Celebrating Thanksgiving Abroad

The following is a guest post.

It is odd to celebrate Thanksgiving when you’re living outside the US. Many of the traditional Thanksgiving foods – a roast turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie – can be difficult to find. No one really understands what you’re celebrating, and why. And you never get the day off work.

My first Thanksgiving outside of the US was during a study abroad year in college. I was living with other Americans, so we didn’t have the necessity of explaining the holiday and the traditions before we ate. Those of us who didn’t have classes scheduled for that day stayed in to help prepare the feast; those of us who did have classes schedule thought about skipping them. One of our group had family visiting, and when you combined them with the few neighbours that we invited, we had about 25 people around the tables. We all provided at least one of our family’s traditional Thanksgiving foods, and it was hours before we left the table.

When I was teaching in central Europe, I used the day to teach my students about American traditions. We did activities based around the Pilgrims and Squanto, and planned our own Thanksgiving feast. I also, of course, made them all write about things that they were thankful for. With some classes, I had them make paper hand-turkeys (where you trace your hand on paper and then colour it in like a turkey) to decorate the classroom.

Thanksgiving usually fell at around the same time as parents’meetings, so finding time for a traditional Thanksgiving feast was a bit tricky. One of the schools gave a dinner for the staff, with approximations of traditional American Thanksgiving food – chicken instead of turkey, currants instead of cranberries. The American teachers gave a little speech at the beginning of the meal to explain to the non-Americans what the significance of Thanksgiving was.

The other school that I taught at didn’t do a group feast, and, because we had been so busy with parents’meetings, we didn’t have time to cook – so instead, we went to McDonald’s for “traditional” American food. Another year, we had just gotten boxes from home with instant mashed potatoes and Kraft macaroni and cheese in them, so we ate traditional American food – even if it wasn’t traditional Thanksgiving food – that year as well.

My memories of Thanksgiving are incredibly tied up with the food I eat. Even when I am not in the US for Thanksgiving, I try to eat something that reminds me of the US, and it’s best if it’s fairly close to the stereotypical Thanksgiving meal. I try to find roast turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, cranberries, and pumpkin at the very least. I may not be able to watch the Lions play football or see The Ten Commandments on TV, but I can at least approximate the meal.

Kendra Korte is an American living in Nottingham. She writes about books at mendramarie.wordpress.com


  1. expatmum says

    I think it’s very hard for other nationalities to really understand what Thanksgiving means to Americans. I always feel like such a Grinch in the USA because it’s not such a big deal to me and I have to remember to make it so for my kids. Good job my American husband keeps the traditions going.

  2. says

    At the end of the day, Thanksgiving is about spending time with the people you love, being thankful for what you have and celebrating a beautiful bounty. It’s not about religion, patriotism (really) or buying lots of crap. That’s why it’s my favourite American holiday. Jean explained the history behind Thanksgiving in a nice post earlier this week.

  3. Denise LeCroy says

    Although Thanksgiving in America is based on that first Thanksgiving, to me (growing up, and as an adult) is has always, always been about being thankful for what I had (materially and otherwise). I would think that *everyone* living in America, regardless of their nationality, could understand/embrace it?

    My grandparents were Eastern European immigrants – and they thrived on the Thanksgiving celebration.

    Although Thanksgiving is uniquely American, America shouldn’t be the only country in the world with a special day set aside to celebrate gratitude for country, friends and family. Makes you wonder why other countries don’t.

  4. Hanna says

    lol — yes don’t forget your little neighbours to the North. We celebrate the first weekend of October and we don’t have any shopping days – we just eat , and eat , and eat. I love cooking a nice Thanksgiving meal and then we think about all the peeps that might not have any and I give to the food bank and donate clothes to the local store that resells for charity. It’s a nice all-around holilday!

  5. vrich says

    Traditional American foods, yes, but….McDonalds, instant mashed potatoes, and Kraft mac & cheese?….oh, dear. One thing about us Yanks – we’re good at making do with what we’ve got!

  6. Connie Senk says

    Happy Thanksgiving from California. We all love that turkey coma dinner. In stores I see little stuff here and there for Thanksgiving. More Christmas stuff out already, right after October. I pray for Thanksgiving to have more time on earth. God Bless….! :) <3

  7. Kathleen Vaughan says

    Last year in Costa Rica we were invited to a Canadian Thanksgiving dinner (early October) – our host was Canadian. The most elegant 5 course meal I have ever eaten! It was similar to our US Thanksgiving dinner, with turkey, squash soup, and all the other trimmings.

  8. Andy says

    I remember before we were married, my wife cooked a full Thanksgiving dinner at our flat in London for me and my Dad, and it was our first taste of something uniquely American.

    There was even a little bonus as I was working at the US Embassy in London (where we met) and all the staff -Brits as well as Americans- got Thanksgiving Day off, so we had all day to enjoy it. It’s a great day to spend with family and we make sure that’s all it is and forget about the whole shopping insanity part of it.

  9. Kimberly says

    I agree, I have fought to celebrate this with my MIL. She doesn’t get why I don’t want to not celebrate it on the Sat before the holiday instead of after to accommodate an award event for our sailing club when other Americans do not attend for the same reason!