Trend Favors "Friendsgivings" Over Going Home for the Holidays
Americans will take 61.8 million trips this week for Thanksgiving, with people aged 25-36 taking more than half of those trips, according to travel data compiled by The Bus Bank. While many 20- to 30-somethings take to the air and the road to go home for the holidays, a growing number will simply stay put.
Although it's difficult to find hard numbers of those who choose not to spend the holidays in the traditional way – gathered around a table or a tree with family – the anecdotal evidence is there, and the motivations are well understood, said Art Markman, a University of Texas professor of psychology and author of the book “Smart Thinking.”
A variety of factors are influencing more Americans to stave off stress and travel during the holiday season, instead spending holidays in their own home or with local friends. These include the complexity of having to choose between divorced family sections, a decline in hard-set family traditions around the holidays, and, perhaps the prime motivator, the high cost of mobility and increasing physical distance between family members.
“Families are far more spread out now than they were 50 years ago,” Markman said. “That plays a role because the travel time is longer, it’s more expensive and it actually increases the overall stress level of the visit because you’re taking yourself completely out of your own environment – sleeping in a hotel or even just a bedroom that’s not your own.”
For Dan Teasdale, a game designer at Twisted Pixel and native of Australia, going “home” for Christmas simply isn’t much of an option. The cost to cover flights for him and his girlfriend this time of year, which is the Australian summer, would be in the $3,000 to $4,000 range.
“And that's before I start even looking into hotels and pet boarding and things like that,” he said. “I do miss going for a swim after a Christmas Day barbeque, but I don't miss having to empty my bank account to do so.”
Of course, not all examples are so extreme. Adam Cooper, a 30-something resident of East Austin, spent the holidays last year with Austin friends but this year made the pilgrimage by car to Los Angeles to visit his sister’s family for Thanksgiving. It’s mostly money that keeps him from visiting his bi-coastal family every year, he said.
“Christmas and Thanksgiving are somewhat arbitrary occasions with the exception that there is a draw and an enculturation to acknowledge the tradition of family,” Cooper said. “I try as much as I can in my life to keep my family close.”
The idea that the holidays are arbitrary becomes more common for families spread across the country than for people whose relations are right down the street.
“There is a lot of work showing that the distance you are from something influences how specifically you think about it,” Markman said. “When you’re 1,500 miles away from something, it doesn’t feel like a warm, beautiful, lovely experience; it feels like a generic ‘Oh, the holidays,’ and from that distance is where you’re planning.”
Because of this distance, it’s easier to just skip the family holiday and celebrate with friends, or your “day-to-day community,” Markman added.
Last year, Liz Patterson, a grocery lead at Wheatsville Food Co-op who originally hails from Wisconsin, spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with friends in Austin, biking to different pot lucks.
“I don't necessarily feel homesick or lonely during the holidays because I have a different group of people that I love to spend them with,” she said.
Additionally, the holidays aren’t “a big deal” for her family, Patterson said, so she doesn’t feel like she’s missing out on not going to her parents’ house for Christmas.
“When we were younger, it was just more of an excuse to get presents, and now, it’s a way to sit the whole family down in one place for the day,” she said. “We find other times to do that anyway, so Thanksgiving and Christmas have become kind of whatever.”
A lack of hard-set traditions around holidays is another factor that makes it easier to stay put during the holiday season. A person with less of a base in holiday tradition will be less likely to feel the guilt that skipping that tradition can trigger, Markman said.
“If you didn’t grow up with a consistent holiday experience, it’s hard to feel drawn back to that as an adult,” he said. “So you have more people with weaker ties to the holidays.”
Although he says he’s not bound by tradition, Brian Hanssens, a 30-something resident of North Austin, said he simply enjoys going to his childhood home in Philadelphia for the holidays, although the high cost of travel makes it difficult.
“The holidays just exacerbate homesickness,” he said. “A couple years in a row, I had to work Thanksgiving and I didn’t even bother to celebrate. When you’re not with your family for the holidays, it just feels like another day.”
The holidays for Amber Billiard, a bartender at drink.well. on North Loop who moved from California to Austin last year, are engrained in tradition.
“Like a person with OCD, we celebrate these two holidays exactly the same way every year,” she said. “Each person makes the same dishes, in the same Tupperware, and no one deviates from the plan. It's quite funny to see this ritual each year.”
Being able to take time off work and budget the trip make it hard for Billiard to make the pilgrimage back to Bakersfield, Calif., where she was born and raised and where the rest of her family still lives. Although she’d rather go to Bakersfield, which she still considers home, Billiard said she makes the best of holidays that can’t be spent there.
“For the past seven years, I've either hosted or attended ‘Friendsgiving,’ which is basically a Thanksgiving party with my closest friends, each bringing a hearty dish or beverage to share,” she said. “My friends are somewhat interchangeable with family, so it's nice to share the holidays with those I love.”
As more people lean toward these “Friendsgivings,” another factor in this trend is that it is building steam itself.
“Once things begin to shift in a demographic, it makes it more acceptable for people to rethink how they do the holidays” Markman said. “If everyone is going home for Christmas, you’re going to go home too. But if you’re looking around and half your friends are getting together to hang out on the holidays rather than traveling to visit family and subjecting themselves to all that stress, it seems like a pretty good idea.”