The time is near. Turkeys have filled the poultry aisles, sweet potato pies have sold out at Walmart, Black Friday deals have started creeping up, and holiday memes are already flooding your timelines. For Americans, Thanksgiving is one of those beautiful holidays that brings us closer to family and friends in the spirit of gratitude, all while making us bigger in the middle. Except when you live abroad. Living abroad is tough during the holidays, especially if you live in a culture that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving at all. Knowing that your family is going to gather together and be merry without you can be depressing, but it doesn’t have to be!
I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving in Israel multiple times, and it wasn’t as bad as you would think. Here are a couple of tips for surviving Thanksgiving away from home:
Difficulties traditionally begin here two to three weeks in advance of the holiday. Where can you acquire a turkey? There are no whole Empire Kosher turkeys sitting in the supermarket freezer case, nor are heritage turkey breeds available through mail order. You have to order yours fresh—although it is generally frozen—a few weeks in advance from the butcher. And there are no big birds available. The largest one can find is maybe six to eight pounds; no twenty-two-pound birds. So if the crowd is big, you might want to consider two turkeys. I have always purchased from a tiny little family run butcher shop , Shoshani and Sons Butchers on Emek Refaim street in Jerusalem’s German Colony the best part is that will even deliver.
This might shock you, but not all supermarkets in Israel have large turkeys readily available, and if they do, it might be ridiculously expensive. You also might have difficulty finding cranberries and sweet potatoes in Israel. That’s why it’s good to begin the search in advance so you can start checking out what’s available in the grocery store or at your local market. Some of you might remember when, there were no fresh or frozen cranberries available, just hard-to-find canned cranberry sauce that is no substitute for the real thing. For pumpkin pie, I had to head to the vegetable stand and buy a chunk of fresh pumpkin—a slightly more watery version than what’s found in the States—that I cooked and roasted for use in pies, pumpkin breads and muffins.
Gone are the days of worry and struggle about how to make your own homemade pumpkin pie (who has time for that?!) and pre made pie crusts. Thankfully a lot has changed and you can find cranberry sauce and an array of other American brands that you love and miss around Thanksgiving at the Super Moshava on Emek Refaim.
No matter where you are in the world, you can spruce up your living space and make it feel more festive. Gather your friends and color some old-school turkey hand cutouts, pin some leaves on your bulletin board and bring in all things orange, yellow, red and gold. Remember Pinterest is your friend. You can also decorate your house with a Thanksgiving motif use printer paper, trace your hand and make a turkey drawing from it ( hey it worked in elementary school). Then place these drawings on your walls, around the table, etc.
Let’s face it; Thanksgiving this year will already be anything but traditional, so embrace it! Make some of your own traditions like combining your turkey and cranberry sauce with a favorite food local to your host country. Who knows – you might even bring home some new ideas to share with your family for next year..
Gather up all your friends, set out the meal, and enjoy! I love being able to open up my home to celebrate this holiday with my American friends to savor some tastes from home. And it has brought me so much joy to share this holiday with others who never grew up celebrating it! Eating sweet foods with the main course, using cinnamon heavily in almost everything, and eating pumpkin as a dessert are just some of the “weird” things we Americans do. I love sharing the full experience, and making it an international affair. Because after all, thankfulness is universal.
Just because you’re not physically in the same place doesn’t mean you can’t check in during Thanksgiving dinner preparations or afterward depending on your time zone and say hello to your family whom miss you too and let’s be thankful for living in an age that makes it so easy to stay connected. Seeing your parent’s Facebook photos from the family festivities or watching your little cousin’s antics on Snapchat might make you feel like you’re right there with them. There are so many live apps for staying in touch, that you don’t have to miss a beat if you don’t want to!
If you are an American or former American living in Israel, if you are friends with Americans, if you are Israeli or any other nationality and want to have a potluck family meal celebrating the most fun American holiday, enjoy a traditional meal The Merkaz for Thanksgiving Dinner. This meal is potluck and to make sure there is enough food for everyone and that everything is completely kosher, please RSVP. Or maybe consider celebrating and give thanks at a Western style Thanksgiving dinner with NBN. Sit down with friends, old and new, for a traditional Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings, drinks (including wine) and more! Registration is required.
These are my tips for surviving Thanksgiving abroad. It’s never easy missing out on family holidays and milestones.But it’s doable! Have you ever survived a major holiday abroad? How did you cope? Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Looking forward to hearing how you spent Thanksgiving.