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Inclusive Friendsgiving: How & Why to Gather Friends with Disabilities

There’s the family you’re born into and the family you choose. Close friends become our second family, and perhaps especially so within our disability community. Because of this special bond, we often want to celebrate the holidays together. And this type of celebration is legit! “Friendsgiving” is typically held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, but you could host a festive gathering anytime during the holiday season.

Importance of Friends with Disabilities

Two studies conducted at the University of Washington explored the impact of friendships among people with disabilities (with survey respondents who specifically cited blindness, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis (MS), post-polio syndrome and spinal cord injury. The study reported that people with physical disabilities feel a special connection with friends who have the same or similar disability, such as people they meet in support groups. And respondents with more friends with disabilities said they were happier with their lives overall than respondents with fewer friends having disabilities; those with more friends with disabilities even had a better quality of life.

One participant with MS shared, “I think it’s a matter of feeling less self-conscious around [other people with MS] because they don’t see you the way other people see you.” Another person, who is blind, said about her friends who are also blind: “We all immediately share a common bond, and have an understanding and camaraderie with each other right away.”

Friendsgiving party spread
credit: Food Network

The “Give” in Friendsgiving 

A special bond among friends is definitely something to be thankful for and celebrate. Plus, a Friendsgiving party can satisfy your hunger for festive fun and for holiday fare shared among your favorite peeps!

But, what if you could change an alarming statistic through the power of friendship too? You see, 1-in-6 kids in America today face hunger; some of which are also impacted by disability. You can help by hosting a Friendsgiving celebration in support of No Kid Hungry. Plus, their resources can actually simplify your party planning. Just sign-up to host a Friendsgiving, plan your event with their handy-dandy checklist, fundraise with mobile tools and toast to a meaningful meal with friends.

If fundraising is not normally your thing, remember that the giving spirit is typically amped for many up during the holidays. In fact, a number of your loved ones and connections are looking for a way to make a difference. So, perhaps your Friendsgiving fundraising efforts fit the bill. Now that’s a win-win opportunity!

chocolate turkey
credit: Fannie May

Friendsgiving Menu Choices

Sharing is Caring

Intimidated to prepare a full Thanksgiving spread? Before you decide to slice the big turkey, cut yourself some slack! A potluck is a great way to share the workload and, ultimately, the meal itself. Assign guests a food item, like stuffing, potatoes, vegetables, dessert, appetizer or beverages. It is customary (but not a requirement) for the host to cook the turkey and gravy unless you have a foodie friend eager to tackle the lion’s share of cooking (aka the bird).

Turnkey Turkey

If you want to spend quality time with your guests rather than cooking the day away, just order a complete Thanksgiving meal. Consider your options: food delivery companies (Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, etc.), grocery stores (Whole Foods), chain eateries (Honey Baked HamBoston Market) and food retailers (Sprouts Farmers Markets, etc.).

Hostess with the Mostess

If you’re a culinary wizard, whip up the whole meal yourself. While most may think this is biting off more than one can chew (self-included… I’m all about friends pitching in), it’s possible especially if you select somewhat easier recipes. Your friends will be thankful indeed.

Birdie Brunch

You don’t have to follow tradition. Instead of hosting a formal dinner, how about a casual breakfast, lunch or, better yet, brunch? Brunch is the most delicious meal of the week — the perfect union of breakfast and lunch dishes. Tip: Host Friendsgiving on the weekend following Thanksgiving day, and ask guests to bring a potluck brunch item prepared with their Thanksgiving leftovers.

Make Reservations

Some restaurants host Friendsgiving-themed menus and/or events. If you love the concept of gathering friends but are not up for the task of hosting, opt for restaurant reservations. For example, Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant serves up inventive renditions of classic Thanksgiving dishes paired with Cooper’s Hawk Wines. Family-style eateries, like Buca Di Beppo, are a great option too; as are tapas-style places that specialize in sharable dishes.

Menu Mix-Up

If you plan to have your fill of turkey on Thanksgiving day, consider serving alternative dishes on Friendsgiving. For example, a pork tenderloin, lasagna, salmon or quinoa-stuffed butternut squash. Or, stick to party classics like tacos, pizza, burgers or any sort of DIY spread.

Blended Group

Your group of friends is a truly unique blend. Channel that same blended concept with a turducken. This Louisiana dish is a deboned chicken stuffed into a deboned duck and further stuffed into a deboned turkey! Come on… you know your friends will gobble up this memorable dish (and the tongue-twister word itself).

Backyard Bash

Host a laidback Friendsgiving similar to a BBQ by deep-frying the turkey. Always use caution when using a turkey fryer. Serve with corn on the cob (instead of corn pudding), oven-roasted fries (instead of mashed potatoes) and steamed green beans (instead of green bean casserole).

Thanksgiving photo props
credit: Amazon

Festive Fun

Here are ways to have festive Friendsgiving fun at your gathering:

  • Turkey Shoot: Order Friendsgiving-themed photo props (as pictured above) to shoot the best selfies!
  • Turkey-Lovin’ Pigskin: You might watch a football game on Thanksgiving afternoon but, for your Friendsgiving, tackle fun head-on with a game of touch football in the yard or a video game version.
  • Game (Hen) On: If the harvest colors present an inviting outdoor ambiance, plan for tailgate-style games (well, feathergate). Lawn games like cornhole, horseshoes and others add friendly competition. Or, stay cozy inside making warm Friendsgiving memories by playing board games. Gaming may seem simple, but this classic pastime allows friends to interact, laugh and even learn something new about each other. FYI, board games are a great way to boost brain health!
  • Get Wacky: Need to use up leftover Halloween candy? Stuff a turkey piñata and let everyone have a whack!
turkey piñata
credit: Party City

Gobble Up Extra Helpings 

Special touches make gatherings memorable. Consider the following:

  • Interactive Stations: Try a DIY candy apple bar (pictured below). Or, a Thanksgiving-themed beverage station using cranberry juice or apple cider instead of orange juice. Add garnishes of fresh fruit and herb sprigs. Need a reason to toast with cranberry? Well, studies show that cranberry extract may help treat Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Decorations: Order Friendsgiving-specific décor, like finds on Amazon or any party store.
  • Leftovers: Have plastic containers ready so you can send guests home with a second helping.
  • Parting Gift: Bid your friends farewell with a keepsake, like turkey-shaped chocolates.
credit: Craftberrybush.com

Pandemic-Friendly Friendsgiving Tips

While statistics are less alarming than in previous years, COVID-19 continues to spread. Thus, precautions may be needed to ensure a safe Friendsgiving to avoid the spread of coronavirus, especially since some people with disabilities and chronic illness are at a greater risk of contracting it. Here are a few pointers:

  1. The “more the merrier” may not be applicable if high-risk health is a concern. Consider if smaller-sized gatherings are more appropriate for your circle of friends.
  2. Ask friends to decline attending if ill with COVID, the flu or other contagious conditions.
  3. Dine outdoors if weather permits. Aside from fresh air circulation, you can enjoy the fall foliage.
  4. Ask friends to utilize hand sanitizer when entering your home, wash hands regularly and, if preferred, sit distanced or remain masked when not eating.
  5. Opt for a virtual Friendsgiving. Online gatherings can still be joyful and exude gratitude!

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Part of this article originally appeared on DateNightGuide.com.

Nancy DeVaulthttps://www.ameridisability.com
Nancy is the managing editor of AmeriDisability. She is an award-winning storyteller passionate about health and happiness.