Kyle Wilson cut through the circle of college buddies, handing a sparkling cocktail to one of his close friends at a Friendsgiving celebration in downtown Birmingham, Ala.
“No thanks,” she said quickly with a smile. Bottles continued popping as dinner continued in celebration of their time in college, their lives to come and a new baby.
That was last year, and what an amazing memory it is, Wilson said.
“We attend two [Friendsgivings] every year. One hosted by some friends from our Mardi Gras krewe and another in Birmingham with my college friends,” he said. “We canceled this year.”
And he’s not alone. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends against traveling and only gather in small groups as COVID-19 cases rise. Despite this, AAA estimates that close to 50 million Americans will travel for Thanksgiving making the holiday a super-spreader event that could set back U.S. cities drastically.
The current surge in cases across the South has led to city and state leaders requesting that their constituents resist the pandemic fatigue and say no to gatherings.
But many are not willing to take on the risk.
“A number of us are teachers or we work in healthcare,” Wilson said. “A lot of us are vulnerable, and there is no way to guarantee anyone’s safety.”
His group has considered doing some Zoom parties, but it won’t be the same without the camaraderie. The idea of friends crowding together over covered dishes filled with shareable foods just isn’t logical at the moment, he said.
Friendsgiving celebrations come with greater risks as public-health officials recommend that home gatherings be limited to people living in a shared space. That coupled with the death rate standing at 1,000 per day and estimated to double has Friendsgiving observers forgoing the celebration this year.
Lucy Berry DeButy, a Huntsville, Ala., resident who prefers to bake for holiday gatherings, always kept her Friendsgiving casual and fun. But with the rise in cases and the impending risk, she decided to cancel. “There’s not enough space inside my house to properly distance everyone, even while wearing masks,” she said. “I’m also mindful of young children, some of whom are not yet old enough to safely wear a mask, who would be there and potentially spread or get COVID.”
DeButy said she’s disappointed the normal festivities can’t continue this year, but it wasn’t a hard decision for her to cancel. She’s been putting in extra effort during quarantine to stay in touch with loved ones, and they’ve come to a consensus that canceling is the more responsible decision.
“We understand that this is just one year and we will get through it, and hopefully be able to resume our tradition again in 2021,” DeButy said.
Friendsgiving has always been the first bookend of the holiday season for Wilson — the start of celebrations beginning with his closest friends.
“The sense of family you get from your chosen family is so special,” he said. “It’s always been a consistent place where you know you’ll be able to see everyone.”
And at the moment he feels disconnected. There are friends he hasn’t seen in nine months and that’s been really difficult. He plans to take care of his mental health during this time with a glass of good wine and many calls to family and friends.
If he were headed to a Friendsgiving get together, he’d have his signature smoked gouda macaroni and cheese and a heaping plate of bacon, chocolate chip cookies.
In the spirit of sharing, here’s his recipe:
▢ 1/2 cup butter softened (you could also replace some butter with an equal amount of bacon grease)
▢ 1/2 cup brown sugar
▢ 1/2 cup white sugar
▢ 1 large egg
▢ 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
▢ 1 1/8 cup all-purpose flour
▢ 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
▢ 1/4 teaspoon salt
▢ 1 cup dark chocolate chunks or chips
▢ 5 strips bacon cooked and crumbled
Cream together the butter and sugar. Mix in the egg and vanilla. In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet. Stir in the chocolate and bacon. Scoop dough onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes.