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Friendsgiving: How to Glam Up the Superior 'Giving

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A group of people talk around a picnic table set with a table cloth and a meal.
Olivia Cruz Mayeda (right) hosts a Friendsgiving dinner for a group of friends at Lake Temescal in Oakland. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Friendsgiving is Thanksgiving’s chicer, less problematic cousin that guarantees you’ll only see people you actually want to see and eat food you actually want to eat. It’s a chill picnic at Lake Merritt with plenty of knit layers, a full sit-down at your apartment or a cramped cocktail party with half your guests sitting on your bed — it’s adaptable to whatever you’ve got going on. No formal invite needed: an “I’d love to have you over for a lil’ Friendsgiving on X date” text will make anyone feel loved and frankly elated.

Here are six guideposts to throwing a lovely, vibey Friendsgiving anywhere, be it a dank college dorm room or an overgrown backyard.

1. A turkeyless Friendsgiving is more than fine.

A roast duck from Yung Kee in Oakland Chinatown bought a day in advance makes a beautiful substitute — it’s more unctuous than turkey, it’s basically no work on your part and it reheats spectacularly in an oven or microwave. Bonus points if you serve it with the head and beak still on because that’s very cool of you. Any celebratory protein works here, though: a poke bowl station with spicy tuna from Tokyo Fish Market, a wokful of eggplant adobo with tofu, a platter of nachos with carnitas you bought that morning.

A person serves themselves duck at a picnic table set with a table cloth and a meal.
Roast duck from your favorite Chinatown barbecue shop makes for an excellent turkey alternative. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

2. Don’t overthink the guest list.

You’re delightful, and your friends are delightful. Don’t stress about who has what in common with who. They’re adults, and they’ll figure it out. Also, there’s no such thing as too small. If you roll with four people and one of them is your cat, do your thing!

3. Punch bowls are very glam.

Some gin, seltzer, ice and honey in that cute bowl you thrifted and never use is easy and communal. You can dress it up with some sliced citrus or punchy herbs, but no absolute need. Some heated apple cider from the store — or Rainbow Orchards’ farmers market stand — with additional warming spices from your pantry is also perfect.

A colorful outdoor table setting with a black-and-white checkered tablecloth, candles and fresh flowers — plus a fruit galette and big platter of salad.
A dinner table prepared by Olivia Cruz Mayeda for a Friendsgiving dinner she is hosting at Lake Temescal in Oakland, Calif., on Nov. 4, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

4. A lil’ ambience goes a very long way.

Even that half-burned candle in your bathroom and a handful of pretty plant stems from a walk around your neighborhood will make any table setting feel vibier. Lay some sprigs on the table for added organic dimension. If you have the budget, you can pick up some hand-dipped, flower-pressed (and not-already-in-your-bathroom) beeswax candles from Oakland artist Seraphina Perkins or a gorgeous paper lantern from Murasaki in Oakland. And a tablecloth — a vintage one from Berkeley’s Lacis Museum or even just a bed sheet — will do some heavy lifting with minimal effort.

A person serves themselves brownish orange-colored ice cream at a picnic table set with a tablecloth and a meal.
A sweet ending for a Friendsgiving feast: homemade Thai tea ice cream. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

5. Make the dessert you feel excited about.

I’m swinging for homemade Thai tea ice cream this year, which is pretty rad and does adhere to the fall color theme. There won’t be any fussy uncles badgering you for not making a pumpkin pie, so dream big, and dream outside the Western canon: conchas from Casa Latina in Berkeley, knafeh from Reem’s, a tub of ube-macapuno ice cream from Mitchell’s. Something classic from the grocery store is fine too, but at the very least grab a small carton of heavy cream while you’re there. All you need is a whisk and a bowl to zhuzh up your Costco apple pie with ample dollops of hand-whipped cream. Enlisting the arm strength of your friends will make everyone feel helpful and involved.

6. Finally, delegate — and let your friends lean into their strengths.

You know which of your friends you can count on to bring a gorgeous little roast veggie dish and which ones are too busy to call you back, much less bring the salad. Some people only have the capacity to bring themselves, and that’s cool too — we need someone to wash the dishes in our dishwasher-less kitchen anyway. Assigning aux to a friend is a nice way of saying, “I trust you with my life and the life of this party.” If you’re lucky, that will mean someone who’s made a playlist before the party even starts.

A dog pops up from beneath a picnic table laid with a tablecloth.
A very happy Friendsgiving for Romeo the dog. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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