As a New England transplant living in California, the holidays have taken on an extra layer of complexity in recent years. With limited vacation time, there's often a choice between going East for Thanksgiving or Christmas one is usually doable, but not both. There's also the extra pre-planning needed to ship gifts (a particular challenge if you're used to giving away 20+ jars of homemade preserves each year) or a last-minute scramble to do all your shopping in the final days before the holiday. As my grandfather used to remind me, however, it's just these types of challenges that force us to be creative, to re-invent, and to discover a whole world of joy in non-traditional choices. Enter Friendsgiving.

So What Is Friendsgiving All About?

As its name suggests, Friendsgiving is, at its core, a Thanksgiving-style meal with your friends. How this manifests itself is as varied as the people who attend. Before we get into what it might look like, let's clear up a misconception. Friendsgiving is NOT a get-together for an ornery group of outcasts who hate their family or don't have anywhere to go. In fact, Friendsgiving is often one of the most joyous, genuine celebrations of the season. For many people, it's a welcome opportunity to host without having to wrestle the honor from Great Aunt Elsie. It’s also a great chance to catch up with friends before family obligations start filling everyone’s calendars and, in a blink of an eye, it's New Year's Eve.

Friendsgiving can take many forms: a full-on turkey and mashed potatoes meal on Thanksgiving day itself, a “supplementary” gourmet meal on the Saturday before or after Thanksgiving (although I’d like to think of Friendsgiving as the main event), or a casual backyard barbecue with a football game or your favorite TV show humming in the background.

Break The Rules!

Sure, you want to make sure that everyone has fun, is full, and eats good food. Beyond that, as a relatively new phenomenon, Friendsgiving doesn't have a lot of rules in place. If Thanksgiving dinner at grandma's is time for ritual and tradition, then Friendsgiving is your blank canvas for creative experimentation! You can have fun with your invitation, consider breaking the jello-salad mold with a globally-inspired meal (turkey completely optional), and if you want to have a dance party break before dessert, we won't judge.

There’s often an expectation that Friendsgiving will be a potluck dinner ... but it doesn’t have to be. Don't feel obligated to serve classic dishes, either (although you can't really go wrong that way). Want to serve buffet style? Go nuts! Try a new recipe that you’ve never done before? Your friends are likely to be forgiving if it doesn’t work out.

While a hallmark of Friendsgiving is often a more casual atmosphere, in the spirit of honoring the important friendships in your life, it can also be a great opportunity to bust out your fancy wine glasses and spread out your prettiest tablecloth on the dinner table. At a minimum, it should be a gentle prod to run your vacuum cleaner...

While you're free to create your own new traditions, there are a few practical things to keep in mind to pull off a Friendsgiving dinner to remember whatever that means to you.

Seven Tips For A Perfect Friendsgiving Event

1. Google is a potluck dinner's best friend. If you're planning a potluck-style meal, this one is a must. Use Google sheets or another online platform to create a shareable spreadsheet for menu planning. If you’re going to make the main dish (be it turkey or something else), be sure to get that on the spreadsheet before you send out the link. It'll make it easier on your guests if they can anchor their recipe selections around a designated main course. See our recipe roundup below for some main course alternatives to turkey.

2. Pick your own recipes strategically. If you're gunning for top chef and want to make sure the menu is cohesive from beginning to end, consider cooking the appetizers and main meal yourself and asking your guests to bring alcohol and/or desserts (our new wine guide can help provide pairing guidelines). Or help your guests by creating a list of recipe options they can choose from in case they need help with ideas. As with any get-together, look for make-ahead recipes to cut down on the amount of work you have on the big day. Consider having a signature drink for your party (anything cranberry, apple, or ginger based is sure to fit with a Thanksgiving theme), and then farm out the rest of the beverage list to guests. This allows you to treat your guests to something special without breaking the bank.

3. Create an oven reservation system. Think about how much oven space and counter space you have. If friends are planning on showing up with a pile of ingredients, no pots or pans, and need a whole rack in your oven, you could be in trouble! Add a column to your online spreadsheet to capture oven usage needs and temperatures. For everyone’s sanity, it’s best to encourage guests to bring food that has been prepared ahead of time.

4. Know your audience. Be sure to ask if any of your guests have dietary restrictions, and be mindful of guests who don't drink. Communicate up front whether children or dogs are welcome (or if anyone has pet allergies), and make sure everyone knows where to park. Setting expectations ahead of time is the best way to avoid day-of chaos.

5. Be a thoughtful guest. On that note if you’re a Friendsgiving attendee, don’t come empty-handed! No matter how informal the gathering, it’s never a bad idea to come with a bottle of wine or bouquet of flowers for the host.

6. Get into the spirit of giving. If you’re planning on sharing leftovers, let your guests know in advance so they can pack storage containers! Want to feed more than your friends? Partner with a charitable organization to raise money for hunger or your favorite cause.

7. Have fun! Put together a special Thanksgiving playlist or better yet, delegate this task to that friend with impeccable music taste. In a pinch, you can always try a ready-made list on Spotify or Pandora. Whether your idea of fun is cheering for your team, busting a move on the kitchen-turned-dance-floor, or setting up a craft station to make homemade place cards, be sure to take pictures! Don’t forget to hashtag your photos #friendsgiving on social media.

Beyond Turkey

If you're going with traditional Thanksgiving recipes for your party, we've got you covered! Check out this post for 10 Terrific Turkey Recipes Worthy of Center Stage. If you're looking for something more off the beaten path, check out the recipes below:

Butternut Squash Rose TartProsciutto-Wrapped Pork Loin with Roasted ApplesRoast DuckClassic LasagnaInstant Pot Short RibsClassic Rack of Lamb