When I think of Friendsgiving, I think of my first attempt at baking pumpkin muffins. I remember my joy at having an excuse to try out my roommate’s fancy stand mixer, my panic at using so much butter at once, the brisk three-block walk to my friend’s apartment, in ill-advised boots, with the warm bowl nestled between my gloves. Steam rising from homemade food is such a cozy thing, even when you’re not jaunting about in the cold.
Maybe you’re feeling more cold than cozy this year. It’s the first major holiday since your divorce, or it’s your ex’s turn to celebrate Thanksgiving with the kids. You could visit your parents and extended family, but you have a news feed’s worth of evidence that dinner will devolve into a political knock-down-drag-out before you can even request the salt. Here’s the beautiful thing about Friendsgiving: Friends. Sanity. Casual, low-stakes discourse over a meal everyone makes together, in one kitchen or in several. If someone gets too mouthy, you can kick him out without worrying that you’ll be left out of the will.
So how do you plan for the ideal Friendsgiving?
First, start a group chat with a few people in your same—or a similar—boat. Suggest a menu with the basics, from the bird to veggies to dessert, and let everyone choose what they’d like to contribute. Maybe everyone wants to cook together at your place. Maybe they’ll cook at home and carry their dishes over. Maybe they’ll secretly buy a pie from Harris Teeter and transfer it to their great-grandmother’s china. Great! If you tend to be a perfectionist, stop and take a deep breath. It’s okay if every item isn’t vegan and gluten-free. Make sure people are aware of potential allergens—and you eliminate cross-contamination by shared utensils— and they’ll eat what they can eat, until they physically can’t anymore.
Have games and icebreakers ready. Perhaps you’re lucky enough that the members of your various social circles already know each other. Even if that’s the case, who doesn’t love games? Go around and let people share their favorite Thanksgiving memory, or funniest-in-retrospect Thanksgiving argument. Have a few games at your disposal, too: Trivial Pursuit, Last Word, and of course Apples to Apples are always popular choices.
Remember: There are plenty of holiday movies that don’t revolve around Christmas. My go-to Thanksgiving film is Jodie Foster’s vastly underrated Home for the Holidays, but there are lots of options, from The Ice Storm to Hannah and Her Sisters. If you’d rather steer clear of dysfunctional families for the day, you can go the cult classic route with another of my favorites, Alice’s Restaurant, or with the never-not-funny Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Movie watching is also the perfect excuse to break out the leftovers and a fresh carton of eggnog. Bonus points if can start a fire in the fireplace without burning your place down.
Walk it off. Tearing yourself away from a nice, warm house is one of the most difficult things you can do. But think of how proud you’ll be if you manage to do one healthy thing today and cajole your friends into joining you? No matter where you live, bundle up and lead everyone on a brief stroll around the block. Maybe you’ll run into neighbors who started tossing up Christmas decorations the minute their forks hit their empty plates, or who are stealthily avoiding cleanup through an extended game of basketball. Say hello, but keep moving. There may or may not be more pie back at your house.
If your friends offer to help with the dishes, let them help. Send everyone home with a plateful of leftovers. And if you wake up at four a.m. with the urge to participate in Black Friday, make sure to avoid any fistfights.