From left, Yesli Flores, Heldree Cruz, Rosa Molina de Flores,...

From left, Yesli Flores, Heldree Cruz, Rosa Molina de Flores, Ingris Flores and Rosalba Flores will be celebrating Friendsgiving again together this year. Credit: Howard Simmons

On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the Flores home in Hicksville will be filled with the happy buzz of former co-workers catching up, dancing to a Latin beat and savoring Central American-flavored potluck under a “Happy Friendsgiving” banner.

It’s the fourth Friendsgiving in a row for the women, who share El Salvadoran heritage and a love — and knack — for cooking. They first embraced the new tradition while working together at a Roosevelt Field cafe.

“We had a hard time getting together because we had different schedules,” recalled Ingris Flores, 27, who worked at the cafe in the late 2010s, and whose family is hosting this year. “We didn’t call it Friendsgiving at the time; we just thought it would be a good idea to each bring food and share with each other.”   

What started as lunch-break noshing has blossomed into a full-scale feast planned weeks ahead in daily, post-work group text chats.   

“We decide what we want to eat, and everyone gets it ready for that day, and we have a reunion,” said Rosalba Flores (no relation to Ingris), 29, of Hempstead, who left the cafe in 2020 to become chef at a Garden City bagel shop. This year, the burgundy-clothed table will be groaning with trays of Ingris’ homemade pasta salad with apple pieces and shredded carrots, Rosalba’s rice flecked with peas and carrots, and her pitchers of horchata, a nonalcoholic rice drink popular in Latin America. Other guests are bringing mashed potatoes and dessert.

In a room festooned with balloons and brimming with conviviality, they’ll be dancing to Cumbia, Reggaeton and other Latin genres, and possibly staging a karaoke contest. Rosalba plans to hand out souvenirs — last year it was Happy Friendsgiving mugs.

But the mood will also be a touch bittersweet. A few months after their first home Friendsgiving in 2019, Ingris’ father died of COVID-19 complications, widowing their mom, Rosa Molina de Flores, 55, who will also attend.

“You always have that feeling of missing a person,” said Ingris’ sister, Yesli Flores, 31, who works with Ingris at the bagel shop. Yesli sweetens the proceedings by making a low-fat flan that this year might include chocolate and strawberry coloring. “In a positive way, I feel like I appreciate more and more every single moment with friends and family,” she said.

From left, students Hamed Drame, Mia Dominguez, Lisa Fabien and Helen Goro,...

From left, students Hamed Drame, Mia Dominguez, Lisa Fabien and Helen Goro, of Stony Brook University's ColorStack group, hosted a Friendsgiving on campus. Credit: Barry Sloan

Friendsgiving, first observed (according, at least, to internet legend) about a decade ago by millennials, is making a comeback this year as an increasingly popular alternative to strictly family-centered Thanksgivings. Now that COVID-19 is perceived to be less of a threat, Friendsgiving celebrations are also in the offing for local high school alumni and on college campuses.

“The holidays can be a tough time for certain communities for whom the thought of going home is not necessarily warmly received” Frank Rampello, dean of students at Farmingdale State College, explained of the popularity of Friendsgiving on campus. Farmingdale State will also be setting a Thanksgiving Day dinner table for international students and American students who live far from home or are housing insecure, said Matthew Colson, vice president of communications.

Frank Rampello and fellow St. Anthony's High School alums gather...

Frank Rampello and fellow St. Anthony's High School alums gather at Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station in 2015 for a Thanksgiving Friday game of flag football. Credit: Via Frank Rampello

A tradition is born

Although how and when “friends” and “Thanksgiving” were first joined into the portmanteau Friendsgiving, the term surfaced on Twitter as early as 2007, according to Merriam-Webster, which added Friendsgiving to its dictionary in 2020 and notes that Baileys Irish Cream used the word in an ad campaign as early as 2011. 

The new, unofficial movable feast began to gather steam in the past decade, with Google searches for Friendsgiving spiking each October since the midteens, peaking at more than 100,000 in 2019, sliding in 2020 and climbing again last year, according to Google Trends.

Rampello, who as a dean of students follows the pulse — and cultural impulses — of younger generations, traces Friendsgiving to popular 1990s TV shows about unmarried young adults, such as “Seinfeld,” and more specifically, “Friends,” the hit NBC sitcom that ran from 1994 to 2004 known for its annual Thanksgiving episodes. When Netflix streamed all 236 episodes from 2015 to 2019, a new generation of students binge-watched the show for the first time, Rampello said.

The cast of "Friends" in the 2003 season 10 Thanksgiving episode....

The cast of "Friends" in the 2003 season 10 Thanksgiving episode. From left, David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston. Credit: Alamy/Warner Bros. TV

“Friends” indeed influenced Justin Stanley, 21, a Farmingdale junior majoring in sports management. “I do remember episodes where they had a little Friendsgiving and gave back to the community,” he said. This year, he and his residence hall buddies will get together to relax and maybe catch a movie or go shopping just before the Thanksgiving break.

The ”giving” will commence when Stanley goes home to spend Thanksgiving with his family in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. He said that he and his pals gather clothing donations to drop off at city collection boxes, describing their charitable efforts as “trying to give forward whenever we can.”

From left, Mia Dominguez, Hamed Drame, Lisa Fabien and Helen Goro plan their...

From left, Mia Dominguez, Hamed Drame, Lisa Fabien and Helen Goro plan their Friendsgiving and Destress event at Stony Brook University. Credit: Barry Sloan

Campus connection

A slightly different, alternative origin story comes from YPulse, a Manhattan-based market research firm that gauges the interests of teens and young adults ages 13 to 39. According to YPulse, the movement began a decade ago when college students sought “a reprieve from, or replacement for, family centered celebrations, the kind filled with the typical dramatics of holiday stress.”

This fall, Friendsgiving is expected to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels, following a dip from 2020 to 2021, the company said. About one-third of young adults are planning to break Friendsgiving bread with chosen company instead of family members. Friendsgiving is also catching on with age 13-to-21 Gen Zers and with the LGBTQ+ community, according to YPulse.

It's definitely trending at the Stony Brook University campus, where at least five student Friendsgiving celebrations were planned for mid-November, according to the college website. One of the campus organizations, ColorStack at Stony Brook University, which offers “a safe space” for students of color pursuing computer science degrees, hosted its first Friendsgiving and Destress mingle with free food on Nov. 16.

“We’re doing Friendsgiving so that members can relax and destress from exams while hanging out with other members in a friendly environment,” said club president Hamed Drame, 21, a senior majoring in information systems. “We treat this community as family, so, in a way, it’s like an early Thanksgiving.”

Frank Rampello, dean of students at Farmingdale State College, plays flag football with longtime...

Frank Rampello, dean of students at Farmingdale State College, plays flag football with longtime buddies every Thanksgiving Friday. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Their own turkey bowl

Watching sports on TV certainly plays a big role in the Friendsgiving plans of Rampello, 37, of Huntington Station, but not in the traditional sense.

Rampello’s Friendsgiving revels are “quite literally a parallel to that notorious ‘Friends’ episode when they have the flag football game,” he said, referring to the series’ Nov. 21, 1996, episode, “The One with the Football.”

On Thanksgiving Friday, Rampello traditionally plays a flag football game with about a dozen longtime buddies, mainly fellow alumni from the 2003 and 2004 classes at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, but also a few grads of Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station.

This year, they're coming from across the metropolitan area to gather at a group member’s home in upstate Poughkeepsie to play their annual Turkey Bowl in a nearby field. In some ways, Rampello said, Friendsgiving can be even more meaningful than actual Thanksgiving.

“It’s all bloody knees and sore shoulders, a real family affair,” Rampello said of the game among friends who have played together since attending the same grade school. “It’s great to see some of these guys I haven’t seen since last year, to carve out time when we can tag up and be together eating, drinking and catching up.”

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