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What It's Like to Celebrate Thanksgiving Abroad

AFAR Staffers share their experiences celebrating Thanksgiving around the world

Let's talk turkey. From the candied yams to the canned cranberries, Thanksgiving is one of the most iconic American holidays. Whether you care to tip your pilgrim's hat to the holiday's history, or prefer to look at it simply as an excuse to eat a huge meal with your loved ones, Thanksgiving is a quintessential part of fall (yes, Canada, we remembered that your Thanksgiving takes place in October).  So what happens when you find yourself outside of the United States on the third Thursday in November, cut off from all the pumpkin pies?  We here at AFAR think that it's the spirit of Thanksgiving is what counts and we have experience in celebrating all over the world. Here are a few examples of how we have gotten in the thankful spirit abroad. 

1. Never miss a chance to travel

“Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  I love gathering with friends and family all day to prepare and consume a meal.  However, it is just one day, and sometimes the temptation of having four (or five in the case of AFAR this year) consecutive days off is too great.  It’s a perfect chance to get out and explore—this year I'm headed to Vienna!”—Greg Sullivan, CEO and Co-Founder

2. The British are coming!

“I grew up in between England and Vermont and have spent many Thanksgivings in the British countryside, which is kind of funny due to the historical significance of Thanksgiving meaning a departure from England. It has always been our tradition to invite our British friends over for the full meal. Everyone loves it, but it is often hard to find turkeys, sweet corn and pumpkin. They may be easy to find in November in the U.S., but not so in England!”—Jordan Robbins, Director of Learning AFAR

3. An American in France

“During my study abroad in France, the school hosted a Thanksgiving feast. I’ve always enjoyed Friendsgiving (no family drama and all the freedom to drink a bit more liberally!) but the French interpretation of an American feast made the whole thing even more surreal. Duck, squash pie instead of pumpkin, a currant sauce that I think was meant to be a sub for cranberry, and lots of French cheeses—this was in no way my grandmother’s table! It was weird, but memorable. “—Aislyn Greene, Associate Editor

4. In James Bond's footsteps

“When I studied abroad in Dublin, I flew over to London for Thanksgiving, and spent a fabulous weekend with one of my oldest friends. The night before Thanksgiving, we had martinis at the Dukes Hotel in Mayfair, where Ian Fleming may have been inspired to coin the classic line, “shaken, not stirred," and followed it up with a West End production of Eugene O’Neill's Long Day’s Journey into Night. On Thanksgiving, we decided to spring for a prix fixe dinner at one of Terence Conran’s restaurants (where we chose to forego turkey entirely and make it an all-seafood night). At the end of the meal, we embraced the fact that we were tourists and took a black cab back to my friend's apartment. It was a perfect London twist on the holiday.”—Julia Cosgrove, Editor in Chief

5. When you can't find turkey...

“While living on San Cristobal in the Galápagos, I spent Thanksgiving week on Santa Cruz island. On Thanksgiving night, my friends and I decided we wanted to eat the most 'American' meal we could find, since cooking a Thanksgiving feast was out of the question. After months of beans, rice, plantains and chicken/eggs, imagine our excitement upon finding a pie place (with various sweet treats) and a pizza restaurant! The following week, after returning to our home base on San Cristobal, we cooked a potluck, getting as close to traditional as we could with ingredients we could find from the local stores. “—Samantha Juda, Audience Marketing Specialist


6. Because sometimes the United States IS "abroad"

“I grew up in Jakarta and Sydney. For me, it’s just always been a normal day. After experiencing Thanksgiving in the U.S., having Thanksgiving overseas is a chance to eat different food and experience a different culture. Also, because most people pig out during Christmas instead of Thanksgiving, there’s definitely a benefit to your waistline.”—Denise Hoo, Digital Ad Operations Manager

7. Traditionally chaotic

“I spent a semester in London and luckily had British relatives who took me in for Thanksgiving. It turned into some wacky scene from a movie. My aunt dragged her kids out of their very posh boarding school and invited some other Londoners to join the festivities. All the guests brought over what they thought were traditional Thanksgiving dishes, but haggis and curried beans aren’t exactly 'traditional' in my book. My aunt was frantic in the kitchen cooking a gigantic turkey while all the guests mingled in the narrow, four-story Chelsea flat among middle schoolers and two huge black Labradors. It was chaos. All of a sudden I heard a scream and ran downstairs. One of the dogs had gotten on up the dining room table and had eaten the turkey! The remnants laid in their juices on the ground. We ended up eating the unscathed side dishes and ordering pizza. I still wonder if those Brits think of that meal as a normal American Thanksgiving dinner. “—Kate Hovey Hornsby, Luxury Sales Director

8. The substitute pumpkin

“When I studied abroad in Florence, a friend came to visit for Thanksgiving. We both were vegetarian at the time, so instead of making turkey, we searched high and low for a pumpkin to stuff. We ended up with a large squash instead, which we served alongside mashed potatoes, way too many lima beans, and some good Sangiovese. My Italian host family was very amused!”—Alex Palomino, Associate Photo Editor

9. Swapping stories in Iceland

“I went backpacking at age 19 in Iceland for Thanksgiving. There was no turkey but we made the best lamb I've ever tasted and invited the hotel’s 70-year-old owner, who had never left the island, to partake. We told him about Thanksgiving. He told us about his troll and fairy friends.” —Andrew Richdale, Senior Editor

10. The Italians brought the pizza

“One of my favorite Thanksgivings was the year I celebrated with a multi-national group of students while studying abroad in Ireland. We made a valiant attempt at mud football sometime in the afternoon but my favorite part was the feast. We had two turkeys, enough side dishes to cover every available surface in the tiny apartment and in true Thanksgiving spirit, the Italians brought the pizza. I made peanut-butter cookies because peanut-butter deprivation is my favorite cliché of Americans abroad. We took turns saying what we were thankful for and then capped off the night with two guitars and a medley of off-key Irish drinking songs.”—Maggie Fuller, Digital Content Intern

>> Next: Stranger than Santa: Europe's Most Unusual Christmas Characters