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Irish Christmas in America Returns December 10, 2023!

How to make the most out of 'Friendsgiving'

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

It's the weekend before Thanksgiving, but there's a good chance your holidays are already underway and that you are off to or maybe hosting a Friendsgiving this weekend. This is the increasingly trendy and widespread alt holiday meal and gathering right around Thanksgiving where we can eat and drink and bask in the glow of our closest friends, our so-called chosen family, if you will, the balm to any buildup of holiday stress.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Happy Friendsgiving.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Guys, let's go around and share what we're grateful for. I'll start.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Every time I'm in one with a group of like 10 to 12 people, it inevitably goes to s***.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: The food was not ready. When you host and you cook for your guests, there was not even a peep to eat.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: And I'm grateful that your boyfriend is my ex-boyfriend. Yay. Let's eat.

DETROW: It turns out that there is just as much stress within our social circles. And on a holiday designed to bring people together, a lot of drama ends up on the table. To talk about this, we called Danielle Bayard Jackson, friendship coach and host of the podcast "Friend Forward." Hey, Danielle.

DANIELLE BAYARD JACKSON: Hello. How are you?

DETROW: Is it fair to say that most people think about relationships with friends as, generally speaking, being less stressful than relationships with family?

JACKSON: They do, and the research does, you know, support that. Having friendships does offer a certain kind of ease that we might not get from our familial or professional relationships. So that makes sense.

DETROW: Do you think that there is something to the fact that gathering with your closest friends does have its stress points as well, does have its dynamics as well sometimes?

JACKSON: Oh, sure. You know, having friends is not a guarantee that we're not going to experience stress, right? Any relationship offers some sense of stress. But I think any time we're trying to host something, we're bringing people together during a specific time, I think it comes with certain natural stressors.

DETROW: Let's do some practical advice here, if that works for you.

JACKSON: Yeah. Let's do it.

DETROW: OK. Let's think about somebody who's hosting one of these events. They've made their guest list. They've sent out the invites. What are some ways to make their friends feel calm and welcome and happy? And I think, just as importantly, what are some ways that you, as the host, can let yourself relax and actually enjoy your gathering?

JACKSON: So yeah, it's very important that people feel welcome when they attend. We want them to feel comfortable. We want them to feel like they have permission to eat and to talk and to move about freely. When they arrive at the door, is someone there to say, you know, hey, welcome and to begin helping them facilitate connections with other attendees? So what can you prep beforehand to make you more available to engage with your guests and to reduce the stress that you have of flittering about once the event is underway?

Another thing you can do, depending on the size of the event, is, are there any things you can do prior to to help people connect before they arrive? So if you're having, you know, a small gathering of four to five people, can you put them in a WhatsApp group and have them start sharing funny memes or having them share what they're going to contribute if you're doing a potluck style to get people comfortable and building some kind of rapport before they arrive.

And then, you know, it also helps sometimes too - and this might sound a little counterintuitive because we want to be chill hosts, we want to go with the flow - but it's sometimes helpful to have structure and to have a firm duration, which I know feels like we're being uptight, but sometimes it eases our anxiety if we know that, hey, this is a 2 1/2-hour event, or if we know that, hey, we're having dinner at this time and then we're going to play a game, you know, and then we're going to, you know, have a warm exit.

DETROW: I really appreciate you saying that because when I host people, often I am the first one to get tired and get ready to end the night. And it's awkward and hard to say, like, OK, that's great. I want to go to sleep now, you know.

JACKSON: Yes. Yes, I feel that so much. And again, I know sometimes we're like, oh, people are adults. I'll let them do their thing. But people actually take comfort in knowing there's some kind of program. There's some kind of, you know, plan. And they can just trust you to establish that, and they can relax and follow along.

DETROW: Another big possible tension point, and this is something that does have a lot of overlap with traditional family gatherings, and that is the fact that you almost certainly like your friends, right? Because that's why they're your friends. But maybe you don't like your friend's friend. Maybe you don't like your friend's new boyfriend or girlfriend. What are some general tips to help you steel yourself to get along with this person that you just don't click with?

JACKSON: Well, first of all, this is where having that tight duration for the event comes in handy because you don't have to deal with that all day if there are people who are kind of ridiculous, but it might be nice to set expectations. So if you know that somebody has a certain personality type, if you know you have somebody who dominates the conversation, well, how can you frontload the experience by perhaps having, you know, conversation cards at dinner and everybody pulls a card and answers their question? And then also, you know, it's tricky sometimes because whenever you're hosting something, that's where some etiquette things come into play as well. Because let's say that you don't like your friend's boyfriend, but that person is a guest in your home, you know, kind of balancing the expectations between, I'm hanging with friends and I'm being a good host and kind of seeing where that line needs to be erected.

DETROW: And now I want to ask about something that is the painful side of this. What if you don't have to prep for going to or hosting a Friendsgiving because your friends organized a Friendsgiving and you were not invited to it? I mean, that is a universal experience in one way or another that a lot of people deal with at some point, and it stinks around the holidays. Like, what can you do to make that feel a little bit better?

JACKSON: OK. This is a rough one. I know this is tough. You know, being rejected is painful. The research tells us that, you know, social rejection lights up the same area of our brain as when we are, you know, physically harmed. But I have a couple thoughts on this. The first is be careful of the meaning and intention you often assign to that, because I see people going into thought processes like they're not my real friends or I guess they don't like me. And we really internalize that. We kind of extrapolate.

You know, when people make invitations, sometimes they're limited as to how many people they can invite. Sometimes they assume you wouldn't be interested. Sometimes they assume you already have plans because you look like a really social person. Sometimes it's for a certain group. So maybe they're hosting Friendsgiving for their other couple friends or their church friends. And so there are a lot of other things at play whenever people are hosting a gathering. And so be very careful about personalizing it or assuming that, you know, it reveals these people's true feelings about you as a friend. So that's the first thing, because I don't want us to end those friendships or to feel badly about ourselves because we weren't invited.

The second thing to keep in mind is, you know, you be a connector. You know, if you see other people hosting things and you're sitting kind of passively waiting for somebody to bring you in, sure, that feels very good and very affirming - right? - to have that invitation. But can you feel empowered to be the connector? Can you host a small gathering for others who you know might be long distance from family and they can't afford to see them or coworkers who seem kind of cool and maybe you guys have never explored friendship territory, but you know that they're a good company? So how can you take matters into your own hands and figure out ways that you can bring people to your table?

DETROW: What if - and this is hypothetical - what if your very good friends have invited you to a Friendsgiving, but they scheduled it at the exact time that your radio show starts, and it's happening right now as this segment is airing.

JACKSON: (Laughter).

DETROW: I don't know who that could happen to, but a very specific piece of advice I thought you might be able to help me with.

JACKSON: Yeah. So great hypothetical question here. If you have people who invite you and you can't make it or it conflicts with another time, there are ways to be involved even though you can't show up. So one, ask them how long it's going to be, and can you show up for a portion of instead of the full thing? And give them a heads up. Hey, I can't make it, but you know, when are things wrapping up? I want to make sure I can at least pop in and say hello.

Or can you do something where you send a gift or you send a dish on your behalf? I mean, and depending on who's there, can you be playful? Can you, you know, send a video that you ask them to play at the table so it feels like you're there? So people just want to know that you appreciate them and you see them. So if you're unable to attend, what is a gesture that you can offer that shows that you care and you appreciate the invite?

DETROW: I'll pass that along to the person I know dealing with that particular challenge this weekend. I mean, overall, do you see this Friendsgiving trend as a positive thing or something that's just kind of creating one more hurdle in the holiday gauntlet?

JACKSON: I love the idea of Friendsgiving so much because in this ongoing conversation around chosen family, I think it helps us to deconstruct certain ideas we have of what the holidays ought to look like.

DETROW: You know, you could even erase the hard lines. I'm thinking back. One thing my parents always did when I was little, they would invite the person who didn't have family nearby or, you know, for one reason or another was going to be by themselves. And kind of this mash of friends and family was always some of the holidays that I remember the most fondly.

JACKSON: Yeah. And again, I think that it's so helpful to kind of expand your idea of what Friendsgiving and Thanksgiving can look like. Anybody whose company you enjoy, the relationship offers value to your life, this is a moment to have a marked occasion to set them down, to feed them, which is a very intimate thing, and to say, you know, I value you and to make, you know, these connections around the holidays. And so I think as we have these conversations around what chosen family is, Friendsgiving becomes something that I know a lot of us are really looking forward to.

DETROW: Are you going to any?

JACKSON: I'm going to two, yes, thank you very much.

DETROW: Are you bringing a dish or what's your plan here?

JACKSON: I am totally bringing a dish. My mom always raised me - you don't show up with empty hands. So - and also to feel like I'm contributing. And it's my way of saying thank you. So I'm all about Friendsgiving.

DETROW: That is friendship coach Danielle Bayard Jackson, who's bringing a dish to Friendsgiving. Thanks so much for talking to us.

JACKSON: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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