Video: Thanksgiving, with friends

By Roger O’Neil Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/2/2004 3:22:35 PM ET 2004-12-02T20:22:35

Home for the holidays just isn't what it used to be.

A new American portrait is emerging — one without immediate family. Generation X-er's — those 20 and 30-somethings living far from home — are increasingly sharing holidays with best friends.

It's what Ethan Watters calls "Urban Tribes" in his book of that name.

"I looked around and saw that my life was not the same as my parents," says Watters. "I was in my 30s, I wasn't married, I was jumping from job to job. And what I saw was this group of friends that I had in my life."

These new urban tribes have a common denominator — the workplace. On the one hand, it's what takes young people away from their moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas. On the other, it's the reason why these informal families exist.

And just like real families, many, like these women in Cincinnati, have their own rules, rituals, and customs.

"We actually have a family," says Anne Marie-White. "We have deep bonds, and you know, we're kind of almost accountable to each other for morals and values and things like that."

Sometimes called a generation in delay, X-er's are putting off marriage — remember, they grew up with divorce — but they still have a need "to belong."

Never was that need stronger than in New York after 9/11. What emerged was a touch league that in just two years grew from 29 to 116 teams.

Organizer Rob Herzog says 10,000 young men and women are now involved in several sports.

"They've become a totally extended family," says Herzog.

It's a family that has resulted in at least nine engagements or marriages. But besides the social camaraderie, there's also a purpose — the teams play for charity.

Anthropologist Jan English-Lueck of San Jose State University says moving to a big, strange city is like being orphaned.

"If you don't have a family there, there's still that longing for family," says English-Lueck. "There's still that longing for community. And people are going to create it."

While most tribal members will marry and start their own families someday — surviving the in-between years with "volunteer families" can have advantages — the toasts are always sweeter with relatives you've picked to be with.

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