Tips for a Successful Expat Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  Why?  Because it is the true spirit of what a holiday should be - it's not inherently commercial, it's just about spending quality time with the people who are important to you and it provides a time to reflect on what we should be thankful for.  Even on my worst day, I am still a pretty lucky person.  I don't think about that only on Thanksgiving.  But on Thanksgiving somebody makes me say it out loud, at a table full of people, and betray my tough exterior for the mushy gushy Jackie with tears in her eyes.

While my favorite holiday, it is also, unfortunately, one of the holidays I've typically had to spend away from home.  This year, I Eurostared my way back to London to reconnect with my American crew.  We rented a house near the English coast and nearly reached 100 strings of back and forth e-mail while planning.  This year also marked my third Thanksgiving on a different continent, and so I think I know a thing or two about a successful Thanksgiving abroad.

A successful expat thanksgiving revolves around the 3 "Fs":

Turkey Neck Delight
What I like about Thanksgiving is that all the energy you usually have to put into thinking of gifts for other holidays, can be put into soley thinking about the menu.  I strongly suggest never inviting anyone to Thanksgiving that can't pull his or her weight in the kitchen.  (It's mean, I know, but the 3 Fs are essential for success.) It also helps to have someone outside of the typical circle, like a Frenchmen who got invited by default.  (Americans get priority at Thanksgiving.)  The role of the Frenchman is that he eagerly prepares all the stuff that Americans would throw away, like gizzards and turkey neck.  The few to venture a taste were primarily Katie, who is currently living in Uganda and will pretty much eat anything at this point. But the look of pure enjoyment on their faces may make me reconsider turkey neck.

A plate full of deliciousness

This year we had a gluten free Thanksgiving.  I can confirm that not a single Thanksgiving dish suffered from having to be GF.  So as part of the first "F", also be open to breaking tradition and trying new things.   My favorites?  Our friend Neal finally cooked (he had to in order to avoid blatantly violating one of the "F"s) and he surprised us with a delicious Spinach Madeleine.  Ellie cooked us a beet cake the night before our feast, and it is because of Ellie that I now love beet cake.  And finally the Bowen sisters really knocked out some fabulous food, including their lemon parmesan green beans.  I hate green beans but I loved them with the Bowen touch.

The second "F" is an obvious ingredient (aren't they all though), but I'm lucky to have found a great group of people that made the holiday special.

It's better together.

An expat has everyday "friends" that help pass the time when you move to a place, and then they have those friends that they actually decide to travel with or to spend important holidays with and in those moments, they create a makeshift family.   It's not home, but it's a nice feeling.  And because we're not real family, we don't fight and there is a certain harmony to the day.  Everybody wants to lend a hand.  Even though my cranberries boiled over into a sugary, sticky mess onto the stovetop and kitchen floor, Neal and Daniel cleaned it up.  Just like my dad would have done, further encouraging my habit of walking away from the stove when I set something to boil.  Well done, gentlemen.  :)  Nobody complains, even when they have to painstakingly zest 12 lemons and we only use 6.  That was St. Brendan at the grater. And when we can't figure out a problem like how the heck we're going to light birthday candles without a single flame producing object laying around the house, do we get frustrated?  No, we dance around the kitchen table as if it was a seemingly normal thing to do, hoping the fire muse will grant us the solution.

Invoking the fire muse with the help of Rhianna.


Fun can come in many forms.  My first expat Thanksgiving in Australia, trying to save the burned turkey was fun.  (Not at the time, Kristen M. would agree, but in retrospect.)   The English butcher has proven fun for the last two years, each time yielding a sense of panic about what we would do with an enormous turkey.  Last year, we decided to dissect it despite the snide comments from the butcher that we had no idea what we were doing.  (That's none of his business.)  We fondly named our  halfish turkey "Midge" (for midget turkey) and when we couldn't understand how to remove the leftover feathers, we quickly carved out that part when it was time to serve.  This year, panic again set in as we queued to wait to pick up our order and imagined having to deal with the below:

"WTF are we going to do with that?!", Kristen and Jackie simultaneously think.

Good thing that what we got resembled what appeals to our American aesthetics.  And having the Frenchman around solved the feather problem.  (You just burn them off with a lighter - too easy.)  This year, turkey got the name "Coonan the Turkarian".  It's a long story and the only picture Daniel decided to distribute actually shows the turkey named after me.  (He cleverly didn't send the picture with the turkey's real name.)  Like every other year, the turkey turned out to be delicious.

Coonan before, sans feathers this year.
Coonan after in his golden, delicious glory.

Yes, while these are the key ingredients, there are also a few other things that could help.  This year, the house played a central character to the festivities.  It was gorgeous - 5 bedrooms, a kitchen where all of us could be together and a real, true living room, just like in the US.  The beach was a short drive away and though winter was setting in and the air was crisp, there is something so calming about walking along the ocean.  And finally, the pool and sauna provided added ingredients for fun.  Yes, I said pool and sauna.  I told you, I know how to do this expat Thanksgiving thing right.  ;)

See more Thankgiving highlights by clicking here.  Hope you enjoyed the holiday with you and yours.  Looking forward to Christmas in Denver!


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