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Published November 27, 2013, 07:39 PM

'Friendsgiving' celebrates food and friendship

Trendy twist on Thanksgiving growing in popularity FARGO – Armed with bingo blotters and forks, a group of friends gives thanks. They play bingo at Pitt 611 Sports Bar & Grill in Audubon, Minn., and then rush to the cabin on Nelson Lake to fry two turkeys and prep countless side dishes.

By: Anna G. Larson, INFORUM

FARGO – Armed with bingo blotters and forks, a group of friends gives thanks.

They play bingo at Pitt 611 Sports Bar & Grill in Audubon, Minn., and then rush to the cabin on Nelson Lake to fry two turkeys and prep countless side dishes.

The hours-long frenzy ends at 8 p.m., and the 30-some friends sit down at a long table to enjoy “Friendsgiving.”

“I think it’s pretty cool that we just take the time – there aren’t a lot of cellphones at the table. It’s just true fellowship and friendship and getting caught up,” says Kirk Stevenson, the host of the annual friend gathering.

Friendsgiving is Thanksgiving with a twist. The pre- or post-Turkey Day celebrations typically involve a large dinner but focus on taking time to catch up with friends.

The trendy cousin of Thanksgiving has been recognized by Target in a holiday commercial this year, and the Whole Foods blog, BuzzFeed and countless lifestyle bloggers have documented their take on the increasingly fashionable holiday. A search of Friendsgiving on Instagram yields more than 59,000 posts.

Troy Davis of Fargo calls his friends’ annual gathering “the cap of the season.”

“We kind of created the culture that this is the event of the year. It’s just about friends being together,” the 30-year-old says. “It’s one night where you’re not going to the bar, you’re just having a nice meal, and you all sit together, laugh and share stories.”

The tradition started six years ago when Stevenson suggested hosting an event at his cabin. It’s a way for the group of 20- and 30-somethings to keep in touch as they juggle careers and family.

“I think especially in the last few years, we’ve grown into our adult selves, so this is a fun tradition to keep doing to see each other,” says 30-year-old Kristina Hein.

In between making cocktails and food and playing bingo, the friends update each other on their lives. Some people are between jobs or need advice on switching careers. A few have lost loved ones, and others are newly married or getting used to parenthood.

“A lot of us have had tough things happen in our lives,” Hein, of Fargo, says. “I lean on my friends; it’s support outside of my family. I want to give back to them because they’ve given to me. I think we all feel that way.”

The Saturday evening meal is the highlight of the three-day celebration of friendship, and not just because of the food. Before they dig in, all 30-some people share what they’re thankful for.

“Toasts can get emotional,” Hein says. “Family is important to all of us, but friends are those people you choose. We chose each other. We want to hold onto that. We don’t want that to go away.”

The toast is part of why Stevenson insists on everyone sitting at the same long table. They’ve had to add extra tables onto the main table as the group’s grown from 15 to more than 30 people, and Stevenson’s always seated at the head.

Throughout the half-dozen years the event’s been held, it’s changed little. Sure, they plan more effectively now, and instead of talking about their first jobs out of college, conversations might focus on whether or not there’ll be a baby at Friendsgiving next year, but Davis says it still feels the same.

“People still come up for it,” he says. “Everyone knows. It’s in their calendars the week before Thanksgiving. They know to reserve that weekend. It takes a commitment.”

The best part of Friendsgiving is creating memories, and the group of Fargo- and Minneapolis-based friends always has a catastrophe or two to laugh about. Last year, just as Hein and a friend had said their goodbyes, they ran over the bottle of turkey fryer oil.

“It was an oil geyser,” Hein says, laughing. “We spent hours cleaning the cobblestone driveway with dish soap.”

That’s the thing with Friendsgiving, she says. It can shift from emotional to crazy in minutes.

“It can go from really meaningful, really special, really quiet to super fun, and people are crazy, cutting loose. That’s how our friends are – a little of both,” Hein says.

The friends call the annual event “imperfect” in a perfect way.

“Try it, do it. If it’s not perfect, who cares? Ours isn’t,” Hein says. “If you start the tradition and drop it for a few years, start it again. I think our friend group wants to inspire others to do it because it’s meant so much to us.”

Mallari Page, 25, hosted her first Friendsgiving in 2009 as a senior at North Dakota State University. She and her college roommate wanted to get together with friends before they parted ways after graduation. Nov. 16 marked the fifth year of her friend celebration.

“It’s basically just food, friends and fellowship,” she says.

The first year of Friendsgiving, Page hosted 20 people; this year’s gathering had 15 people. Each year brings a different mix of people together, and Page says it’s a fun way to meet new friends and merge friends from different facets of life.

“The group is always morphing. It’s a time to be in the holiday spirit and be thankful for the friends we have,” she says.

Stevenson’s friends celebrated their sixth Friendsgiving last weekend.

“Being together, people taking time out of their busy schedules to attend an event like this is truly phenomenal,” Stevenson says. “Life gets so busy, and sometimes we forget the small things like getting together for dinner.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525