Holidays can be times when an expat life is a bit lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. The rules for celebrating a holiday aren’t rigid. Gather other expats – regardless of their country of origin – and using this article for a starting place, plan a unique holiday celebration this Thanksgiving.
Expatriates Celebrate Thanksgiving Dinner Differently
Thanksgiving, or at least a special day for having an attitude of gratitude, is becoming important in many countries. For American expats, on the third Thursday of November a turkey or ham dinner may be impossible, but some of the traditional dishes can create the right atmosphere. In Asia, expat Thanksgiving dinners could include the following items:
- Instead of turkey, bake stuffed poultry in a toaster oven or stew it, unstuffed, in a large pan with carrots, onions, garlic and spices. Fresh chicken, duck, goose, or pigeon are usually available. Be sure to save the unwanted parts to simmer for broth for the gravy.
- Homemade dressing, also called stuffing, is made with stale bread, celery, and onion. For spices, try garlic and cilantro. For a slightly sweet version, try this Best Stuffing Recipe and substitute as needed using nuts and bits of any dried fruit for the cherries/cranberries.
- Instead of candied yams, use sweet potatoes with brown (also known as red) sugar and marshmallows (in the candy section of many grocery stores). This dish can be prepared early and then zapped in the microwave oven at the last minute.
- Potatoes with skins will be more difficult to mash than without. If it’s too much work, substitute whole potatoes, scrubbed or peeled, then roasted or boiled. If butter is not available, mash garlic cloves in a little cooking oil or add milk.
- Green bean casseroles are standard fare for many thanksgiving tables. The primary ingredients, green beans and mushrooms, are widely available in most countries. Make mushroom soup and parboil (cook until half done) the beans then go ahead and experiment putting it together until you get something that tastes great or resembles the dish you miss. Bake in the toaster oven or microwave.
- Take advantage of living the expat life and include one traditional dish from your adopted country. That’s what the Pilgrims did.
- Green salad can be made using lettuce, spinach or both. Use any or all of the following: mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, onions, seeds (without the shells), celery, and for color, a bit of shredded carrot.
- Fresh pumpkin is available in many markets. Plan to make pie a day in advance with this pumpkin pie recipe. Cloves, ginger and cinnamon are usually available. Cinnamon bark, the most common form of cinnamon, can be ground in a blender. Yogurt can be substituted for cream in many recipes. Be certain to get the “plain” flavor unless a fruity one enhances the recipe.
Rather than trying to do everything, consider hosting a thanksgiving dinner that is more like the original version. Ask each guest to bring a dish or two to share. Non-cooking friends are usually more than willing to pick up some type of bread at a bakery or bring drinks.
Not everyone is open to trying new things. The purpose of a Thanksgiving feast is to have fun, share and celebrate those things that inspire gratitude. However, if inviting local friends, an Asia expat may need to ask them to bring foods that are traditionally accepted by foreigners. One expat told about inviting Chinese friends to attend a Thanksgiving dinner. The Chinese cook insisted everyone try his special dish. After everyone had tasted it, he revealed that it was a family recipe for dog meat. Several expats were quite upset.
Expats Living Abroad Need to Celebrate Their Roots
Recognizing that few expats will have Mom’s fine china and Grandma’s silver available, guests will not expect perfection. Nevertheless, look for ways to honor the significance of this meal. Flowers, candles, soft music, a bottle of wine and a tablecloth or placemats – anything to upgrade the ambiance of your everyday eating place – will make a huge difference. Remember, simple can be elegant and a single flower with a couple of tea candles can be stunning and help keep the focus on the ocassion.
Expats living abroad have much to celebrate during Thanksgiving. Expatriates commonly give thanks for a variety of reasons: new friends, a new culture, language lessons, learning more about life and becoming independent. Encourage guests to share their reasons for being thankful, to tell why they are expats, or to share a story or poem that expresses how they feel.
When Luther Vandross penned the lyrics, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with,” he probably wasn’t thinking of another country, but the suggestion stands. It’s okay to celebrate whatever you want wherever you are and have fun doing it.