Expat Thanksgiving

What exactly is Thanksgiving?

American Thanksgiving


That was the question of the week. And despite teaching small Spaniards about my favorite holiday for the past two years, I still stumble upon answering children and adults alike.

Me: “Well, remember how the Pilgrims sailed from England to the New World? No? Well, they did. 1620 actually. Landed in my state, Massachusetts!”

Student: “Really? What are the chances! Wait… so Massachusetts has a beach?”

Me: “Yes…many. Okay, so the Pilgrims were in the New World and had difficulty adjusting to the climate and soil. Supposedly some of the American Indians helped them plant crops etc. Then, at some point they shared a happy feast. But we all know that reality was much more complicated and that the relationship between the two groups wasn’t always quite a happy one.”

Student: “Yes, yes…”

Me: “But today we really just celebrate friends and family, being together, and amazing food. It’s a day to relax and spend time at home.”

Student: “And you really eat the pavo?”

Me: “Yes, we eat Turkey…”


But what exactly is Expat Thanksgiving?


Expat Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday usually held on the Saturday following the “real Thanksgiving”. We can’t have it on Thursday because, well, it’s not a holiday in our adopted countries! We might not have the Macy’s Day Parade or our families with us but we do have plenty to be thankful for.

1. Friends

  • Other Expats: It is amazing to celebrate Thanksgiving with other American expats. Everyone is from a different state and has different family traditions and recipes, but everyone has a common enthusiasm for the holiday. Everyone is excited to show off their food and culture and I think as expats we work extra hard to make an unforgettable day.
  • Foreign Friends: Every expat Thanksgiving must include some foreign friends. They’ll make you laugh with their lack of knowledge as to American food and traditions, and will make you feel like Top Chef after trying your dishes. You’ll likely find that your foreign guests are divided in their love of cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, but the Apple crisp and stuffing usually make a lasting impression.

2. Food

  • Thanksgiving Favorites: Caution! At an expat Thanksgiving you will likely taste your Turkey Day favorites, but they won’t be quite the same as your Secret Family Recipe. They might be better. I’ve noticed that expats tend to sign up for the dish that they like the most and they make it with the utmost care. I love my family Thanksgivings, but the food is very predictable (and delicious!). Yet at an expat Thanksgiving I always end up with a new favorite version of something.
  • Adaptations: Depending on where you are living it may or may not be easy to find some Thanksgiving staples. Stuffing mix, pie crusts, cranberry sauce, canned pumpkin, pecans, sage, TURKEY… all of these ingredients have been difficult to find over the past few years. But expats are great at adapting and this is no exception. Forget about stuffing mix, pie crusts, and canned pumpkin– we make these from scratch in our tiny kitchens and they taste that much better on the table! Other items are substituted with local fare– here in Spain a bit of serrano ham sneaks in to a few dishes and somehow a tortilla de patata usually ends up somewhere on the table.

3. Technology

  • Skype: Years ago expats had to imagine what their family might be doing for the holidays. Now, we can practically be there with them. I usually don’t go the the extreme of being given a seat at the table and taking part in the conversation, but the possibility is there! (Does anyone do that by the way?) I do, however, call my family on skype and video chat them for awhile on the holidays.
  • Blogs: I love blogs (obviously) but this year I relied on them more than ever to make an amazing and quick Thanksgiving meal. I pulled together a last minute Thanksgiving dinner in about two hours (post to follow) and it is all thanks to some amazing food bloggers who I trust more than any cookbook or recipe site out there!

Not Homesick!

It’s ironic, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday but I’m rarely homesick. I’ve felt worse on Christmas, New Year’s, and even Valentine’s Day for goodness sake! I’ve just been so lucky to have been able to share the past three Thanksgivings with friends and loved ones abroad. As expats in Spain we’ve introduced some Spaniards to American favorites and proven that our cuisine goes much farther than hamburgers and french fries. I’ve watched picky Spanish girls eat their full plate and help themselves to various desserts. We’ve impressed others with our organization and coordination and also our generosity (Thanksgiving is expensive to host and the turkey alone costs around 20 euro/30 dollars).

Here is my Thanksgiving post last year

And here is the year before!

Hasta la Próxima!

So until next year’s festivities I leave you with this question: What do you enjoy and find unique about expat Thanksgivings? Can they ever compete with being back home?


  1. Celebrating Thanksgiving abroad with new friends makes me appreciate what the holiday is truly about, spending time with people I care about and sharing a meal. I made stuffing for the first time and found it not only easy to make from scratch but loved it! I appreciate how much effort goes into thanksgiving dinner (or any big holiday dinner) now that I’ve hosted and prepared a dinner. Sometimes you don’t appreciate how much work something takes until you have to do without the convenience of American grocery stores.

    1. Exactly! Not having the convenience makes us make everything from scratch and that much better! It has also really made me appreciate the effort that my parents always put in when hosting… not easy!

  2. Lauren, you just dissected all of the elements of my own Thanksgiving! I celebrated on Saturday, Skyped, enjoyed both Spanish and American company at the event, plus tried a distinct version of green bean casserole since my Thanksgiving host has a Lebanese background. Here´s to Thanksgiving abroad!

  3. Lauren, I love this post! What a great way to share your culture. It reminds me of my expat Thanksgiving last year and how my French/Italian friends were just sooooo confused and soooo happy at the same time!

    Hope you had an amazing time!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *