Thanksgiving 2019: 3 American expats on what it’s like to celebrate in a different country

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Jessica Rapana
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Three women tell Stylist about missing family, friends and pumpkin pie – and how they recreate Thanksgiving traditions, wherever they are.

For Allisa Lindo, a 27-year-old New York transplant living in Malmö, Sweden, Thursday 28 November, aka Thanksgiving Day 2019, will just be another day. There will be no pumpkin pie. No turkey, stuffing or cranberry sauce. No Cowboys games. No inside jokes. And definitely no relaxing into a pie-induced food coma movie marathon. For Allisa, it’s the hardest day of the year to be away from home. “Thanksgiving is one of those days that really makes me homesick,” she explains.

“In two words? It sucks. It sucks to watch everyone getting excited and posting on social media about what they’re cooking for the big day. It sucks to see the pictures of the tables decked out in fall colours with all the delicious food that I can’t easily find or make where I am now. Oh man, do I miss stuffing. I didn’t realise it isn’t much of a thing elsewhere.”

This will be Allisa’s fourth Thanksgiving away from home because, she explains, the date falls so close to Christmas, she has to choose which holiday to travel home for.

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“I miss having my family around during Thanksgiving,” she says. “They are a rowdy and fun bunch, and Thanksgiving is the perfect time to catch up with them. So, I feel like I miss out on great family stories and bonding moments.”

In previous years, the marketing manager has congregated with fellow expats at the American Women’s Club for their annual potluck dinner which is held on the weekend either side of the holiday. “That’s usually my lifeline,” she admits.

For the annual dinner made up of “a fun mix of traditional Thanksgiving dishes with some Swedish stuff thrown in”, someone from the club will make the turkey, stuffing and gravy, while the others bring side dishes and desserts. “It’s nice because I get to catch up with people I haven’t seen in a while and load up on an unhealthy amount of carbs – both hallmarks of Thanksgiving back home,” Allisa says. “It’s not the same as celebrating with my own family but it’s better than nothing.”

Thanksgiving 2019: Allisa, 27, misses her family at this time of year.

This year, after upsizing to a bigger place, she is planning to host her own “Friendsgiving” to introduce her Swedish friends to some unique Thanksgiving traditions. “I’ve had a few of them ask me what it’s like to celebrate,” she explains. “Now, I’ll have an opportunity to show them instead of trying to put it into words, because if I’m honest, it’s really hard to explain Thanksgiving without a giant turkey.”

The tradition that she is most excited to impart, however, isn’t edible. “In my family, we share what we’re thankful for and I know a lot of other families do this, too,” Alissa explains. “It’s nice to take some time to reflect on what has happened throughout the year and think of the good that has happened in our lives.”

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For Nicole, 28, this Thanksgiving will be her first away from home. Like in Sweden, she is finding turkeys and sweet potato casseroles with marshmallows are thin on the ground in Lyon, where she moved with her partner a few months ago. In fact, despite the fervour across the pond, Nicole says there are no signs of the holiday in France at all.

“To be honest, I hadn’t even thought about [Thanksgiving]. Since it’s not being announced around me and people aren’t asking me what I’m doing for it, it hadn’t crossed my mind until you mentioned it,” she tells Stylist. “But I am really going to miss being with family and eating that food, which is nowhere to be found here.”

Thanksgiving 2019: Nicole, 28, is struggling to find “the right seasoning” in Lyon.

Nicole, who runs a start-up for expats, usually spends the holidays with her family in Florida, eating special dishes that are only made once a year. “My family prepares the best Dominican food and we all get together,” she explains. “We always have roasted turkey, chicken, potato salad with beets and apples, beef and vegetarian pasteles, moro de gandules and coquito … my mouth is watering right now.” 

She adds: “It’s my favourite holiday. I love that, for this one occasion, everyone shows up.”

However, she won’t be letting the holiday go unnoticed this year, she says, and is planning a housewarming that very night with wine and karaoke. As for cooking: “They don’t have the famous Goya products that we love and I have yet to find the right seasoning for my beans [so] I may have to get creative… it’ll probably be a nice celebration but not exactly the same traditional Thanksgiving I’d have back home.”

Thanksgiving 2019: Natalie enjoys being “obligation-free” for the day.

For other expats, escaping the hype can bring about a different emotion: relief. “I’m just not a fan,” Natalie Wyll, 37, admits. For the web designer from Austin, Texas moving to Valencia, Spain has been a welcome break from feeling obliged to partake in the holiday’s endless hours of food preparation and, as is tradition, overeating. “I’m not big on Thanksgiving food and the cooking is stressful, so it’s never been one of my favourite holidays,” she explains. “I enjoy being free of obligations for the day.”

Usually, she and her husband would spend Thanksgiving at his parents’ house in Dallas “watching the Cowboys, then eating a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with friends and family”. But after relocating last year, both Thanksgiving and Christmas have become just regular old days, she explains, which doesn’t bother either of them in the slightest.

This year, Natalie and her husband will be spending the holiday in Amsterdam with her parents and have no special plans – just how she likes it. “If you enjoy Thanksgiving, great – go all out, celebrate and enjoy,” she says. “But if it’s not your thing, it’s OK to do nothing, as well. Don’t pressure yourself to cook or go to dinner if you don’t enjoy it.”

Whether their Thanksgiving involves introducing new friends to turkey and stuffing, singing karaoke or spending a weekend in Europe, these expats know one thing – there’s a lot to be thankful for.

Image: Unsplash


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Jessica Rapana

Jessica Rapana is a journalist based in London, and enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content. She is especially fond of news, health, entertainment and travel content, and drinks coffee like a Gilmore Girl.

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