Growing up, Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays. To the best of my recollection, our family didn’t have one particular pattern or tradition to follow. Some years we were with my mom’s side of the family, sometimes with my dad’s. Sometimes we hosted; sometimes we were invited. Sometimes it was a crowd; sometimes only a few. While the menu was largely the same year to year (turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes with WAY too much sugar on top), there wasn’t one particular dish that had to be had or controversy over its preparation. People were mostly just glad for a reason to be together (and probably stressing a bit over how to get it all done).
As a young adult living abroad, a trip home for Thanksgiving wasn’t in the cards, so the Friendsgiving tradition was born. During my semester in Moscow, our program director made a reservation for her cadre of US and British students to eat at an American-style diner. I don’t think the food was that great, but I remember the outing fondly. A few years later, I was serving in a rural Methodist church in Germany, an hour from Berlin, where a good college friend was staying. She invited me and another friend of hers to come for Thanksgiving with an open invitation to friends of friends. Before the night was over, 10 of us crowded into her apartment for turkey breast (might have been chicken), cheesy carrots (we found Velveeta!), some kind of stuffing, and who knows what else. It’s one of my favorite memories of that year.
Back in the States, between work and graduate school and some leaner financial years, Friendsgiving became the norm, celebrating with those I could reach on public transportation from Washington or Boston, or welcoming them to gather around my/our own cramped tables. Whoever came, whatever we had to eat, however it turned out, and whenever we finally finished those dishes, it was always worth it. We were together, warm, and fed. Sated in body and spirit. It wasn’t a stand-in for the “real thing” with families out of reach; it was the real thing. Paper plates, couch seats and all.
Despite the fact that many of us will likely be eating very similar things tomorrow, Thanksgiving can be a wonderfully flexible holiday. Have a snack, a friend and a seat, or two out of three? Is it the fourth Thursday in November? Have something to be thankful for? Bam! (Emeril Lagassé style) you have Thanksgiving.
As church folks, we know the Spirit shows up when two or three are gathered. As those who’ve lived through a pandemic, we know how to improvise when we can’t be exactly where or with whom we want to be. And as people who pray, we know how to give thanks.
So however things go tomorrow, Happy Thanksgiving. May a flexible Spirit within us make it as memorable as it needs to be.