By Caitlin Furio
To most people on LBI, December 9 through 11, 2022 was a typical quiet off-season weekend. For us, it was the best three days of the year: Dia de New Friendsgivingmasnukkalloween, the sixth edition of our quirky annual party celebrating at least five fall and winter holidays over thirty-six hours.
The mouthful of a tradition began in December 2017. Due to differing family requirements, my partner of three years and I had never celebrated the holidays together. We wanted to throw a party to bask in the cheer with each other and friends but struggled to choose the holiday. Friendsgiving is classic, but we both love Christmas. We thought, Why not both? From there, it was natural to include Chanukkah for our Jewish friends, and why not New Year’s Eve too? Just like that, New Friendsgivingmasnukkah was born.
Since then, we have gathered every December in my partner’s family’s Surf City house for a Friday to Sunday extravaganza of multi-holiday spirit. We co-create the party with all the guests, and everyone brings their most dearly held family traditions. Each holiday is organized by those who grew up celebrating it, so the event schedule and name changes depending on who attends.
Sometimes, the changes are small. This year a guest brought their family tradition of a Christmas raffle and throughout the day we drew tickets for stocking-stuffers. In year three, a guest added the tradition of a midday Scream Run on the beach. We line up, count down, and take off running and screaming for as far as we can in one breath. Last year, we added a late-night polar plunge in the ocean for the most daring guests.
At other times, we add entire holidays. One year a friend from Sri Lanka added Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, and we made colorful mandala sand art called rangoli. This year, a friend from Mexico set up a Dia de los Muertos ofrenda, an altar to loved ones who have passed. In 2021, thanks to the persistent request of a devoted guest, Halloween was permanently added to the holiday lineup.
Each year, we continue to refine the schedule to make our marathon event as smooth and sustainable as possible. This year, we celebrated Halloween in costume on Friday night. The next day, we awoke to Christmas morning, complete with a meticulously curated Christmas playlist and a competitive round of White Elephant gift exchange.
The next few hours were open time. Some people began cooking Friendsgiving dinner; others did the Scream Run or napped. In the evening we shared what we were thankful for over a Friendsgiving feast of old family recipes and holiday classics. While digesting, we turned our attention to the Dia de los Muertos ofrenda, where we placed photos of departed loved ones and welcomed them to the party with offerings of the food and drink they loved in life.
Next was the Eight Half-Hours of Chanukkah, during which we lit a new candle on the menorah every thirty minutes. We played dreidel, ate fried latkes, and, per tradition, piled onto the sofa to watch The Rugrats Chanukkah episode.
Finally, it was time to shake off our food comas and dance the year away. We transformed the unfinished basement into a carpeted dance floor with colorful lights and a disco ball. With bubbly in hand, we counted down to midnight and wished each other Happy New Year to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. Last, but certainly not least, the bravest made our way to the beach for a quick New Year dip in the freezing ocean before collapsing into bed.
The party is, suffice to say, a feat of endurance. Surviving is an exercise in drinking water, caring for each other, and strategic napping. By the weekend’s end, there is a feeling of camaraderie and collective achievement for having made it through. Even still, I worry. The invitation is an ever-growing novella of information and instructions on what to bring and how to prepare. Each year as I press send, I think, This is the year where I ask too much, and my friends will not be willing to play along.
Yet that has never happened. Somehow, each year, a crew shows up more invested than ever, with uglier holiday sweaters, more elaborate Halloween costumes, tastier food, and better gifts. Regular attendees have confided that New Friendsgivingmasnukkah is now their most anticipated annual holiday tradition. Though I cherish the time spent with my family during the actual holidays, I understand what they mean. I used to feel some disappointment after every Christmas, having failed again to find holiday joy under giftwrap. Now, by the time the actual New Year comes around, I have so thoroughly celebrated the season I could not possibly be disappointed.
And LBI in the winter is the perfect backdrop for such an outrageous event. The quiet of the Island makes the approach to the party feel like a long trek down an empty, blustery, wintery road to a little house at the end of the world. A warm, welcoming house, full to bursting with string lights, pine-scented candles, sweaters, family recipes, jack-o-lanterns, latkes, eggnog, and love. A house where you are about to experience thirty-six hours of pure joy.