I stand, somewhat alone, as a Millennial who has resisted adding the term “Friendsgiving” to my personal lexicon. Maybe it’s because, as a fan of puns, I noticed that it doesn’t really work, since “thanks” and “friends” don’t really sound much alike. It also doesn’t really even work very well as a word, since we’re not really ‘giving friends,’ are we?
But even below the surface, I don’t like the implication that you aren’t really giving thanks when feasting with friends rather than family. Also, it seems like another sign of the declining importance of the family unit in society, especially with younger generations.
Lastly, I have a growing suspicion that it may be another attempt at editing a beloved old-fashioned holiday to make it a little more palatable to certain cultural elites. (For similar evolutions, see Columbus Day slowly becoming Indigenous People’s Day and the sudden emergence of Juneteenth as the “real” Independence Day, not that those replacements, and a day to celebrate friendship, couldn’t be worthy holidays of their own.)
So the news that our governor and our president are meeting at Fort Bragg for a “Friendsgiving” caused my eyes to reflexively roll.
I’m not saying if you’re invited to an event billed this way that you should decline (I’ve been to a few myself), just that there is no reason for the awkward neologism. A day of gratitude can be achieved with friends, family, and even, if necessary, by yourself.
The tradition of creating “days of prayer and thanksgiving” traces back to Europe. After major wars or battles concluded, the nations (including the losers) would traditionally sing the “Te Deum,” an ancient prayer of public praise, and would declare a day to thank God for their lives and their nation, hoping to maintain those blessings. They would also do so after other major events, both good and bad, like plagues and good harvests.
This Old World tradition then continued in the New World. This of course led to the event most think of as the “first Thanksgiving,” when the Pilgrims declared a 1621 day of thanksgiving to celebrate finally seeing a little success in surviving the harsh New England climate (with a little help from local American Indian tribes of course).
The popular focus has been placed so much on the Pilgrims, and the help provided to them by Native Americans, that in high school a friend of mine who had immigrated to the United States from New Zealand thought it was a celebration to thank the Indians.
I remember him saying something along the lines of, “Seems wrong to have a celebration thanking the Indians for the land you all stole from them.”
Leaving aside the history of New Zealand (and the British theft of those islands from the Maori people, as well as the Maori’s theft of some of those islands from the Moriori during the Musket Wars), let’s agree that settlers from Europe often did not treat the original inhabitants of places they “discovered” fairly.
But Thanksgiving should not be tied to any one historical event. It is a vital part of appreciating the good things, and people, we have in our lives. The Pilgrims were not even the first to declare a day of thanksgiving in the New World, with the French and Spanish, as well as English settlers in Virginia, declaring days of thanksgiving before them. And after these early holidays, days of thanksgiving were declared for a variety of reasons by multiple presidents and congresses — including George Washington after a victory at Saratoga, the Continental Congress, John Adams, James Madison, and others.
The final iteration of American Thanksgiving arrived when, after the Battle of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln decided to commemorate the victory that may have saved the Republic on the final Thursday of November every year. FDR later changed the date to the fourth Thursday, since occasionally November has a fifth Thursday and maybe he didn’t want to wait another week to eat his turkey.
But just because Lincoln decided to tie our current celebration to the Battle of Gettysburg doesn’t mean it has to be only about that event, or about an earlier dinner party held by Puritans. We can find things every year to give thanks for. In fact, maybe we should even declare a special day of Thanksgiving to celebrate the retreat of COVID-19 and its accompanying lockdowns and masks.
If you need any more reason to participate, multiple studies show giving thanks is tightly linked to happiness and health.
So let’s fight to keep the “thanks” in Thanksgiving as vigorously as our favorite church ladies fight to keep the Christ in Christmas. Whether you’re celebrating with friends, family, acquaintances, strangers, or alone, we all have something to be thankful for. Our ancestors thought it was worth setting aside days (or at the very least one day) for this purpose; we’d be ungrateful to make it about anything else.