‘Friendsgiving’ Shows Resilience of Thanksgiving Ritual, Says Religious Studies Prof

Friendsgiving Table with people eating

On Sunday, Nov. 24, Anne Wills, professor of Religious Studies, appeared on “Under the Radar with Callie Crossley,” a weekly talk show produced by Boston public radio station WGBH, to talk about “Friendsigiving,” a recent twist on the traditional Thanksgiving holiday.

Wills makes media appearances almost every November due to her research on the origin of Thanksgiving. According to Wills, what most Americans think of Thanksgiving started not in the 1620s but in a 19th century women’s magazine.

Sarah Hale, who was editor of leading women’s magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book for 50 years, led a campaign to transform Thanksgiving from an occasional harvest celebration to a regular nationwide event that would bring all of America together to celebrate domesticity and simplicity. It was Hale’s decades-long campaign that led President Abraham Lincoln to declare the fourth Thursday of November a national holiday in 1863.

Thanksgiving has continued to evolve since Hale’s heyday.

Over the past decade, “Friendsgiving,” a more casual riff on the traditional family-focused feast, has surged in popularity.

Wills reads the rise of “Friendsgiving” as an indication of the strength of the Thanksgiving ritual instead of a move away from tradition.

“The way that ritual works is that it has to be set enough to be recognizable,” she said, “but also to have an opening to allow new participants to test it out.”

Listen to the Full Episode


  • November 27, 2019