Jewish Journal

Move over Thanksgiving: Friendsgiving Shabbat is my reason for the season

The table is set. There’s wine, candles, bread, and a feast larger than your dining room table. It’s a time to come together with the people you care about and give thanks for everything good in your life. And, thankfully, I’m not talking about Thanksgiving, I mean Friendsgiving Shabbat dinner.

Friendsgiving is just what it sounds like: giving thanks over a meal shared with your friends. Over the last few years it’s become ever more popular, even Taco Bell did an ad campaign about it. Many people choose to replace the whole Thanksgiving feast, complete with family tension and bland family recipes, with a day of just the people they actually want to be around. As the perfect opportunity to test out new recipes and brush off the dust on old family classics, I look forward to gathering my friends for the potluck extravaganza that is Friendsgiving on Friday.

Friendsgiving is great, and combining it with Shabbat dinner takes it next level. Shabbat dinner, my favorite weekly holiday, sets the same intention that we seek out once a year in November. What brings joy into our lives? What are we grateful for and who do we want to share it with at the dinner table? I’ve been hosting through OneTable for the past year, ever since it launched in my city. OneTable is a nonprofit that is basically my support system for all things Shabbat dinner. I use their website to organize my meals, find new rituals, recipes and conversation starters, and they even offer grants to make it easy to host regularly. I’ve made new friends, recruited new hosts, and eaten more than my weight in challah!

Apparently, others had the same idea. My OneTable Hub Manager Marina Rostein told me that there have been over 100 Friendsgiving Shabbat dinners on the OneTable site this year.

While Thanksgiving is loaded with traditions and the people you’ve known forever, Friendsgiving just fits better for many millennials. I know plenty of people who struggle to see returning home as positive, but are excited to invent new traditions with their chosen families. Sometimes it’s because traveling is too expensive or difficult, and sometimes it’s just easier to be with the people who share your current values. My friends who are vegetarians have a hard time at their family’s meat-heavy holidays, but organize veggie-friendly Friendsgivings so they too can enjoy a fall feast. We’re a generation that knows what it wants, and how to get it.

While my family has eaten the same stuffing for 20 years, I love that Friendsgiving gives me the occasion to share something that is well-loved to my friends for the first time – and vice-versa for them and their family traditions. We get to share not only food, but memories with one another while creating new ones over a great meal.

Shabbat dinner shares that versatility. There is a traditional kind of Shabbat dinner: roasted chicken, too sweet wine, homemade challah. But that’s not the only option. Part of why I’ve been so invested in hosting through OneTable is that they know Shabbat dinner doesn’t have to look any one way. The rituals, new and old, traditional and chosen, can be meaningful no matter what’s served or where it’s eaten. They’ve made it possible to make Shabbat dinner my own.

One of my favorite dinners was actually one I hosted outside of my home at a bar. Called Board Game Bonanza, I reserved a table at a local bar that has hundreds of board games available to rent and allows you to bring in food. It was one of the easiest dinners I’ve ever held, yet also one of the most rewarding. People truly got a sense what Shabbat means to me – gathering friends around food for a meal that has meaning behind it. I opened up my table to people who also may be apprehensive about the “traditional” Shabbat ritual experience for a meaningful Friday night dinner, with a bit of competition!

This holiday season, I’m bringing these two traditions together and making something new that feels good to me and everyone at my table. Thanksgiving had its moment, but I’ll be celebrating Friendsgiving Shabbat dinner with OneTable. L’Chaim.