I have spent plenty of Thanksgivings away from home.  Sometimes it can be sad because it’s one of my favorite holidays.  Love an event where there are no gifts involved and plenty of food!  Lots of food.  My first Thanksgiving overseas was in Okinawa, Japan in 2003. I really missed my family and decided to feed 70 Marines: my whole platoon and a few of other Marines who tagged along.  It was the day before my 25th birthday. I spent two days cooking but the satisfaction of being able to share a meal with those who felt the same nostalgia for their families as I did was worth the effort.

My first Thanksgiving party in Brussels, 2009

Fast forward to 2009. I was living in Brussels and had already spent a few Thanksgivings there. I never had a plan and always ended up feeling sad and missing my family. That year, I decided to take matters into my own hands and recreate the magic of Okinawa but with my new family of expats.  I decided to make a menu that merged all of my influences: American, European, and Puerto Rican. There were always arroz con gandules, a big Butterball, stuffing made with baguette from my favorite boulanger, Gaudron, and cranberry sauce made with Kriek (a Belgian cherry beer). Tip: Although I got my turkey on base, I’m aware you can order your turkey from butchers in Brussels such as Jack O’Shea.

Serving the Arroz con Gandules

Some of my expat friends had very little awareness of what Thanksgiving meant for us Americans. It was great to share that experience with them.  Once they experienced one, they kept on coming!  I also made it a point for us to share our gratitude before we dug into the turkey.  I was grateful to have great friends who became my second family abroad. Expat Tip: When moving to a new country, enroll in a class, club, or a sport to meet other like minded people. 

Friends Digging in, 2010

My last three years in Brussels I had some amazing Thanksgiving parties.  The prosecco flowed freely, we ate, dance, and sang until the wee hours (in 2011 the cops were called to my apartment). Food was shared, new friendships were made, and if I recall, a new relationship as well. We had a room filled with people from Belgium, Venezuela, New Zealand, Peru, Germany, Congo, among other countries. Although an unlikely bunch, food brought us together.

Post Dinner Singing and Dancing

The expat life is pretty amazing when you have the opportunity to live in a different country, travel, and meet interesting people. It can be lonely as well, especially during the holidays.  Sometimes we need to take matters into our own hands and create new traditions. Now that I am back in the United States and close to my family, I miss my parties in Brussels.

Sharing Thoughts on Gratitude, Thanksgiving 2011

Have you ever spent a holiday abroad? How do you celebrate?

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