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Why I Celebrate “Friendsgiving” as an Expat

Spending the holiday season away from your family is one of the hardest sacrifices of being an expat. Though many holidays cross cultures, it can be quite unsettling to be in a country that does not partake in your homeland’s yearly traditions.

Having grown up in the United States, Thanksgiving is arguably our largest and most important annual celebration. After moving to Germany, Thanksgiving week was an almost surreal feeling. 

While my friends and family in the States would be spending the week frantically purchasing last minute bags of cranberries to smash into cranberry sauce, and waking up early in the morning to mash potatoes, and jam turkeys full with cornbread stuffing for the midday feast, here I was in Europe getting ready to start my usual weekly routine like the fourth Thursday in November was just any other day.

My First “Friendsgiving”

My first year abroad, I was lucky to learn that another American girl was also living in the same building as me — something which served as emotional support come November time. As the days approached the impending yearly turkey day celebration, we both became a bit nostalgic and homesick for our national holiday. After a bit of moping about and feeling bad for ourselves that we would be missing out on all of the goodies at home, we decided the night before the big day to take action and organize a little Thanksgiving of our own.

Even though we did not know many people yet from the barely two months we had been living in Germany, we invited the few friends and acquaintances we had already met along the way and wanted to introduce them to the big American holiday.

It was a bit too late for us to get our hands on a turkey, and we could not manage to find pumpkin to prepare pumpkin pie, but we improvised by roasting three mini-chickens, remade our standard green bean casserole, and baked (and burned a bit) chocolate chip cookies, another well-known and loved American dessert.

Our guests eagerly fully immersed themselves in the American Thanksgiving experience, something they had often seen in television and movies. My then Italian roommate got involved by bringing out his guitar and sang some traditional Italian songs for us, while a neighbor prepared and introduced us to the much beloved German Glühwein.  

Though it was not the Thanksgiving we were used to, me and my co-host, along with our invited friends, roommates and classmates, spent hours sitting together enjoying the food, laughing over the burnt cookies, and sampling a bit of what it is to celebrate an American Thanksgiving.

Being Thankful at Home and Abroad

All these years later, the people who attended this evening still bring up that night in conversation and how fondly they remember it.

Since that first attempt, I have learned the secrets of planning timelier, and organized Thanksgivings, which are much closer to representing what it would be like back at home. Some years I am lucky enough to be able to fly home and spend it with my family, but when I cannot make it (and even when I can), I still always like to do something additionally as a token of appreciation in showing thanks to the people that make my life abroad my home away from home.

Sometimes the gesture can be simple like baking cookies for my coworkers, but when I have more time, I gladly organize a big Thanksgiving feast with all of the fixings and invite the people who have become my second family to share the special day.

Thanksgiving, which is often rather referred to in pop culture as “Friendsgiving” when celebrating the big feast with friends instead of family, has changed from being just my homeland’s national yearly holiday, to my annual way of showing appreciation for the other people in my life who mean something to me — friends, partners, coworkers, roommates, neighbors, etc.

Whether you are an American celebrating Thanksgiving with family, Friendsgiving with your social circle, or neither of those, introducing people to your traditions or showing your friends and acquaintances your appreciation is a nice way to end the year. It is a way to remember that even though some situations are not ideal (being away from your family, or not having the right food for a traditional celebration), you just have to improvise and not forget to appreciate the many good things that you do have, and how the wonderful memories of your time abroad and the people you share it with add meaning to your life.

Happy Holidays!

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