One of the questions I get as an expatriate is how the holidays are different in my country (USA) as opposed to the country I live in at the time. I enjoy telling how we celebrate things differently for the holidays that we have in common; for example, Christmas. But the United States' Thanksgiving holiday is unique. Some countries have a Thanksgiving as well, but they are different celebrations with different purposes and traditions.
As an expatriate, you may be celebrating Thanksgiving as a single family unit, or as an individual. Here are some tips on how to celebrate Thanksgiving while you are away from home.
It would be nice to celebrate Thanksgiving just like you do back home, but that is not always possible. Obviously you don't have the extended family who can easily drop by the house and enjoy a big meal. Will you try to stick with all of your previous family traditions, or create your own?
If you choose to keep the traditions as they have always been, then be prepared that some things still may need to change. It may not be possible to find cranberry sauce in your host country. That sweet-potato casserole might not taste quite the same with the mash that the locals call "sweet potatoes." Just because something looks similar, does not mean it tastes similar. Sometimes you can find good substitutes. You may not be able to find pumpkins for pumpkin pie, but you might find another gourd that has a similar taste.
What about the traditional football game? Even if you can't get a live game, you may try having a friend mail you a tape/DVD of a previous game. If you have a good Internet connection, you might watch a game online. If not live, you might be able to find a recently recorded game through the Internet.
Since you are living in a new country, you can start new traditions. If your host country is in a tropical environment, or in the southern hemisphere, this may be a good time to celebrate Thanksgiving with a picnic on the beach. One year we threw out the traditional turkey and bought the most expensive steak and shrimp we could get at the store and grilled them on the barbecue.
Expatriate Thanksgiving Gathering
You may be an expatriate because you have chosen to live in another country after retirement. In this case you may not have as much of a structure in place to meet fellow Americans. However, if you are living in another country for work reasons, you can find a group of Americans in your industry with whom to celebrate the holiday. With the exception of one year, our family has spent Thanksgiving with other families in our line of work while living in foreign countries. Ask around to see if others are doing any kind of celebration, or become the host and invite co-workers to your house for the day. Even if it is just a couple of families eating turkey sandwiches together, it can be a lot of fun to gather for a common celebration.
We once lived in a town that had an English language library. Many of the English speaking foreigners were not American, therefore the library became a melting pot of holidays and activities. You may find your expatriate social community is not from the USA but are willing to celebrate this special day with you. Return the favor by celebrating their special holidays with them. There is no better way to learn about the customs of your expatriate friends.
You and all of your expatriate co-workers may have to work on Thanksgiving day. Since you are probably breaking all the other traditions, what would be wrong with saving the festivities for the weekend? It is fun to think that you are celebrating Thanksgiving on the same day as your family back home, but if it is not practical then you can still celebrate a couple of days late.
Thanksgiving Dinner Preparation
Start shopping for ingredients you will need for Thanksgiving dinner as early as possible. You might need to visit several stores before finding everything you need. It is possible that you have never seen cranberry sauce in your local market, but one day in July it shows up. That is the time to grab a few cans. Of course as an expatriate you are already learning to make new things from scratch. Try out any new recipes that you need to before the big day arrives.
If you are celebrating with a group of friends, arrange who will bring the different items for the big dinner as early as possible. In this case you won't know if you need to grab the can of cranberry sauce in July or not. But if you happen to have some in the pantry, then your contribution to the Thanksgiving meal will already be decided. If the group is large enough, make sure there are at least two people bringing each food item. That way if something happens and one family cannot come your meal is not ruined.
Make Thanksgiving Phone Calls
If you have a decent Internet connection you can call home inexpensively. Skype is a service that lets you call US phone numbers for about 2 cents per minute. Or, if your family back home has a computer also running Skype, you can call from computer to computer for free. Video is available as well, but only when using computers instead of computer to phone.
Google also has a service that lets you make voice and video connections within Gmail. Google's service is not expatriate friendly in that they don't let you call regular telephones while outside the US (your US friends currently get to make unlimited free calls through Google's service). Even though we expatriates cannot call regular phones with Google's service, we can use voice and video chat with other Gmail users. The quality is very good and it is easy to set up.
Your Expatriate Thanksgiving Plans
What are you and your family planning to do this year for Thanksgiving? Please leave a comment and let us know.
My family is getting together with a group of other expatriates, many of whom we have never met. Everyone has been asked to bring a traditional Thanksgiving dinner item and we will eat and enjoy the day together.