Why You Need To Celebrate Thanksgiving Abroad

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Christmas is nice and all, but Thanksgiving is a pure, 100% unadulterated American invention and the only one (I’d argue) that doesn’t shove commercialism down your throat. It may have iffy origins, but my family and I have always used the holiday as a time to focus on reflection and gratitude and eating a whoooooooole bunch of really carb-y, really delicious food.

I’ve spent every Thanksgiving in recent memory in my hometown of Plymouth, Minnesota where my father spends all day cooking an impressive meal all by himself and sometimes he lets me help. This year I’ll be in Valencia, Spain with a bunch of goofballs I met for the first time 6 months ago.

It’s gonna be a ‘lil different.

thanksgiving abroad

Celebrating Thanksgiving abroad is, in its very nature, out of the ordinary. You’re in a foreign country! Sometimes you don’t have an oven! Are cranberries a thing overseas?!? I have so many memories and traditions associated with my family’s kitchen and dining room table – doing something abroad feels a little less special, maybe a little too different.

Regardless of how daunting the task, hosting Thanksgiving abroad is probably a lot easier than you think, with three main differences:

1. The Food

thanksgiving abroad - turkey

Spain doesn’t have butterball turkeys laying around and if they do, I sure haven’t seen them. Lucky for me I’m in a country that has markets a-plenty and sourcing a whole bird didn’t end up being too difficult. The fun part? I have to buy it with the head still on and the guts still in. It’s gonna make for one hell of a snapchat story.

None of my usual brands or resources are available to me either. My dad uses a SPECIFIC brand of crouton for his signature stuffing, I haven’t found French’s Fried Onions here and I usually eat an entire can of those just on my own (please hold your judgement) and everything else is just a liiiittle bit different. Not worse or better, just different. The ovens here are in celsius and even though I know I can easily convert that to fahrenheit

2. The Culture

thanksgiving abroad

We have Dutch people coming to our Thanksgiving. We have Spanish people dropping by. A Kiwi, an Aussie, and people from every corner of the US too. As Americans we get to share this tradition with our foreign friends and how freaking cool is that?! I’m so excited to see them break the wishbone and stuff their faces with us. We’re leaning into the cultural melting pot by having foreigners bring their favorite comfort food dishes from THEIR home countries too. All in all it’s a beautiful excuse to host a cultural exchange.

3. The Responsibility

thanksgiving abroad - responsibility

My dad runs the show at home, how can I be expected to host a gathering and roast a turkey on my own and adulting is hard and I DON’T WANNA DO IT. Hosting a party can be stressful enough, but hosting AND cooking AND getting everything on the table at the same time is a daunting task. Lucky for me, lots of people have offered to help. We made a google doc where everyone who is attending could sign up to prepare and bring a certain dish (Eddie is bringing dinner rolls, Nancy is bringing brussels sprouts, Kelly is bringing cranberry sauce etc. etc. etc.). I also have a partner in crime for this whole turkey roasting business, so that’s gonna help things immensely, and cooking with other people can sometimes be MORE rewarding than the finished meal itself. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if the turkey burns or if you use sugar instead of salt in the mashed potatoes – you can always go to McDonalds if the whole event goes up in flames. Thanksgiving is about being with people who have influenced, taught and changed you, not about being perfect.

If you’re abroad this Thanksgiving and hesitant to host a gathering, I encourage you to give it a shot! It’ll be different from home and it may not be perfect (a friend once hosted Turkey Day in France and served deli slices of Turkey because he couldn’t find anything else. We all make due.) but it’s a wonderful way to reflect on your travels and spend thoughtful time with new friends.

thanksgiving abroad - family

Where are you celebrating Thanksgiving from this year?

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Angela Sandall

Angela is a writer, traveller and human being from Chicago, IL. After attending school at Loyola University and working in the world of experiential marketing (where she did wacky things like crane cars onto roofs, ride in the Batmobile and pal around with famous dogs) she started writing and traveling full time. Traveling to a different city every month, she spends her days going to museums, meeting locals and searching for the best tacos the world has to offer.


  1. My roommate’s family “adopted” me in college and I spend all American holidays with them. Since I’m a vegetarian who can’t enjoy turkey, my roommate’s dad invented this Asian noodle dish for me. And eating that noodle became our very own Thanksgiving tradition now.

  2. Love this article! Another American I met at my university here in Paris and I are having our own Thanksgiving dinner. With only four burners between us (read: no oven), it’s going to be interesting to see how this ends up…

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