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Celebrating American Thanksgiving in Germany

Whether you just recently left your home country or have lived in Germany for a while – homesickness can strike from time to time and is often especially present during the holidays or for traditions you used to have at home. For expats from the US living in Germany, one such occasion is usually Thanksgiving – a day spent with family and friends, gathering around the table for an incredible meal, and watching either the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or Football, depending on who wins the fight over the TV remote.

It’s a day that is all about good food, great company, and reflecting on what you’re thankful for. When living in a new country, the food might be different, the usual company a lot harder to reach, and on days like this, what you’re thankful for can feel incredibly far away.

Keeping Traditions and Making New Ones

People often describe feeling like a different person after moving to a new country. You make new friends, learn a foreign language, and adapt to a different culture. Still, the traditions you had at home have a way of staying with you, no matter where you are, and it can be comforting to connect that familiarity from home with the novelty of your new surroundings.

The circumstances might be very different. For example, American Thanksgiving always falls on a Thursday, which is not a holiday in Germany. So, you might have to work or make arrangements to take the day off. Since it’s a typical workday and life just moves on here, it might be a little harder to conjure that typical, peaceful holiday atmosphere.

Connecting with your family back home might be tricky. When your day moves into the evening, your loved ones might just begin to get busy in the kitchen, and a Zoom session could be hard to fit in. However, traditions are not set in stone. They might require some adaptation or improvisation, but as an expat in Germany, those are skills you’re highly experienced in. Can’t take the day off work? You can celebrate on the weekend. That way, it’s also easier to invite friends and introduce them to the art of engineering the perfect Thanksgiving plate. Zooming with family is hard to arrange with different time zones and other complications? Why not make it a new tradition to record a video message to each other? That way, you have the nice benefit of being able to replay it whenever you need to hear a familiar voice from home.

Preparing the Feast

If you’re planning on cooking up a storm in the kitchen for Thanksgiving, let us help by giving you some tips. Don’t worry, as we won’t go into cooking instructions. Your favorite family recipe has surely been tried and tested, and in any case, you probably wouldn’t want to be told by the Germans how to make the most American meal there is.

What we can assist with, however, is the hunt for ingredients. Certain things might be hard to find, but we’ve rounded up a few good substitutes for you:

  • First things first: the turkey. If you’re lucky to have a very well-stocked supermarket near you, you might find a nice-sized bird in the frozen section. Just be sure to factor in enough time for it to defrost.

Alternatively, check with your local Metzgerei (= butcher shop), as they might be able to source a fresh turkey for you.
In case you’re planning on having a smaller gathering, a whole chicken might suffice.

  • The closest substitute for cornmeal you’ll generally find is Maisgrieß, which you should be able to find in the baking section or near the pasta/rice aisle of your supermarket.
  • Cranberries have become a bit more common in Germany in the recent years, and you might be able to find them fresh in the produce section. Alternatively, you could take the DIY route for your cranberry sauce and make it from dried cranberries, which most supermarkets now have on the dried fruit shelves. For a quicker solution, you might substitute with Preiselbeeren (= lingonberry jelly). It has a similar sweet and tangy taste and is a lot more commonly found in stores. You just need to check in the canned goods section.
  • Pumpkin has not yet found as much popularity in baking here as it has in the US, which is why you might have trouble finding pumpkin puree. You could make your puree yourself from a whole pumpkin. If you’re looking for a less time-consuming alternative, you can check the baby food section. A lot of brands carry pumpkin baby food (for example, HIPP Reiner Butternut Kürbis). Just make sure to grab the kind that is pumpkin only as some varieties also have potatoes in them.

If all else fails, get a rotisserie chicken from a street vendor around the corner or make yourself a fancy turkey sandwich. After all, it’s the thought that should count, and we won’t tell anybody!

Thanksgiving is all about reflecting on what you’re grateful for. If you’re an expat in Germany living in your new home away from home, your perspective on that may have shifted or changed a lot. So, whether you’re cooking for a crowd or for yourself, whether you stick to familiar traditions or make new ones – we hope you’re able to celebrate the occasion just the way you like.