For Americans and Canadians, Thanksgiving is a time of hearty food, family, and treasured traditions. Unfortunately for expatriates, in most of the world Thanksgiving is not a fixed cultural holiday, and is not often celebrated outside of expatriate communities.
The idea of giving thanks for a bountiful harvest is not new by any means. Celebrations of thanksgiving have been practiced by cultures around the world, for as long as people’s fates have been connected to the bounty of the land.
While disputes over when the first Thanksgiving celebration in the New World actually took place abound, the American and Canadian holidays celebrated today are fairly new; Thanksgiving has only been formally celebrated each year in the United States since 1941, and in Canada since 1879.
While other countries may not have a turkey and football-laden day of thanks, it is possible to enjoy a European Thanksgiving. Two areas of Europe have their own unique thanksgiving celebrations: the Netherlands and Germany.
Thanksgiving in the Netherlands
The Netherlands have a surprising and interesting connection to the American Thanksgiving holiday. In fact, in the city of Leiden celebrates right along with Americans.
In the early 1600s, Leiden’s Calvinist Dutch community welcomed many people facing religious persecution by the English government. This included many Pilgrims who lived and worked in Leiden for several years before heading to England to embark on the Mayflower voyage.
Each year on America’s Thanksgiving Day, many people head to Leiden’s 900-year-old Pieterskerk Church to give thanks and celebrate the good fortunes and successes of the early American settlers.
The Pilgrims were very influenced by the time they spent in the Netherlands, and brought many of their customs and ideas to the New World. In fact, those famous first Thanksgivings in the New World were, in all likelihood, inspired by Leiden’s own thanksgiving celebration, which was held on October 3rd each year to commemorate the end of the Spanish siege in 1574.
Thanksgiving in Germany
Thanksgiving is also celebrated in German-speaking European countries, although the celebration has no real connection to the American or Canadian holiday. Erntedankfest, or “harvest festival of thanks,” is commonly held on the first Sunday in October, but this can vary widely from region to region and from town to town.
The German thanksgiving celebration does not include a family feast – it is primarily a religious holiday, observed in church services. Each region, town, or city that participates has their own way of celebrating, but festivities typically involve food, music and parades.
Creating Thanksgiving Anywhere
While observing these celebrations is certainly one perk of moving to Germany or the Netherlands, some expatriates understandably long for the comfort of a familiar American Thanksgiving. Fortunately, in most places, it is not difficult to create one.
The turkey is a New World bird, and does not have a long history in Europe. However, over the last few decades, the bird has become more commonplace at European tables, and is often served in place of the traditional, yet more expensive, goose. So it is possible for expatriates to find a turkey in many parts of Europe.
Some side dishes, such as sweet potatoes, may be difficult to come by in Europe. Some uniquely American ingredients, such as canned cream soup or boxed stuffing, may not be readily available; all the better to have reason to get out that old red and white gingham-covered classic: the Betty Crocker cookbook (don’t forget to pack it!).
Other things, such as Pilgrim or turkey-themed decorations, may elude expats completely. However, if you are willing to do some research and potentially visit several different shops in order to collect all of the items you need, there is enough variety of décor and food items in most places in Europe to create a lovely Thanksgiving abroad.
Einat Mazafi is the owner of NY International Shipping, an International Shipping and moving company based in New York. She is also a specialist in providing the best relocation solutions to clients worldwide.