The cast of "Friends" in a scene from the show on Thanksgiving.

Mia – November 12, 2018

For the first time in many years, I’ll be spending Thanksgiving with neither my parents nor my brother. The folks will be holed up with friends at home in North Carolina, thanks to my Dad’s upcoming knee replacement, and my brother and his family will be spending the holiday with his in-laws.

How to make Thanksgiving special for my family of five? The last thing I want is to spend all day in the kitchen making a glorified version of our usual dinner. I believe in “the more, the merrier,” particularly during the holidays, so I’ve decided to make this year’s Thanksgiving meal a Friendsgiving, to which I’ve invited a couple of neighbors and some friends who will also be separated from their families this year.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, Friendsgiving (as the name suggests) is a gathering of friends that is usually observed as a precursor to the traditional Thanksgiving holiday. It’s a potluck meal for which the various cooks feel free to experiment a bit with the typical Thanksgiving fare. While the origins of Friendsgiving aren’t certain, some trace it back to a 1994 episode of “Friends.”

I loved the idea when I first heard about it from my younger cousins, who are among the Millennial generation that has embraced the Friendsgiving concept. The host is responsible for roasting the turkey and creating a festive atmosphere, while guests bring the appetizers, side dishes and desserts. Since our Friendsgiving will fall on Thanksgiving, I’ll be contributing some of the more time- and travel-sensitive sides, such as mashed potatoes (prepared in one of my mom’s vintage Georg Jensen copper pots), our customary Danish squash cake, and a few favorite nibbles. (Quite frankly, the more I read about Friendsgiving, the more it reminds me of the ever-popular Danish concept of hygge, which is being embraced the world over.)

I gave serious thought to breaking with tradition this year and patterning our Thanksgiving meal after the minor Danish holiday Mortensaften, which is celebrated on the eve of St. Martin’s Day, November 10, with a big meal featuring a goose or duck.

A roasted duck with skin on sits on a plate alongside potatoes and fruit garnish.

Danes celebrate Mortensaften on the eve of St. Martin’s Day, November 10, often with roast goose or duck.

The holiday commemorates St. Martin of Tours who, according to legend, hid in a goose pen to avoid being named bishop. When the honking of the geese revealed the saint’s location, he accepted his fate—and got his revenge later by instructing the townspeople to slaughter and dine on geese each autumn. The observance came to Denmark in the 1600s, but now most of those who embrace it choose duck instead of goose.

I’ve never roasted a duck and, in any case, it would take more than a mere duck to lure me away from my annual juicy turkey. The usual Mortensaften side dishes—boiled potatoes, red cabbage and caramelized potatoes—wouldn’t be found on many American Thanksgiving tables and won’t be found on mine, although we always enjoy them at Christmas.

Farfar, our elderly friend at The Danish Home, has shared lots of stories about the Mortensaften meals of his youth. He has especially fond memories of eating abemad—monkey’s food—for dessert. That’s a cute name for a fruit salad served with whipped cream. No surprise that my kids Jake, Astrid and Alex love it, too.

I’d be thrilled to include Farfar in our Friendsgiving, but he will spend the day at his daughter’s house and also will enjoy several Thanksgiving events at The Danish Home. In fact, their Turkey Tail Bingo and Thanksgiving Day puzzles sound like amusing alternatives to the football games that dominate the holiday in so many American homes.

We’ll get a chance to look in on Farfar on Black Friday. That, of course, is also Leftover Day, which is way more fun than dealing with hordes of shoppers. I plan to bring Farfar a Danish smørrebrødopen-faced sandwich—heaped with turkey, lettuce and cranberry sauce. I found a version that also calls for pickled pumpkin, which sounds intriguing but time-consuming.

Smørrebrød makes great use of Thanksgiving leftovers, including this recipe with pickled pumpkin!

Writing about our upcoming feast is making me hungry, and I’m thankful we only need to wait 10 more days to enjoy it. Because whether you call the fourth Thursday in November Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving, it’s all about good food and better friends.