Saturday, November 28, 2009

Expat Holidays: Celebrating Turkey Day Abroad

It cannot escaped anyone's notice that last Thursday was Thanksgiving in the United States - even non-Americans amongst us living overseas are bombarded by the uniquely American holiday through the media and social networking tools. So I was curious about how Americans living in different countries celebrated Thanksgiving and how it differs to the way they would do it back home in the US.

I talked to three Americans living in three different countries about their Thanksgivings celebrations in their host country.

Tara Agacayak, author of the Turquoise Poppy blog (, lives in Turkey and over the years has changed how she and her husband celebrate the American holiday. It started with just the two of them and mountains of food, which would last for days afterwards to the next year they took to eating out for the holiday. Tara then spent three consecutive years in the United States, spending Thanksgiving with her family back home. Once Tara built up her network of American friends overseas celebrating the holiday in Turkey became less about food, and more about company.

"About two years ago I joined a group of American expats and this year’s forums were filled with discussions about making the holiday as authentic as possible – tips about where to order turkeys (available but not common fare in Turkey), where to find fall decorations. Unlike Christmas celebrations, which have a more international appeal, Thanksgiving is uniquely American and as such is more difficult for my Turkish friends to connect with. Besides missing my family and gathering around a traditional table, the biggest thing I miss is celebrating as a community – there is no holiday buzz in markets, no well-wishers, no build-up. It’s just another day here which makes it feel rather lonely – even amid my non-American expat friends. Alternatively, one thing I noticed celebrating my own holidays in Turkey is that I appreciate the spirit of the holiday more as I am separated from the commercialism in the States. I think that’s one of the gifts of being an expatriate – being separated from your culture and way of life that you see it more clearly at a distance."

Karen Armstrong lives in Italy and is a Life Design coach and the founder of Expat Women Entrepreneurs. She celebrates Thanksgiving with the entire family of her Italian husband. Whilst the holiday in Italy lacks some of the traditional Thanksgiving items, Karen says,

"My husband and I host the dinner (this year 14 of us!) and ordered the turkey from a local butcher shop. We have corn, peas and mashed potatoes along with it, but stuffing and cranberry sauce are difficult to find here. Although some of traditional food is missing, the spirit is still there: deep gratitude for the many good things in our lives."

Tiffany Jansen is an expat in the Netherlands, and the writer of the Clogs and Tulips blog ( Back in the US Tiffany would normally kick Thanksgiving off with Macy's parade. Throughout the year the family wrote down the things they were grateful for and collected them in a glass jar, ready to read out over a Thanksgiving breakfast. This would be followed by a family meal at her grandmother's.

However, this year was Tiffany's first Thanksgiving outside of the States, and armed only with a microwave oven the idea of a roasted turkey was out the window. All was not lost though as the idea of company over food again prevailed,

"I found turkey fillet at the poulterer's across the street and gigantic sweet potatoes at the local Turkish produce store. My parents came for Thanksgiving bearing canned pumpkin and the Thank Yous from the jar. It certainly is different, but I don't feel like I'm really missing anything," Tiffany explained.

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