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Celebrating Thanksgiving as an Expat

Thanksgiving Abroad


Last week was American Thanksgiving, and the first holiday we celebrated out of the US. I spent most of the day making all of the staples, roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and apple pies. The boys didn’t really realize it was Thanksgiving, because of course it wasn’t mentioned in school and there’s no Thanksgiving commercials here, it was just another Thursday. When they came home at lunch they were waiting for the big meal. I wasn’t sure if my Moroccan in-laws would like traditional American Thanksgiving food but they did! Overall, it was a lot of work and there were only a few moments that I felt really sad not to be with my family.

What I’ve learned after this first holiday is that part of the experience is creating new holiday traditions.  On the weekend, we were invited to another friends house, with several American families. It was a Thanksgiving potluck and we all really enjoyed ourselves.  It was a nice change to have conversations that didn’t require any additional work translating. The kids were able to play with other “English” kids. I left that night knowing even though my blood family wasn’t able to celebrate with us, new friends and connections are just as meaningful. This year I am truly thankful for this.

Our Potluck Thanksgiving Table

I had so much fun watching my Facebook and Instagram streams during the day and it was even more fun to see other expats around the world sharing their celebrations.  I thought I would do a little recap to share Thanksgiving around the world!


China: Varya of Creative World of Varya

Since neither of us are from the US, Thanksgiving was just something we read about, watched movies about and taught about to our students when the day came and it was a part of the cultural enrichment when learning English. This year I had our first ever Thanksgiving dinner. Our African-American friend and her daughters made everything from scratch from whatever they could find in local supermarkets. We got to eat the most amazing turkey, stuffing, corn, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese casserole and few more dishes, including a lovely chocolate cake. It was a very nice friendly atmosphere and we really enjoyed sharing this special holiday with our friends!

Costa Rica: Maribel of Stroller Adventures

Maribel opted for a red wine pot roast for their Thanksgiving dinner.  She and I have commiserated over our oven-less homes! Maribel said, “this was my first time making it, it was fully prepared on my crock pot and stove top.”  Looks delicious to me!


An African Thanksgiving

 Malawi/Zambia: Jody of Mud Hut Mama

What’s Thanksgiving like in the middle of the African bush? Maybe not as different as you imagine. My favorite line from Jody’s post, “I realized that I don’t have to be in the States to celebrate holidays the “right way” and I don’t have to try to recreate my own childhood for my kids, we will create our own traditions and memories that will be just as magical for my girls as the ones my parents created were for me.” So, so true!

Busy Bee in Paris

France: Maria of Busy as a Bee in Paris

Reading Maria’s post I could feel exactly the emotions she conveys. Waking up, imaging the sights and smells that have filled the day for years previous and then waking up and remembering you’re not there and this year will be different.


 France: Jennifer of American Mom in Bordeaux

Jennifer was able to bring Thanksgiving to her girls’ school!  The kids completed a project in French and English about thankfulness. You know how much I love food diplomacy and so you’ll have to click over to read the results of her pumpkin pie sharing with the class. Was it a hit?


England: Kate of PaperScissorsStone

I really loved how Kate chose her menu. She wrote, “I won’t bore you with the details, but I assure you that I never would have chosen this menu on my own.I love it anyway because each dish represents a dear family member or friend, even if they won’t be at my table.” What a great idea for future Thanksgivings away from home!


Thailand; Cordelia of MultilingualMama

Like many expats, we end up celebrating Thanksgiving on Saturday since it isn’t a holiday and most people work and/or kids miss out with night-time celebrations. This year, we co-hosted with some friends at their house. It was a lovely cross-cultural affair. As hosts our families were Franco-American-Mexican and American-Ethiopian and our guests came from all over.
Thanksgiving can also be very expensive when you live far from home as many of the traditional dishes require imports so co-hosting is a nice way to share the financial burden! My thanksgiving musts are cranberry sauce made from fresh/flash frozen cranberries. (Def not a can!) and chestnut stuffing. Anything else isn’t mandatory. This year I had to give up in the creamed pearl onions. Our friends had to have peas and corn!
The menu included a big Turkey, chestnut (bread-free) stuffing and an amazing Moroccan stuffing. Cranberry sauce, brussel sprouts, peas, corn, salad, homemade arstisinal bread (french guests require bread at any table!), regular and sweet potato mash, gravy – which was saved by an Italian guest after the two cooks had imbibed too many homemade mojitos and were having a lump panic.

 Some more Thanksgiving and Holiday Stories from Expats;

China; Theresa of MommieQ 

Americans aren’t the only ones that experience holidays as expats. Check out this post from Wales by Jonathan of Dads the Way I Like It about St. Andrews Day a Scottish holiday.


There you have it! So know that even when you’re not living in your home country, bringing holiday traditions to whatever corner of the globe you’re in is an important priority.  Are you an expat? What was your Thanksgiving like this year?




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Thursday 5th of December 2013

Amanda, I am coming to yours next year! Salivating and nearly short-circuiting my computer!

Maureen | Orgasmic Chef

Thursday 5th of December 2013

It's not always easy to get traditional American Thanksgiving ingredients but we always have a full complement of 10 at the dining table for Thanksgiving. This year we even had one other American. I loved this peek into what other expats do.

Amanda Mouttaki

Friday 6th of December 2013

I feel like it's an important part of who I am as an American and a way to acknowledge to my kids, that they do have an American culture worth celebrating. Too often we're told/hear that "American" isn't a real culture.


Wednesday 4th of December 2013

Thank you for putting this together. I love how traditions like Thanksgiving create a sense of community across a culture even as it is spread out around the world. I really enjoyed the varied celebrations and perspectives and am flattered to be included. What nice company to be in!

Amanda Mouttaki

Friday 6th of December 2013

So true! Glad you tweeted back @mangotomato so that I could discover your blog and include your celebration!


Wednesday 4th of December 2013

Your Thanksgiving meal looks incredible! I'm so glad you were able to share it with your in-laws and that you were able to have some time with other Americans. This year I also cooked my in-laws their first Thanksgiving meal and they loved it! Thank you for including my post!

Amanda Mouttaki

Friday 6th of December 2013

Most welcome Jody - awesome to hear your in-laws enjoyed it too! I find mine are really hesitant quite often but after seeing me spend all day preparing they were anxious and dug in excitedly. Small memories of "home" help with the disconnect sometimes I've found.