It’s time to talk turkey – Thanksgiving turkey, that is. This is my first American holiday overseas and I’m a little confused on the best way to celebrate.
Of course, I could pop a turkey in the oven and..oh, wait, my German oven won’t hold a 10 lb. pound turkey. My oven is literally made to fit in a dollhouse for Barbies, it’s ridiculously too small.
And, my refrigerator strangely resembles a college dorm fridge for beer, not built for prepped side dishes and all the ingredients for a full family turkey meal with fixings. Oh, let’s not forget about my kitchen sink – it’s the size of a sink you’d find in an RV, not a full-sized house.
I don’t think I could even rinse a small roasting pan in it. Good lord, I would have to use my bathtub to clean my dishes. That’s not happening. I’m not cooking a Thanksgiving dinner this year. I think I’ll take the traveling through Europe route over Cornish Game Hens disguised as a turkey to fit in my oven this year. I’ll leave the cooking to those with bigger ovens.
However, I know I can’t be the only military spouse who is faced with celebrating American traditions that don’t quite fit into foreign countries. So, I asked a dozen military spouses who are currently or recently stationed overseas – from Korea to Belgium, Germany to the Dominican Republic – how they celebrate Thanksgiving overseas each year.
What’s your best advice for celebrating Thanksgiving while you’re overseas?
“We always invite the single people or the geo-bachelors to the house for a full on turkey day feast! Afterwards, we package up the leftovers and send them home with little bags of goodness! In Korea we had some of the Korean airmen from my husband’s office to our house. They had never had an American Thanksgiving. It was a treat watching them experience new foods!” – Kimberley, Korea
“I like to host a Thanksgiving meal with friends/family the weekend before and travel on Thanksgiving. The past two years, my family and I have served Thanksgiving dinner to our airmen/airwoman at the dining hall and then we head off to a Christmas market! I am working on my Christmas market list now.” -Scarlett, Germany
“I Usually take my family out to eat. Since the host country doesn’t celebrate thanksgiving, its not a time they would rather be home with family, like in the states.” – Heather, Germany
“The last few years we were overseas, we actually rented houses near a ski area and several families would go and we would bring Thanksgiving with us!” -Crystal, Italy
“We make sure to open our home to single soldiers or unaccompanied soldiers who don’t have a place to go. Its hard to be overseas without family and in the military community, friends become your support system. If our family can make one soldier feel at home, then our holiday is perfect ” – Ashley, Germany
“We were fortunate enough the US Embassy already had in place a Thanksgiving potluck for the community at someone’s house. Every year the Community Liaison Officer (CLO) organizes this fabulous event for the community. Everyone pays a small amount ($5/person) to cover the turkey and ham that we have cooked by a local German Butcher and everyone brings sides. The CLO brings games and movies for the kids to watch. We have about 50-60 people attend every year. The event takes place the Saturday before Thanksgiving and then we organize a trip to a resort following the party and there are usually about 80 people attending. It’s a great time for everyone at the embassy that works very hard to relax and allow the kids to play and the parents to hang out and socialize. It’s a great US Embassy road trip! As the CLO, it is very important for our office to have something in place for our traditional American holidays and keep that connection to our country. Santo Domingo, DR is considered a hardship post and it’s very important to keep morale high and give our families a place to go for Thanksgiving.” – Elizabeth, Dominican Republic
“My family is thankful for living overseas so are we are choosing to forgo the typical Thanksgiving meal and travel. We use these extended days off to go from school to visit cities that are on our bucket list. We don’t get to eat the typical turkey dinner, but we’ll figure out something!” -Kim, Germany
“If you are in a remote location–like in Korea where most people are there unaccompanied–it is common for families to invite single/unaccompanied folks over to their house for dinner. If you are not in a remote location, inviting some local friends over to celebrate and learn about an American tradition with you is also good. Thanksgiving is not a time to get too creative in either of those situations. If you have unaccompanied folks over, they are looking for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Its one of those holidays where people are looking for the comfort and traditions they would have at home. On the other hand we once had a Thanksgiving when the kids were really little where we couldn’t get a Turkey. They simply were not available in the Commissary in the small size that would fit our little Korean oven. So we had two of the Turkey loafs you find in the frozen section and all the other traditional trimming.” – Meg, Korea
“We will invite all of our German neighbors over for the meal to share our tradition with them! It’s fun to do this… we all have so much to learn from each other! We did this for Cinco de Mayo too, and they just love the different foods! – Geneva, Germany
“We have never been with family on thanksgiving since we left- but always try and find something traditional to do. Within the past few years we have always invited the younger airmen over for dinner and teamed with a few other families of higher rank to make dinner for them. Regardless, we are always with family and make it a point to never be alone. Being alone is the precursor to being homesick. That’s what is so awesome about military life – always a family who wants to open the door to you. Honesty, it’s one of our favorite holidays for that exact reason!” – Mego, Germany
“This will be our first Thanksgiving overseas. So ask me next year! But my plans are to fix our normal Thanksgiving meal of turkey, cornbread dressing, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie. We always open our home to the single airman, too. And if my husband’s flight is on duty that day, I fix extras and we take it to the squadron – the life of working mission essentials.” – Jennifer, Germany
“We celebrated last year similarly to how we celebrated in the states. We got together with friends and others who banded together to form a family for the day. We eat traditional foods like turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and of course pumpkin pie! Because we spent the day with our American neighbors with Puerto Rican heritage we got to try lots of new traditional foods. I know lots of people who take advantage of the four-day weekend, and the fact that Europe isn’t celebrating, and travel. Those of us with kids are somewhat tied to the school calendar and this is a way to travel a farther distance during a less busy travel season.” – Jennifer, Germany