Every year around the holidays—Thanksgiving in particular—my Facebook lights up like a tacky Thanksgiving tree with the words “orphan Thanksgiving” in a bizarre number of posts, status updates, and events. For example, “OMG we’re having an orphan Thanksgiving at my place for everyone who couldn’t make it home for the holidays!!!” While I want to first state that I totally get that “orphan Thanksgiving” is meant to mean “we’re not with our loving, wonderful families, so I guess we can be together,” I would also love it if you could please stop saying “orphan Thanksgiving” if you still have a family. Especially if they’re loving as fuck.
If you have a caring, safe, living family during the holidays, I am happy to report that you have won the damn lottery and you should embrace this if you haven’t already. People who have that make me super happy because it seems so rare to me and it’s usually truly beautiful to behold. Still, in my experience, the people who use the term “orphan Thanksgiving” or even “orphan Christmas” are usually blissfully unaware that it’s even possible to have abusive relatives, or to have lost your parents, or been abandoned by your parents, or kicked out of your home by your parents for being LGBTQ, or to have had to make the difficult choice to run away from or stop speaking to your family because they were unsafe.
To those people who live in an enviable bubble, the holidays mean presents and love and support and connection while also eating so much food. What’s not to love about that? To those people, I totally get why it bums you out that you couldn’t fly home for the holiday, either because you couldn’t get the time off of work or because you couldn’t afford the ticket. I know both of those are probably devastating to someone with a wonderful family they can’t be with on the holidays, and I can’t even imagine how much that must suck. That said, pricey flights do not an orphan make.
The word itself most commonly means “someone who has lost one or usually both of their parents,” which is typically thought to occur only when someone dies. I’m assuming the limited definition is due primarily to the fact that when the word was created, it wasn’t considered acceptable (or at least as common) to abandon your family or to leave your abusive family. It just wasn’t done, or if it was, it wasn’t talked about enough to have its own nomenclature.
As someone who has spent nearly every Thanksgiving by myself since I can remember, it just seems bizarre to me to use that term to describe “the thing that’s not what you’d ideally be doing, but is also super fun and no one is crying!” To define your experience as “gathering with your group of friends who all have totally wonderful, supportive, loving people they usually get to see on the holiday every single year and this particular year they can’t do that so that makes them orphans,” just sounds tacky. It excludes so many people.
I know when I’ve attended “orphan” holiday gatherings, I always attended with a heavy heart, knowing that I was being welcomed by people who probably weren’t about to burst into tears at any moment. It just wasn’t a heavy holiday for them like it was for me. Usually, I’d end up spending most of the night answering why I “wasn’t home this year.” People would explain to me, “Yeah, flights are just so expensive, I figured I’ll chill here and fly home for Christmas.” And good for you, even if my story is more along the lines of, “I never go home for the holidays—also, what is a home?” But since that response is going to heavily bum you out, I guess I’ll just say, “Yep, me too,” and then leave immediately because “something came up” (even if that something was, “I’m gonna go cry for six hours while I think about how I’m not like everyone else.”)
Look, I know the policing of words seems a little uncool to some people, because if you don’t call it what you usually call it what else would you call it? And to those people I say, “Hello! Friendsgiving is a thing and you can call it that!” Plus, it sounds way cuter and less like you’re the underage cast of Annie gathering by a fireplace and warming your hands, wishing you could eat turkey like children with families.
And no, I don’t think people who use the term “orphan blank” mean anything malicious. I truly don’t. There’s just an unacknowledged privilege that comes with having a loving, supportive family who makes you feel safe. It’s so hard to tell people, “Yeah, the holidays kind of bum me out (because I come from a broken/abusive/unsafe/hateful/now deceased family).” You end up feeling like you don’t have a place in the world because your genuine, deeply felt, and often beyond painful feelings about your nontraditional family situation gets swept under the rug in favor of easier, more “normal” frustrations with otherwise wonderful families.
So, if you can remember—on behalf of everyone who already feels like they’re not normal because their parents left, or died, or don’t love them, or don’t accept them, or were abusive, or any other variable—I’d love it if you could just call it what it is: Friendsgiving, a group of people who love each other and have chosen, for whatever reason, to spend the day together being grateful for how lucky they are to know one another. Because if you have people in your life who you love and who love you back, whether those people are chosen or not, you truly are lucky as hell.
Lane Moore is a writer, comedian, actor, and musician. She is the creator of the hit live comedy show Tinder Live, which is currently touring colleges and comedy venues nationwide. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.