Growing up, my favorite holiday was Lunar New Year. I loved being with my extended family and all of the chatter that goes with gathering, the scent of the food, and the thrill of seeing fireworks at midnight.
Since moving to New York City, family has looked a little different for me. They’re the chosen kind; made up of people who have helped me create a sense of home in a new country.
This past year, my two roommates and I decided to host Friendsgiving in our college dorm. We invited nine of our closest friends, pushed two dining tables together, and had a blast. The night quickly became one of my favorite college memories.
With very little hosting experience between my roommates and I, we managed to pull Friendsgiving off successfully. However, I learned a few things that can be helpful to any other first-time hosts. Here’s what I learned.
Make it Potluck Style
I admire hosts who can make every dish on their own. It’s an undertaking that should never be taken for granted. If you enjoy cooking for your loved ones and are ready for the challenge, by all means go for it.
If the thought of providing the entire meal is too daunting, it’s okay. Everyone has their limits. I know I did. Despite having my two roommates as co-hosts, the three of us immediately decided every guest would be responsible for bringing a dish. From school to work, we simply had too much on our plates to do all of the cooking ourselves.
Making our Friendsgiving potluck style drastically cut down our workload. Our guests also got to choose what would be on the menu and it alleviated the pressure of hosting. After all, we’re supposed to have fun as hosts, too.
Communicate With Everyone
While my roommates and I did not cook the whole meal, our kitchen was a bit chaotic and there was some tension in the final hours leading up to dinner time. Had we informed each other when we would be cooking, we could have avoided this conflict. So, if you’re preparing food in a shared space, communication is key.
For a potluck style Friendsgiving, consider making a spreadsheet of who is bringing what. In one column, include a list of everything needed from tableware and beverages to side dishes and dessert. This can be as broad as “a dessert” and as specific as “traditional sausage stuffing.” In the second column, your guests will sign up for a dish/item so you will know what is missing, what still needs to be assigned, and what you will either need to make or forgo. One of every dish is the norm; however, a second of the same dish is needed to accommodate any dietary restrictions or for more leftovers. Additional spreadsheet columns can contain the number of servings and any dietary restrictions the dish accommodates.
Not Every Dish Has to be a Traditional Thanksgiving Dish – Embrace the Diversity!
Your Friendsgiving table can and should be as diverse as your chosen “family,” which is what Friendsgiving is all about. Lean into all the various backgrounds of your friends for a heartwarming dinner experience. While some of our friends grew up with cranberry sauce and sweet potato casserole, there are others, including myself, who could barely tell you what those dishes are.
One of our friends brought a Nigerian meat pie. It was a crowd pleaser. Looking back, I wish I had followed their example and made my mother’s fried rice. Instead, I made four pounds of green bean casserole. It would have been easier, more fun, tastier, and I could tell my friends about the history of the dish.
Store-bought is Okay, Good Even
Food is food, after all. Chances are, not everyone attending your Friendsgiving will be able to clear their entire schedule to produce something spectacular and homemade. As long as our friends contributed, we weren’t going to discriminate. Plus, Trader Joe’s has so many exciting fall products we want to try. Friendsgiving is the perfect excuse!
Set an Informal Dress Code
My roommates and I were determined to turn our college dorm into a classy establishment for the evening.This meant a dress code. We landed on “a Central Park picnic date.” A not too formal outfit requirement was sure to add an extra layer of excitement to the evening. Our host gift was seeing how our guests interpreted the theme, as each arrived.
Have a Fun Activity Ready
Friendsgiving is about gathering your favorite people. With everyone’s busy schedules, it’s rare to have twelve friends in one place at the same time. Just because the dinner portion of the night ends, does not mean you have to say goodbye to your guests. Plan a fun game or activity.
During dessert, my roommate took an opportunity to teach everyone a whipped cream trick shot. It was incredibly fun and just as messy. Whipped cream found its way to the ceiling, the floor, people’s hair and even one of the plants. So if you care about your furniture, maybe opt for a game of Paranoia or Would You Rather. Icebreaker games are especially great if not everyone on your guest list knows each other.
Being thankful is at the center of this holiday. It’s in the name. However, before meeting my Texan best friend, gratitude was a practice I had never engaged in. Now, I could not be more thankful for her insistence on sharing and hearing all of the year’s highlights at Friendsgiving, and at our weekly family dinners.
At last year's Friendsgiving, we took gratitude to a whole new level, as we went around the table three times. Each rotation we recounted what we’re most grateful for this past week, the past month, and the past year. Like gratitude journaling, this small act made us all reflect on what a year we’d had, while sharing some of our proudest moments and reminding each other how much love there was at the table.
While Friendsgiving is not quite the same as being able to fly back to Beijing for Lunar New Year every winter, it is one of my new favorite holidays in my new country. With homemade dishes from all our friends and lively chatter that warmed up our living room, my first time hosting Friendsgiving is an experience I’ll always hold dear to my heart.
Now, If I can do it, you can too. Gather up your friends and chosen family, follow these tips to seamlessly host your first Friendsgiving, and make some new memories.