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How to Celebrate Thanksgiving Abroad

Posted on November 21, 2014, 03:11 PM, by Mike Sannitti under Adjusting to Your International Move

Culture shock is felt especially hard when it comes to holidays for expats. After an international move, you may be distressed to realize that a national holiday like Thanksgiving is not 

celebrated in other countries (it is celebrated earlier in Canada). It is important to hold onto some of your cultural identity when living abroad. It may not be as simple as back home, but there are ways to keep celebrating Thanksgiving while you are living abroad.

Problems and solutions

Living overseas presents a few challenges for those who want to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Problem: Locals do not celebrate your holiday.

Solution: Ask them to celebrate Thanksgiving at your home with you. Unless the religious reasons for the holiday clash with the values and beliefs of the local culture, there is no reason why local friends would not want to celebrate your holiday with you. Giving thanks seems like a universal notion, even if it is based on dubious pilgrim/native encounters in America. You may not see decorations in public or have parties to go to for your holidays, so you have to do it yourself. Create your own decorations (recycled moving materials can be used in a variety of decorative ways for all holidays) and invite all your local friends. You can find new appreciation for Thanksgiving by sharing it with people for the first time. Hosting a Thanksgiving party will make you feel the spirit of the holiday, and local friends will enjoy the chance to experience some of your culture.

If you are upset about missing the Thanksgiving day parade, it is usually available online.

Problem: Food commonly associated with your typical Thanksgiving dinner may not be available in your new country.

Solution: Depending on the country, there are a few options for getting appropriate food for your holiday feast. If your country allows certain inbound food shipments, friends and family can ship you some of the ingredients and items that are lacking in your new country.

If that isn't possible, you need to be creative and open-minded. Take a second to think of what local food can substitute that unavailable Thanksgiving turkey. What do people in the local culture have to eat during their feasts? You can mix and match available American food with local substitutions when necessary, or you could go all local with the food and have a local-style feast for your American holiday. Perhaps this fusion is the most appropriate way to represent your expat lifestyle.

Problem: You probably will not get a paid day off  for Thanksgiving if you work abroad.

Solution: You could ask your employer for Thanksgiving off and If your boss is culturally sensitive, you will be granted at least one day to celebrate your local tradition. If that is not possible, you always can have a shortened celebration after work or postpone the activities until your next free day. This may not be ideal, but the exact day of the holiday matters less while abroad because you don't see everyone else celebrating around you. Thanksgiving can be moved to the nearest convenient day and feel just as authentic as it would on the actual day.

Problem: Your extended family is not around to celebrate with you

Solution: You may actually count this as a blessing if visits with extended family members are one part of the holidays that you hate. Even if that is true, absence makes the heart grow fonder so you should try to do what you can to connect with your family during Thanksgiving.

  • Send an e-card. If you can access the internet, there are no regional limits. You can send a Thanksgiving themed e-mail to your family.
  • Send an actual postcard or greeting card. You may not be able to find Thanksgiving-themed ones in your local country, but you certainly can dress and pose for holiday postcards yourself.
  • Have a video call get-together. Depending on the quality and availability of your internet, you may be able to video chat with your family during the holiday. It is almost like you are right there.
  • Call them on Thanksgiving day. If your internet doesn't work well, you still have your phone. Remember to account for the time difference wherever you are so you actually call them during waking hours on the right day.

Moving to a new country doesn't have to spell the end of Thanksgiving for your family. It just requires some readjusting and creative thinking to hold on to some of your cultural identity. That way, you can have a happy holiday wherever you are.

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