Thanksgiving: At Home and Abroad

Thanksgiving Decor

It’s that time of year– let the holiday family, fun, cooking, and traveling begin! I always look forward to the holidays for several reasons, one of which is time spent with family. Another is time spent with friends. Every holiday break, my college girlfriends and I meet for brunch to catch up. It is particularly special as it is one of the few times of the year that we are able to see a friend who grew up in Michigan and is currently living in England with her husband and children. She also spent three years in Norway. She and her family typically come home at Christmastime and in the summer for a few weeks. Meet Katie. I’m embarrassed that this is my first time asking these questions but am excited that she agreed to let me share her insights with you…

Thanksgiving at Home and Abroad

What are your favorite memories/things about Thanksgiving in the US?

I have always enjoyed helping my mom prepare the meal. Something as simple as pealing potatoes seems special on Thanksgiving! The parade, the Lions football game, making decorations for the table and playing board games also stand out in my mind from childhood all the way through adulthood. We have also enjoyed taking part in a community race on Thanksgiving morning such as the Turkey Trot.
How many Thanksgivings have you spent abroad and where?
I have spent two Thanksgivings in England and three in Norway.

What are your favorite memories/ things about celebrating Thanksgiving abroad?
I will always remember trying to fit the turkey in the refrigerator! Our fridge is a lot smaller in England and was also small in Norway – so it is a big challenge!

We have purchased quite a few children’s books about Thanksgiving since living abroad – it has felt really important to teach our kids the reason we celebrate this holiday!
What are some US Thanksgiving traditions you try to honor when living abroad?

We usually celebrate the weekend after Thanksgiving. We let the kids watch a recording of the parade. We watch football. We eat a lot! We share with friends. We try to make our celebration special and focus on being thankful.
Thanksgiving is just another day in November in Norway and England, and so you have to go to work or school…. it is a little hard knowing your friends and family in the states are all celebrating. A skype call helps with this though!

What differences have you noticed? / Are there any foods/supplies for a traditional Thanksgiving that are difficult to find when living abroad?

We are very lucky that Christmas and Thanksgiving are very close together because both Norway and England stock a lot of turkeys in their stores by the end of November in anticipation of Christmas. If Thanksgiving were not so close to Christmas it would be a lot more challenging to purchase a turkey! Canned pumpkin is something you have to search for in the “American” section of the supermarket (right next to peanut butter cups and jerky!) Nothing seems to turn out the way it tastes “at home” but most dishes can be achieved!

Have you had any “Friendsgivings” while abroad? And/or, have you provided any information about a traditional US Thanksgiving at work/kids’ schools/etc.?

We have often spent Thanksgiving with other Americans abroad or people who have some kind of American connection… it might be a family we met who has lived in the states at some point or someone who has a relative who still does live in the states. We usually celebrate on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but my husband has also gone out for a “roast lunch” with friends from work on Thanksgiving.  

I have also really enjoyed going to my children’s schools to share about Thanksgiving. The kids are fascinated by our American holiday. They like to hear about the pilgrims and the Native American as well as learn about the things we do to celebrate today. I have even shared pumpkin pie with kids at school, which is not very popular in England!

I have found it very interesting that Black Friday is very popular in both Norway and England. Sales and special offers are advertised as black Friday deals. It is not as widely popular as it is in the states but it is catching on.

What do you look forward to the most when thinking about celebrating Thanksgiving back in the states next year?

I can’t wait for someone else to be responsible for the turkey! But really it’s simply that we will get to be with family again and that will be so lovely!
Thanksgiving at Home and Abroad
We can’t wait to have you back, Katie! 
Not only are friends near and far on our minds when we think of people we are thankful for, but we are also incredibly thankful for family. My parents were both from the same small town that I grew up in and, hence, their parents and siblings all knew each other. This made for some fairly large combined family Thanksgiving dinners. I was very close with both of my grandmothers. My paternal grandmother, aka “Bumble”, had (and enforced- ha!) the tradition of churning butter each year. The best part was when she let us  sample the finished product straight from the wooden butter bowl with all of the salt one’s heart could desire 🙂 My maternal grandmother, Nana, had a couple of signature dishes and was so fun to visit with (there were always the coveted People magazines by her bedside and possibly even some palm reading). One of my favorite dishes is her Green Bean Casserole. It is a no-can-of-soup recipe and has swiss cheese in it- yum, yum, yum! It is a recipe people ask for, and my mom said it would be okay to share it here 🙂
Thanksgiving at Home and Abroad
Green Bean Supreme
1 can French cut green beans, drained
2T butter
2T flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup of sour cream
1 tsp prepared mustard
1/4 cup French fried onions
1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese
2T dried onion
Thanksgiving at Home and Abroad
Add butter, flour, and salt in a medium sauce pan and heat to a boil. Add the sour cream and mustard, stirring constantly. Heat thoroughly but do not boil. Stir the beans, cheese, and dried onion to the sauce. Transfer to a casserole dish and top with French fried onions. Bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees. Enjoy!
I hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and are able to spend time with family and friends!
 Thanksgiving: At Home and AbroadThanksgiving Green Bean Casserole
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12 thoughts on “Thanksgiving: At Home and Abroad”

  1. That green bean dish looks so good! I think it’s awesome that people abroad are able to celebrate with other Americans and have “Friendsgiving”. That must feel so comforting! In 2015, we spent our first Thanksgiving while traveling and it was really hard for us. We usually don’t spend it with our families (it’s usually just me, my husband, and my son), but not being in our own home with our own traditions was really hard! But it sounds like one can still enjoy the traditions of home while living abroad.

  2. We don’t have Thanksgiving in Italy but we had a delicious diner much like the traditional Thanksgiving one in the Adirondacks not so long ago and we loved it!

  3. What a great post. I always think of Thanksgiving through the eyes of an outsider. It’s a great time to get together with family, but I never thought about it from a US expat’s point of view. It’s great that you still celebrate it and record the parade!

  4. We find video calls a great help for festivals and events that are going on at home whilst we are travelling overseas. The recipe for the bean dish looks great will give it a try. Happy Thanksgiving

  5. There is something so sweet about family traditions that grandparents pass on. I can imagine the lively atmosphere with your whole family celebrating Thanksgiving together. Wonderful , warm memories.

  6. Thanksgiving and Christmas are always incredibly special times for me and my girl friends to reunite after spending the year in different places across the globe! Loved reading this interview, it reminded me so much of my girls. I am planning on traveling abroad for a long time next May so it was interest to see how your friend celebrates American holidays while abroad!

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