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Celebrating Thanksgiving Abroad

22 November, 2011 09:45  Erin Erin

Roasted turkey © evgenyb - Fotolia.comThanksgiving is one of the most important holidays of the year for most Americans and Canadians, no matter where they are in the world. A time for feast and family, it has roots in the beginnings of the nation and is a time to reflect on all that there is to be thankful for.


Origins of Thanksgiving in the USA

The celebration of Thanksgiving in the United States originates from the end of summer harvest shared by the Pilgrims and the native people in 1621 at Plymouth. It was made a national holiday by federal legislation in 1941, but had been an annual tradition in the United States by presidential proclamation since 1863. The holiday is now celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States.

Origins of Thanksgiving in Canada

The holiday is celebrated on the second Monday of October in Canada as a remembrance to the first Thanksgiving with explorer Martin Frobisher. He had been searching for a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean and in 1578, held a formal ceremony in Frobisher Bay in Baffin Island to give thanks to God. This celebration of good harvest was supported by the incoming migrants and the holiday has only grown in popularity.

What to Make for Thanksgiving Dinner

The truth is, there is no standard Thanksgiving fare. While there are some common characters, each family has their own traditions and recipes they cherish. Some people welcome their favourite dishes just as warmly as they welcome their family members.

Sample Menu

Turkey is the star of Thanksgiving. A difficult bird to cook because of it's size, low fat content and propensity for being dry, it is a yearly challenge to cook the perfect Turkey. Many families also prepare another meat like ham, while others may substitute it entirely for something like a Tofu substitute - Tofurky.

    Main Courses:
  • Roast Turkey
  • Honey baked Ham
  • Roast Beef
  • Roast Duck
  • Roast Pork
  • Cheese & Crackers Platter
  • Cheese and Nut log
  • Little smokies
  • Shrimp cocktail
    Side Dishes :
  • Cranberry
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Green Bean Casserole
  • Mashed Potatoes & Gravy
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Candied Carrots
  • Stuffing
  • Scalloped potatoes
  • Pumpkin pie
  • Apple pie
  • Pecan pie
  • Sweet potato pie

Thousands of Thanksgiving recipes can be found on sites like Allrecipes.com, MyRecipes.com, Taste of Home, and the Food Network.

Making the Perfect Thanksgiving Dinner Abroad

Creating these dishes is a challenge, and making them abroad can be impossible. Common ingredients in the United States can be impossible to find and cooking a turkey is just not possible in some kitchens. Creating a Thanksgiving dinner as an expat requires planning ahead and getting creative.

  • To purchase a whole turkey, contact a local butcher at least a week in advance. Be prepared to explain you prefer no feathers and no feet. Agree on a price up-front to avoid last minute charges. If all else fails, stick with a fowl that is cooked more commonly in your adopted culture like guinea fowl, goose, duck or chicken.
  • Try making dishes from scratch that you may commonly buy back home like stuffing, pumpkin pie, and green bean casserole - it can be done!
  • The Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie is usually made with a handy mix from a can. This is not going to be available in many places outside of North America. Try substituting butternut squash, or use cream of pumpkin soup mixed with sugar, cornstarch and spices.
  • If you are having multiple guests from your adopted country, try to adjust the flavour of the food to suit the local palate. Add wasabi and soy sauce for Asia. Go heavy on the garlic for Italy. Throw in some paprika in Hungary.
  • Confused about what to bring? Use this handy flowchart to decide.
  • Keep in mind that leftovers are expected and eagerly anticipated. Salivate over your leftover recipes accordingly.

Tips for an Expat Thanksgiving

Share the Turkey - Thanksgiving is the time to get everyone you know together to feast and drink. Make a party of it and be generous with your invites. It's fun to invite Thanksgiving pros and people new to the idea. Explaining the holiday makes you connect with the meaning and appreciate it all the more.

Everyone can Cook - This eases the burden of preparing a big meal and is perfectly acceptable. The "potluck" is a common method of catering an event and is mandatory at many Thanksgivings. Assign dishes or let people volunteer to cover the essentials. This allows everyone to take pride in the meal while relieving some of the burden from the host.

Provide entertainment - If you have many red-blooded Americans at Thanksgiving there are sure to be calls for American Football. Showing the game via satellite is ideal, but worst case you may consider an unusual venue like a sports bar that shows the game and allows you to bring in food, or provide a bit of back home with classic movies.

ENJOY! - It is also part of the Thanksgiving tradition to stress about the quality and quantity of the food, indulge in familial tensions, and have "one too many" beers. Being away from home might be a nice break to enjoy Thanksgiving anew. Celebrate with your fellow expats and locals and remember to be truly thankful for whatever the day brings.


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Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, Brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce look a lot like the traditional Christmas dinner in England.

Cyril     22 Nov 2011, 10:53