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What made Friendsgiving popular

The popular unofficial holiday celebrated with friends

Illustration by Zoë Petersen

People are booking flight tickets to get together with their families for Thanksgiving. But for those who can’t — or don’t want to — there is some respite with Friendsgiving. Instead of a meal with your family, Friendsgiving is all about enjoying snacks, meals and games with friends.

“Friendsgiving,” is usually celebrated a week before Thanksgiving, and may seem like commonplace for some. But the unofficial holiday grew in popularity in the last decade.

Coined in 2007, it first showed up on Twitter and discussion forums referencing an informal meal, according to Merriam-Webster. Though the word may have been a part of spoken English even before that.

You could argue that the holiday had origins in television. The TV show “Friends” first featured Thanksgiving episodes where the six friends, along with a few plus-ones, in 1994. Though the word was never used, that’s exactly what (Matthew Perry), Joey (Matt LeBlanc), Monica (Courteney Cox), Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) and Ross (David Schwimmer) did in the show, eat with friends. A similar storyline played out on “How I Met Your Mother,” which debuted in the early 2000s.

After its appearance on the web, the term showed up in lifestyle pieces in 2008 and 2009, too.

“But just because you can’t go home for the holidays doesn’t mean you have to be alone and leftover-less. Friends, coworkers, neighbors and “holiday orphans” can celebrate a fantastic “Friendsgiving” instead,” wrote Rebecca Ross from the Pensacola News Journal on Nov. 27, 2009

Another wrote for the Pensacola News Journal on Nov. 20, 2008: “Happy Friendsgiving. Do you celebrate Thanksgiving with friends instead of family? The Life section is looking for locals who toss tradition to the wind and celebrate Turkey Day with their pals, or open their feasts to holiday orphans.”

Through ad campaigns and references on TV, the term went national, according to Merriam-Webster.

Friendsgiving became a plot point for the reality TV show “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” Season 3, Episode 4, from 2011, titled, “Gobblefellas”, according to IMDb.

When Buzzfeed published “17 Rules of Friendsgiving” in 2013, shortly after, Taco Bell tweeted, “Thanks to our friends for making our first #Friendsgiving one we’ll never forget.”

And after that, the word kept gaining momentum. Other brands like Whole Foods and the National Geographic channel also hopped on the bandwagon.

The Google Trends graph for the word “Friendsgiving” shows how often people have Googled the term over the years. From 2004 to 2012, only a handful looked the word up each year, but 2014 onward saw an increasing spike.

Google Trends for the word “Friendsgiving”
Google Trends

It’s not uncommon for holiday celebrations to evolve over time, said Matthew Dennis, a University of Oregon professor emeritus who’s studied the nearly 400-year history of Thanksgiving, to The Atlantic. Halloween, for example, has transformed in the last few generations. “It’s almost as much an adult holiday as it is a kids’ holiday,” he said.

Plus, it’s common to celebrate holidays “surrounding days and weeks,” according to The Atlantic. For example, Christmas parties begin weeks before and carry on until the holiday itself on Dec. 25.

So what does the future of Friendsgiving look like? The tradition, which was an alternate to Thanksgiving, is evolving to replace it, according to Lizzie Post, co-president of the Emily Post Institute.

She told USA Today that she’s seen more families opt out of larger family gatherings, and instead, prefer a smaller, intimate Friendsgiving.

“Friends are also family. For some, friends are the only family they have,” she said.

Friendsgiving takes the pressure off of creating the perfect spread or the unique dining table arrangement. Instead, it is prioritizes celebrating with those who are important to you.

Whether it's take-out food or a potluck, whether it lasts a few hours or all weekend, doesn’t matter. What does matter is your friendships.