Y’all, how fun is it that Friendsgiving has taken off like a freight train in Georgia? Since the newlywed season of life can often mean being away from family during the holidays, sometimes for the first time ever, Friendsgiving is the perfect opportunity to gather the ones you love right where you are and share community, gratitude, and great food. The first time I ever heard of Friendsgiving was from our Blue Ribbon Vendor, Jacin of Jacin Fitzgerald Events–she and her husband started the sweet tradition in their home years ago, and celebrated this year’s dinner this past weekend. We’re so thrilled she agreed to share some photos and a few helpful tips for hosting your own Friendsgiving celebration!
Thank you so much to Briana of For the Love of Juneau Photography for these lovely photos!
When I was a kid, my favorite family holiday dinner was Thanksgiving–I used to love helping my grandmother set the table; she would let us (the kids) make the place cards every year, set out the flatware and china, fold the napkins, make sure everyone had their own salt and pepper sets (she collected them), and make sure everything was in place before the turkey was ready to be carved. I think that was actually what sparked my interest in tablescapes and getting creative with place setting designs.
My husband Pat and I haven’t lived close to home since 2008. Before we moved, our friends used to trade off every Sunday (before we sat down to watch Sopranos) and do a potluck dinner together–it was one of our favorite things! When we moved to California, it became a bit harder to fly back for Thanksgiving every year, so six years ago, we started “Friendsgiving” with any friends who were in the area. Everyone would bring their favorite side dish–whatever recipe reminded them most of home. Pat and I would do the turkey and we’d set the table to the nines–what’s better than an excuse to use the wedding china and crystal?
We’ve learned a thing or two after doing this through the years, and here are some tips we’ve come up with to make the event one to treasure long after the last wine glass has been washed and put away.
Use what you have. This year, I had these beautiful chambray napkins from The Prolific Hive left over from a shoot that I knew I wanted to tie in somehow, and their blue color set the tone for the rest of the decor. I also have more seashells in our home than I care to admit, so the (cleaned) oyster shells doubled as our salt cellars and clam shells doubled as our votive candle holders. Ikea faux fur “rugs” doubled as chair covers for the extra chairs we had to bring in (we don’t have 12 matching chairs) and simple plants from the nursery doubled as our centerpieces (we could re-plant them afterwards). Friendsgiving (or Thanksgiving, for that matter) doesn’t have to be fancy–it’s the people around the table who make the party, not the pretty decorations. If you don’t have a ton of decorations lying around to use, head out into the backyard and clip some pretty branches (with or without leaves) and pick up some votive candles from the dollar store. Candles make every table more welcoming!
Let people help. It isn’t the Jacin and Pat show when our friends and family come over–you know how you feel when you go to someone’s house and ask “what can I do?” You really want to help, and when you’re hosting, your guests do, too. Think of some tasks beforehand that will need to get done just before everyone sits down to dinner–lighting the candles at the table, filling the wine glasses with the bottle(s) you’ve reserved to enjoy with dinner, filling the water glasses, pulling off the salad plates to serve salads/starters, putting on the dinner playlist. When everyone gets involved, it makes the event so much more fun and special to you and your guests.
Always have non-alcoholic options ready. You never know who might be pregnant but not yet ready to announce. By having sparkling cider in the ice bucket with the champagne, or O’Douls non-alcoholic beer in the cooler with the rest of the drinks (plus koozies nearby), you can prevent the awkward “Jenny’s not drinking” comments from floating around. This might seem like an odd tip, but you just never know–a good tip for any party (or wedding) is to anticipate your guests’ needs so they never have to ask for something. That’s the ultimate hostess trick.
Don’t get too fancy with the menu. A friend who attended one of our first Friendsgivings in California once told us she was thankful for this dinner because it was creating memories for her in a new place. I thought that was the most amazing thing and had never thought about it that way–when we continued to host Friendsgiving year after year, we realized we were starting a tradition with friends both old and new, something people looked forward to. Food is an amazing way to create a memory. I use the same recipes every year, passed down from friends and family: Pat’s aunt’s sweet potato souffle, my grandmother’s scalloped oysters, my mother’s pumpkin pie, etc. While it’s tempting to get crazy with the menu (and hey–go for it if you’re up to it!), we save the inventive new recipes for dinner parties during the year or Sunday night cooking. Friendsgiving and Thanksgiving are all about tradition for us.
Plan your seating chart intentionally. Take a look at the whole table with your spouse the day before and think about your guests and where they’ll sit. Who will have the most in common and create a great conversation? Who just got in a tiff the week before? Who might be a great all-around person who can literally talk to anyone (they might good for the middle of the table to keep things going), etc. Pat and I take care to place people where they’re going to have a great time. There’s nothing worse than dead air at a party, and that extra ten minutes put into the seating arrangement is time well spent to keep your dinner party lively and fun.
Create a timeline. If you’re cooking the turkey, you need to create a timeline for yourself to know when to put the turkey in the oven, as well as know when those extra sides need to go in. We have a double oven now, but when we first started this tradition, we had a tiny apartment in San Francisco and the turkey barely fit in the oven (see? another fun memory :)). I usually time my cooking so the sides head into the oven when the turkey comes out (I take it out once it hits 165 and let it rest–it’ll continue to cook once you’ve taken it out of the oven, just cover it in tin foil). Whatever timeline works best for you, go with it, but by putting one together ahead of time, it allows you to hang out with your guests when they arrive rather than working in the kitchen the entire time.
Remember what this is all about. Our Friendsgiving this year took place the day after the attacks in Paris and it felt a little strange to be celebrating when there was so much turmoil and sadness going on elsewhere in the world. We made it a point to take a moment of silence before dinner, with all of our friends gathered around the table, and that moment really brought everyone together. Give thanks to those who join you and make them feel welcomed–that is really what it’s all about.
Thank you so much, Jacin! We’d love to know, have you ever hosted a Friendsgiving dinner? What tips would you add to this list?