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How to Have a Global Thanksgiving Abroad

Close-up shot of a dish on a festively-decorated table. The plate has traditional Thanksgiving dishes on it: turkey, green beans, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and stuffing.
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Thanksgiving is a holiday steeped in tradition here in the U.S., but if you’re overseas as that fourth Thursday in November approaches, hosting an authentic Thanksgiving dinner may prove difficult. Whether you’re working or studying abroad, or simply vacationing overseas during the holiday, it might not be easy to find the ingredients you typically eat. You might even be working or going to class on the holiday itself. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be a meaningful, and tasty, holiday. From celebrating it as a “friendsgiving” on the weekend, to making dishes using local ingredients, here are some ideas to help make your international Thanksgiving one to remember:

  1. Mix up your menu with flavors from your host country. It may not be easy to find the ingredients that you need to prepare an traditional Thanksgiving meal. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t similar foods to choose from: instead of a turkey, try chicken or duck. As for the side dishes and desserts, if you can’t find your favorite canned pumpkin puree or boxed stuffing mix, chances there are plenty of ingredients in your host country that could serve as a great substitute: “for mashed and sweet potatoes, consider using another starchy root vegetable as an alternative, such as taro or yucca root. You can also substitute pumpkin for another local squash if your search for pumpkin or pumpkin puree comes up empty.”

  2. Invite friends from all over the world. Don’t limit your guest list to other Americans! Invite your friends from your host country, and from other countries as well, to take part in the celebration. Plan to celebrate on the weekend before or after Thanksgiving, to make sure everyone can attend. Ask them to bring a dish that has meaning to them, enlist them to help with the cooking, or just ask them to sit back, relax, and dig in. Have yourself and the other Americans talk about your own Thanksgiving traditions growing up. And don’t be shy if someone asks about the holiday’s colonial background: use it as a stepping stone to turn the discussion toward how the holiday has evolved since then into one about gratitude and reflection.

  3. Try eating out at a restaurant. Believe it or not, there are restaurants in cities around the world that serve up their take on a traditional Thanksgiving spread. Try searching for local restaurants that specialize in American cuisine—and not just McDonald’s or the Hard Rock Cafe. It may take some extra searching, but venues like American diners and BBQ spots might be a good place to start. Again, invite some of your friends from all over to go with you, and let them know your thoughts on the meal's authenticity!

  4. Call your loved ones back home. Try to time it with one of your favorite traditions, whether that’s watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or a football game, or part of the meal preparations. Not only is it a chance to connect with your family and friends, but it gives you a chance to show them how you are celebrating abroad. You could even plan ahead and ask your family to add a dish that represents your host country to their spread, bringing an international touch to their table, too.

Have you celebrated Thanksgiving abroad? What did you do to make it special? Let us know over on Twitter or Facebook.


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