Most holidays have some kind of baggage. Christmas has commercialism. Thanksgiving has travel headaches.
But one holiday celebrated this time of year seems, so far, to remain free of any such entanglements.
It was the occasion for a small group of friends to gather at the Bradfords' home in Roswell on a recent evening.
As casseroles warmed in the oven, wine corks popped and guests gathered around the cheese plate noshing.
But Sam Bradford hadn't joined the party quite yet. He had a job to do.
“Hold on just a second. I think I’m getting some traction here," Bradford said, straining to guide a knife through a large roasted turkey.
He described his carving skills thusly: “I’m somewhere around Hannibal Lecter.”
The scene had all the trappings of a standard holiday season gathering, but it wasn't your standard holiday. This was Friendsgiving.
The basic idea behind the holiday is all in the name: friends plus Thanksgiving-type foods around the time of Thanksgiving equals Friendsgiving.
That’s about where the standards end.
There are no Friendsgiving origin stories or tales of the first Friendsgiving, and that means very few rules about how to celebrate or what to cook.
“It’s a time when I can try out something really unusual with my recipes,” said Sam’s wife, Valerie Bradford. (Full disclosure, she’s also my sister-in-law.)
Bradford said Thanksgiving means just making and eating the same old casseroles.
“But at Friendsgiving, you can really do something off the wall, do something untraditional,” she said. “It’s a fun time to experiment.”
This year, that meant a pancetta-sage turkey. The recipe came from a trendy food magazine.
Despite Bradford's not-so-usual contribution, the rest of the spread was what you might expect at Thanksgiving. Guests piled their plates with dressing, green beans, and cranberry sauce before sitting down to eat.
One guest, Sunira Stone, observed a notable absence at the table: blood relatives.
“Your family’s wonderful. You love them. But after some turkey and some reduced filters, things can get said, then you may not want to see them until maybe next Thanksgiving,” she said. “Whereas, that doesn’t really seem to happen at Friendsgiving.”
She ate surrounded by friends old and new, company that she said an lent easy simplicity to the gathering.
“Thanksgiving is different. A lot of people are a lot more invested. They come in with a lot of emotional baggage from 30 years of family,” Stone said. “Whereas, [with] Friendsgiving, you might have only known these people for a year or two, and you just like them.”
Her husband, Jeremy Stone, agreed.
“That’s part of what makes Friendsgiving special: you hang out with your closest, best friends,” he said. “Friends are the family that you get to choose and that you get to choose to keep throughout your life."
He said Friendsgiving gives him a chance to celebrate those relationships and keep them strong.
After dinner, people moved from room to room as conversations emerged and receded, wine glasses emptied and refilled, and dessert came out.
Nobody was worried about opening presents, there was no football game on the television, and no one had any early-morning sales to get to.
“Here and now, everything is kind of tranquil,” Sam Bradford observed. “You know, for example, if we ran out of beer, I could just go get some, because it’s just a normal Sunday night.”
He said that tranquility comes from Friendsgiving’s lack of holiday baggage, something he feels acutely during Thanksgiving.
That’s because Bradford is a distant relative of William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth Colony, whose book "On Plymouth Plantation" contains one of the few records of the first Thanksgiving.
Bradford said Friendsgiving lets him sidestep that to celebrate people he loves on his own terms.
“Maybe it’s the beginning of a whole new generation of holidays where you have to reclaim holidays from the holidays,” he said.
Maybe one day Friendsgiving will be a fixture in the holiday firmament, with a Friendsgiving Day Parade, Friendsgiving presents, and Day After Friendsgiving sales.
But for now, it remains relatively free of holiday-season baggage, ready for anyone to fill with whatever mix of friends, family, food they’d like.