My first year abroad, we were determined to make a go of Thanksgiving with our American expat friends. We didn’t know all the shopping tips, yet, so we faced some challenges – where to find cranberry sauce, pecans for pecan pie (though, those seem to be everywhere now), corn meal for muffins (polenta), American marshmallows – and I was blown away to learn that our turkey cost $60 (bargain, in retrospect!). We pulled it together, and it was the best day.
Ever since then, we have always come together at someone’s home for a potluck style Thanksgiving.
I was thinking this year about some of my friends who live in other countries, and how they might celebrate, so I decided to put a call out to see if any other American expats would share their Thanksgivings with me. I think you’ll see here the importance of the holiday to all of us, and the personality and heart that goes into each celebration. For many of us abroad, this holiday takes on special meaning, both reminding us of our families and traditions at home, as well as how grateful we are for our made-families in our new countries.
Tracy in Switzerland
The biggest difference between my American Thanksgiving and my Swiss Thanksgiving is the date. I struggle with homesickness every year on the last Thursday of November. It is the day I miss my home the most. Thankfully, I am lucky to have a Swiss family who loves me, and roasted turkey, enough to celebrate with me each year. This year was especially hard, for unknown reasons. So I have decided to host Thanksgiving on the weekend before. Therefore, I can sit and watch the parade feed online with the warm glow of my Christmas decorations, and a belly full of leftovers to keep me company.
Sarah in Thailand
(Read more about Sarah’s travels at Sarah’s Musings and Wanderings)
I just completed my TESOL certification (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) with a group of incredible and like-minded adventurers in Thailand. When it came time for us to part ways, it was as tough as saying goodbye to my family back at home. So, a bunch of us decided to meet up in a central location, Korat, for a “friendsgiving” this past weekend. We had a phenomenal reunion filled with good friends, food and drinks. Of course it was a challenge to be absent for Thanksgiving back in the states, at least it was leading up to the holiday, anticipating missing my family, food, parade, etc. But a funny thing happened when I actually video chatted my family and a few friends during their dinners – I realized I wasn’t missing much. It’s the same as last year and the year before and the year before that. However, I have changed and I am happy here and thrilled to have the opportunity to celebrate instead with some great friends. I am probably more thankful than ever this year BECAUSE I’m not at home. I’m thankful for the special opportunity missing the holiday has provided me with, creating a new kind of celebration with a new family. Oh, and at dinner we ate a variety of dishes from pastas and pizzas to Korean BBQ and tons of wine and beer. There was no turkey, but no one noticed!
Rosemary in Tokyo
My expat friends and I swap ingredient tips and shopping duties–it turns out there’s a kind of Japanese sweet potato that become even sweeter and richer than yams, and it’s easy to pick up an extra carton of fresh cranberries for a friend from the import grocery store. And my home may be tiny, but it’s just big enough for our friends and family, and for that, among many other blessings, I’m thankful.
Cooking Thanksgiving in Japan definitely has its challenges–chief among them being my tiny kitchen (counter space is severely limited, and trying to remove platters from the fridge is like a game of Jenga), my even tinier oven (the turkey just *barely* fit, with about 1 centimetre to spare), and the lack of proper ingredients (turkeys and cranberries are not exactly part of the Japanese diet, and there’s an ongoing butter shortage. Yes, you read that right. A butter shortage. It’s even more horrible than it sounds).
But! If I don’t make Thanksgiving for my kids, they’re never going to know about the holiday or have that particular connection with their history. So over the course of 10 years of married life in Tokyo, I’ve learned to make a proper Thanksgiving for my family, despite the difficulties. The tiny oven means I’ve become a whiz at precision cooking–since I can’t cook the corn pudding and the green bean casserole at the same time, I start cooking well in advance and have the schedule down to a fine science.
Penny in Singapore
Penny shared her experience with nearly two decades of expat Thanksgiving!
I have (celebrated Thanksgiving abroad) since 1988 in Southeast Asia. Each year I would make a huge traditional feast and invite mostly non-Americans. Others are so curious and feel honored to be included. The turkey, dressing cranberry sauce has such a distinct taste. Yum! Now that our kids live in Sydney & San Francisco, I don’t cook anymore. This year we are invited to 3 dinners, Thurs, Fri & Saturday. (Also American Association had a Turkey Trot Family Race last weekend at the US Navy yard here. Lots of hotels serve Thanksgiving food in their buffet at this time of year.) Americans are everywhere and so is our culture. Grateful for friends here who are just like family.
Kelli in Bahrain
We spent the holiday with friends from around the globe. Our faculty celebrated by having a pot luck at our director’s house. We streamed the Macy’s Day Parade and ate and drank together. We had to cook the three massive turkeys in our school oven because they were too big for the ones in our houses. Then my family left and went to our close friend’s house where we watched football and ate green bean casserole and sweet potato pie- it made me long for my Southern roots but I was happy to be with my family.
Cristin in Sydney
I’ve already shared the story of our first little Thanksgiving party on Thursday, where we introduced British and French friends to a traditional meal. We followed up that feast on the weekend, when we attended a spectacular party at our fellow-American friend G’s house. G is an impeccable party host, as well as a raging extrovert, so her home was filled to the brim with friends, children and decorations crafted to perfection, including name badges where we were to each write what we were thankful for, a kid’s table with homemade Thanksgiving coloring books, and a giant inflatable turkey out front (I wonder if it’s the only one in Australia?!). We went potluck style, with G and her partner serving up two turkeys from the grill, and the rest of us contributing the sides and desserts. I made 4 pecan pies for the occasion.
I sat at a table outside (it was a warm late-Spring day in Australia!) with half a dozen close friends, and we talked about all the Thanksgivings we’ve now shared together in Australia. Our Australian friend said she takes pride in being invited every year, and for us “Yanks,” celebrating together has become an important part of our year.