For American expats, Thanksgiving can be a difficult holiday. But just because nobody else stuffing their face with exorbitant amounts of food on the fourth Thursday of November, it doesn’t mean that you can’t.
In Germany, there is actually a Thanksgiving-esque holiday known as Erntedankfest. This is a kind of harvest celebration that takes place in the beginning of October. It is really just for farmers and people in the countryside to say thanks for the year’s harvest, however. Nothing comparable to what we do each year in the U.S.
So if you are living in Germany, and aren’t lucky enough to have connections to the American military here, then here are my tips on how to celebrate Thanksgiving.Stick with Your Traditions
Thanksgiving was my first holiday away from home two years ago. I actually started crying in the grocery store on Thanksgiving as I walked around realizing that I wouldn’t be having a proper Thanksgiving meal. This was my first time really experiencing homesickness, and now I know that while integrating into your country’s new culture is important, you also should not abandon your traditions from home. So although perfectly recreating your Thanksgiving dinners in the U.S. is nearly impossible, you should at least continue the traditions that are important to you.
Learn to Cook from Scratch
In the U.S., we love our canned cranberry sauce, jarred turkey gravy, and frozen pumpkin pies. Unfortunately, unless you have connections to an American military base where they can score you some treats from the homeland, you will never find these things abroad. So if you want a sweet potato pie just like your mom used to make, you are going to have to figure out how to make all by yourself.
Get Your Friends in the Spirit
If you are lucky, you know some other American expats to celebrate with. For the rest of us, however, we have to find a way to get our German friends in the spirit of the holiday. This year will be my boyfriend’s second Thanksgiving, and since I prepare everything, he is more than happy to eat it all with me. He will even participate in a session of listing things we are thankful for, as long as it means he gets to eat sooner.
For those of us that either cannot or don’t really care to make everything from scratch, this holiday becomes more about finding food alternatives that are native to the country that we are living in. For example, this year I have decided that I will have Serviettenknödel as a replacement for stuffing. You can find these pre-prepared throughout much of Germany, then all you have to do is put the plastic tube of seasoned croutons in boiling water for 30 minutes, and voila, you have the mushy deliciousness of stuffing.
Pick Any Bird
Whole turkeys are very difficult to find in Germany, and when you do find them, they are way more expensive than their sisters in the U.S. So, I plan on settling for a chicken this year. Little 3-pounders are commonly sold here for about five bucks, so I plan on just get two of those. Other acceptable birds include: duck, goose, and pigeon.
Just Eat Turkish Food
If all of this is sounding too difficult for you, then there is nothing wrong with simply eating at the local Turkish restaurant. Maybe you won’t be eating a Thanksgiving turkey, but at least your meal is made by people from Turkey. That counts for something, right?
So there it is, my guide to celebrating Thanksgiving in Germany. Although some of us aren’t lucky enough to be in the U.S. for the most delicious of holidays, there is no reason that we can’t still have a delicious meal. Just like at home, I plan on cooking much of the day, eating until I have to undo the top button on my pants, and watching a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.
Even if you aren’t able to cook a meal like the ones from home, though, there’s nothing wrong with eating out. Remember that if you ever want to feel like you are at home in the U.S. all you need to do is pop into the McDonald’s around the corner. Trust me, the Chicken McNuggets taste exactly the same.
Courtney is an American expat living abroad in Germany. After studying abroad in Germany during college, she immediately knew that she wanted to go back. So after graduating, that’s just what she did.
She now works as a freelance writer and is pursuing her Masters degree in Germany. To read more about her experiences and adventures, check out her blog at Courtney the Ami.