Growing up in Mississippi, Thanksgiving was always a big family affair. We had the traditional turkey, dressing — not to be mistaken with stuffing — candied yams, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens with cornbread or homemade rolls. Our table also had a ham, a duck and potato salad. For dessert, there was always sweet potato pie, maybe a pound cake and my aunt Ruby made the best peach cobbler. And we would top off the meal with the kind of sweet tea that you can only get in the South.
Thanksgiving was a busy day — cooking, cleaning, and for my dad and the menfolk, football. The house would be filled with guests — family, longtime friends and neighbors — enjoying the food, happy for the company. Later in the day, we might venture to grandma’s house.
But when I moved away from home, Thanksgiving looked different. My first few years in the Washington, D.C. area, I went to a friend’s house whose family drove up from Mississippi and welcomed me at their Thanksgiving table. One year I was invited to a co-worker’s home and another year my fellow classmate from American University’s interactive journalism program invited me to join her family for the holiday.
Once I bought a house, I invited anyone who didn’t have a place to go for Thanksgiving. My house would be filled with other singles from the South (Alabama, Texas, Mississippi) who didn’t go home for the holidays. It was usually a potluck Friendsgiving with different people making their mama’s or grandma’s favorite recipes. I baked cornish hens (not a turkey), made sweet tea, and cooked collard greens and potato salad. One person may have brought the dressing, another made the macaroni and cheese and someone would bring a sweet potato pie flown in from her mother. And of course, there was one friend who brought the wine.
There were a few years we didn’t cook at all. We ordered our Thanksgiving meal from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which prepared a delicious Thanksgiving meal with turkey and all the fixings, side dishes and desserts. All you had to do was put the items in the oven and follow the cooking directions. But someone always brought wine.
We didn’t watch football. There were usually no men at our Friendsgiving. Instead, we ladies sat around the Thanksgiving table and discussed politics and pop culture. Trash reality TV was our guilty pleasure. the conversation eventually would end up on relationships gone bad. There would be funny stories of bad dates, ghosting, horrible online interactions.
But the great thing about our Friendsgiving is that there was no judgment about where you were in life. There were no questions about why you’re still single, if you want to have children or your current employment status. There were no snide comments about weight (oh, you’ve put on some pounds I see?). There was no tension that can sometimes be found at family gatherings. We accepted each other just as we were – flaws and all.
Thanksgiving looks different when you’re single — especially if you’re away from home, in a new city with no family and few friends. But I found that it can still be joyful. I always found open doors from folks in my Jackson State University alumni association, my church and colleagues who I had worked with over the years.
Thanksgiving can be a tough holiday for some. But I am grateful for good friends and the opportunity to share a meal with longtime friends and make a few new ones over sweet potato pie and wine.
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