It was one of those ridiculous ideas that became a reality, and five years later was one of my favorite traditions: all you can eat sushi on Thanksgiving Eve. What better way to prepare the stomach for a feast? If you tried to bring anything involving fish to Thanksgiving in rural Illinois where I grew up, you could get run out of town. But I had moved to LA, and the rules were different there.

My friends and I weren’t able to get time off to travel home, so we ate sushi until we could burst. The next year, we decided it was such a glorious mistake, the only proper thing to do was repeat it.

One year, the celebration continued late into the night and no one can remember exactly how we decided to go shopping for Thanksgiving dinner at two in the morning after sushi. This was not exactly the most thought-out plan, and we didn’t realize how long turkeys need to thaw, and almost forgot to remove the plastic bag with the unmentionable tidbits before we put it in the oven. Nevertheless, we declared the dinner to be a success, and no one cared that we had paper plates and lumpy gravy.

Growing up, the holidays were always so much about family, I never considered how much friends would be a part of my life, assuming I would live close to family or have my own by now. And although I still love when I get to go home for the holidays, I also love the times I’ve spent with friends. There is a little more freedom for the unconventional, and a little less need for perfection when we don’t have as many expectations or pressure.

How can we celebrate well with friends? As the madness begins this year, here are some ways to think creatively about the holiday season:

Celebrate Outrageously

Dream big, think unconventional. Channel your inner 5-year-old excitement for the holidays. Want to make everyone wear fancy pants or footie pajamas to a party? Now is your time. Want to see what the fabled “turducken” is all about? Do it.

Brainstorm your craziest ideas and figure out a way to make it happen. Surprise one of your friends by making his most hare-brained dream a reality, even if entering an ice-sculpting contest does not sound like your idea of a good time.

Or Keep it Simple

If the paragraph above made you tired, gather a few friends, order pizza and call it good. Decide that no one is any cooking this year and that the Thanksgiving party circuit is closed until 2015.

The whole point is for the holidays to be life-giving, not stressful. Maybe you need to say no to the hoopla this season, to rest and be renewed, to spend time with the people you love, instead of ending up a weepy mess or a pile of twitchy nerves on January 2nd from too much holiday.

Be a Family

A few of my friends contemplate eating raw chicken each year in order to avoid the latest family drama. When our family isn’t what it should be, or when we live far away, our friendships become even more important.

But family-like relationships don’t happen without effort or thoughtfulness. It takes selflessness and sacrifice to care for people in a meaningful way, to think about what would serve someone else instead of ourselves. What would it look like to love our friends as family this holiday season?

Remember the Why

This next month is about saying thank you, getting the best gift we will ever receive, and new beginnings. It is easy to forget the real reasons for the season when seven thousand advertisements are shoved in our faces, trying to make us believe the season is about getting more stuff.

We need to remind one another about the purpose of our celebrations, consider how we can give back, and all the ways that Jesus coming into the world radically changes our lives. Make some hot chocolate and sit and talk about what is important.

So celebrate well this year, in new and creative ways. Tell the people you love why you are thankful for them. Give something unexpected. Gather your friends together and do something absurd. And please, please send me pictures of your outrageous parties and hare-brained ideas.

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