I Invented Friendsgiving... OK, Maybe Not!

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I invented Friendsgiving, I said to our daughter the other day as she and her friends prepared to gather for the traditional turkey and trimmings a week before we were to gather as a family. “Ya, I know,” she said, but I could feel her eyes roll on the other end of the phone. She’d heard it before. I don’t know the origin story of the come-lately side show that seems to be just as anticipated as the traditional family gathering for so many, but surely, surely, the gathering we had with friends way back in 1998 must have been one of the first?

I had received a holiday bonus of a frozen turkey from the boarding school/military academy where I was serving as an intern, and I had no idea what I was going to do with it. I didn’t even have a kitchen, let alone a freezer! Thankfully the midwestern winters are such that they allow one to transport a frozen turkey hundreds of miles in the back of a car with no fear of thawing!

Not knowing what else to do, and not needing to be home for a week or so, I lit out from Indiana for Minnesota where the core of our college friend group had taken up residence. I remember the look on their faces when I showed up with the frozen fowl and a case of a new kind of beer – Samuel Adams – a brew so fine that each bottle had its own tag draped over the neck of the bottle!

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What else were we to do but have a gathering – complete with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and all the trimmings? I don’t think any of us had ever cooked a turkey before, but soon, with the help of each of our mothers (butter solves everything), we gleaned all we needed to know to recreate a real Thanksgiving dinner. Wild rice stuffing, homemade mashed potatoes (don’t mash too much) real cranberry relish, and homemade pumpkin pies were all on the table.

I probably tend to over-embellish the event in the retelling and that must not be lost on our kids when I tell them that we invented it. But there’s little doubt this dinner, and the ones we did after it (I got a turkey each year as a bonus) captured the true essence of gratitude. Fresh from college in gig jobs, completing requirements for grad school, or in the cornfields of Indiana, we were far from the friendly circle we had created not that long ago. But if just for this meal, that went on and on for hours (Ok, maybe there were 2 cases of beer!), we were reminded of what led us to one another in the first place, and how grateful we were to have found one another - even if we could not express it at the time.

This week I got a few emails from parents who are hosting a Camp Friendsgivng and wanted Camp recipes for no-bake bars and cinnamon rolls. These friends, many of whom took extraordinary measures to travel to see camp mates for these reunions, had gone out of their way to gather, and I can only guess, remind themselves of what led them to one another in the first place, and practice a bit of gratitude for the depths of their bonds.

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As I think about it now, this wasn’t Friendsgiving we had invented at all. After all, it was December! But it was friends giving thanks, thanks to one another, the traditions each of our families had passed down, and the community that brought us all together. And, as I think about it now, what happens at Camp Mishawaka every day - even without turkey and pumpkin pie - is just another chance to practice much of the same. Come to think of it, I didn’t invent that either, but I sure am glad to be a part of it.

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