mix. You can find more of Kirsten’s writing on her blog.


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