My First Friendsgiving

When you can’t spend Thanksgiving with family, it helps to have a grateful tribe.

This piece is part of a month-long Wanderlust and YOGANONYMOUS series about alternative ways to celebrate Thanksgiving. How do you celebrate the holidays yogi-style?

Niki Saccareccia is a teacher at Wanderlust Hollywood. Come practice, listen, taste, learn, and gather with us at our new center.

With my family, being with each other has always been enough.

We stopped breaking the bank on Christmas presents well over a decade ago. If travel or work caused us to be separated on birthdays or other holidays, we gathered together at a better time and celebrated then. When we were unable to take family vacations, we opted for special daylong outings. Holidays have always been marked by my family gathering together, and strengthened by the ritual of breaking bread, sarcastic banter, knowing glances, and the food coma that ensues after a proper, Italian-style meal.

But last Thanksgiving was a turning point for me.

It was the first time that my parents and I would not break bread together. A country between us, I was without my blood-born tribe and the comforts of our particular set of traditions.

Thankfully, I knew that I wouldn’t be alone for the holiday. Over the years, my yoga practice and the community born from it became my friend-family. Countering the mainstream hubbub of practicing an attitude of gratitude in late November, these women expressed their appreciation for the mundane and the divine on the daily. Giving thanks was part of our vernacular, and acting out our intentions was something that bonded us early on.

Amidst all of the daily and seasonal changes that I have experienced in the last eight years, I have recognized the importance of a daily gratitude practice.

So, since my family traditions have always been a little left of center and open to change, this appreciation practice is something I’ve attempted to bring to the table. I’ve tried to incorporate the ritual of sharing gratitude before the Thanksgiving feast… rather unsuccessfully. No doubt, we all felt an unspoken sense of appreciation for family and tradition, but the verbal gratitude exchange never quite stuck.

To my delight, my first Friendsgiving was the perfect opportunity to implement this traditional ritual of sharing what we were each grateful for before digging in. And I was thankful for it, as I needed the support; leading up to the big day, I came up against an unexpected amount of emotional struggle. Being apart from the two people who I appreciate more than anyone else during the holiday felt unfair and confusing. Hearing my friends and students discuss their great family plans and getaways evoked jealousy.

Then Thanksgiving came, and the four of us, a bunch of twenty-something singles living in Los Angeles, gathered in my apartment.

We had already decided who was responsible for the big dishes: the turkey alternative, mashed potatoes, pie, and casseroles. We planned to spend the better part of the day preparing the meal, and agreed that we would bring with us our favorite parts of our respective family traditions to share among friends.

They picked the music; I set the centerpiece with fresh cut flowers, candles, and a small vase that my mother had given me. Throughout the afternoon, the “work in progress” part of me was comparing how our Friendsgiving held up to my family’s Thanksgivings. I actually missed the sound of football in the background, and my friends weren’t on board with my wit or sarcasm.

But, by the time we got around to sitting together for dinner, my heart softened as each woman shared an unyielding gratitude for having friends to sit with and a unanimous sense of tribe.

As I carve out the life I feel most aligned with, I am beginning to understand that while traditions sustain us as a culture or tribe, rituals bind us in community through common intention. Circumstance broke my annual habit of falling into the comforts of family customs, and delivered me to a table set with open hearts and grateful attitudes that left me with a memory unlike any other.

Niki SaccarecciaNiki Saccareccia (E-500) is an author and Clinical Behavior Therapist. Niki’s insight into personal transformation is a unique and rare blend of methods from Western Psychology and Eastern Wisdom Traditions. Her approach is practical and concise, blending the best elements of alignment and mindfulness teachings into her classes. For more about Niki, visit