Longtime contributor Casey Huang and EIC Leona Chen reflect on Friendsgiving, the joy of gathering, and the possibility of a stuffed Peking duck.
"So let’s skip over the whole pilgrims fantasy pretense. What does Thanksgiving really mean to you?"
C: It’s hard to encapsulate what Thanksgiving is to us. As a group of high school friends who had a three day holiday with nothing to plan for, over the years we turned Friendsgiving into our Thanksgiving.
"... [we're] forging a piecemeal community where everyone that's here, chose to be here."
L: I honestly think that’s become the default approach: gathering with people we love, and not necessarily the ones with whom we feel obligated to ritualize time spent together. While I’ll always appreciate the traditions of “going home” or getting the nuclear family together, I think that a critical part of young adulthood is also forging a piecemeal community where everyone that’s here, chose to be here-- you know?
C: The first time we actually celebrated Thanksgiving that way was in Shanghai, when we were still in high school. I can’t remember what exactly happened, but I’m sure it went something along the lines of, “Hey, we should just do something, right?” Anything seemed better than doing nothing. I am sure our first Thanksgiving, as it was in the American canon, was a potluck, consisting of food that we would make together, that people would bring over, and of store-bought food for those too lazy to cook. We tried to do it that specific, traditional way -- potato gratin, green beans, and pumpkin pie. We never actually ever had a turkey though. We always substituted with roast chicken.
L: It’s because turkey sucks. Roast chicken is marginally better, and the superior poultry is probably Peking duck but I don’t know if that’d be good with stuffing or whatever.
C: While the memory is hazy, I’m fairly certain we had it at a big long table (might have been my house, actually), and that we passed around the food and ate it family style, as we always do.
"The Thanksgiving menu is a decision about who we want to be for the moment."
L: I love imagining a bunch of immigrant families like mine cosplaying the Thanksgiving traditions, making “homestyle” dishes from recipes on the internet rather than inheriting them. There’s a very specific traditional holiday menu that we’ve both alluded to; it’s just also so fundamentally unfamiliar to my family. Like, if I made cranberry sauce, no one in my house would know what it’s “supposed'' to taste like. I guess what I’m trying to say is… for us, Thanksgiving is more of a novelty than anything else. If I’m making “Grandma’s butter something cookies,” it’s from someone else’s grandma. Trying on a different heritage, a different approach, is part of the intrigue for us. The Thanksgiving menu is a decision about who we want to be for the moment.
C: Our menu constantly shifts too: Thanksgiving is always hosted in a different place, but it always retains the warmth of old friends getting together. Much like Christmas, it’s an excuse to get together and celebrate each other even if it’s not a holiday we traditionally celebrate. Sure, you could say it took years of mixing and matching to get it where it is today, but to be honest, it is never consistent. One year we tried to go around the table to give thanks (which failed miserably and was never attempted again), one year we substituted side dishes with dumplings and Chinese vegetables, and one year we decided to skip the holiday all together (we were all too busy and flights had gotten too expensive).
L: We’ve also tried to go around the table and give thanks. For some reason, we’re not that into it either. It’s sweet that you try to change things up and try new things, though.
C: Throughout the years our group that gets together for Thanksgiving has grown smaller and smaller. Mainly because of college, because people have grown apart, because we are no longer in the same space anymore. But when the time for the holiday rolls around, we still try to fly or drive to each other to retain what we can of our old traditions. There is never really a host even if there is a specific location we all fly to: New York, Newport Beach, and Boston have been past host locations. I think, at one point during our college Thanksgiving, we did have a Turkey. It really changes every year, but the menu always, always has included roast chicken (even that one year we had a Turkey). Potatoes are a favorite too. Now, rather than have a potluck, we try to cook the meal together. Since we no longer live in the same area and just sort of crash with each other during the visits, it makes more sense to just do everything together. Sometimes, these shared moments of preparing the food is better than the meal itself - though the meal is pretty great too.
L: With my people, we’ve found a pretty reliable routine that’s stuck around for a couple iterations. It’s always hot pot, always gathered in our church, and always centrally shopped for (for convenience, but also bulk discounts, I guess). So each family will bring their own gas burner and pot for their table and the outliers (unmarried young adults, widows and widowers, teenagers who are too cool to sit with their parents) get absorbed into them so that everyone gets a family to eat with. That’s probably my favorite part: that there’s no fussing about who gets to participate and who doesn’t, no patronizing “singles table.” Everyone who shows up gets a seat. Everyone feels invited and loved and participates in communal nourishment.
C: And that’s what I love about Thanksgiving: the warmth. Seeing old friends after being apart for months, spending hours preparing food and sharing it together at a small, cozy dinner table -- all of it is time spent together that we otherwise wouldn’t have if it were a traditional family holiday. The unstable nature of it is actually what is most consistent about the holiday, and reminds me that, as cliché as it sounds, friendships continue to last and strengthen despite distance. It is, in my eyes, the one time a year we get a holiday to celebrate each other. Thanksgiving is, after all, Friendsgiving to us.
L: Exactly. We don’t need to go around the table to say what we’re thankful for because these people, this table, that we’ve gathered here tonight -- that’s what we’re most grateful for.