How Americans Who Live Abroad Celebrate Thanksgiving

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Bright!Tax, the US expat tax service provider, takes a look at the ways Americans living abroad celebrate Thanksgiving.

The State Department estimates that over nine million Americans live abroad, and Thanksgiving is a time when their thoughts turn to home.

Celebrating Thanksgiving overseas is inevitably a different experience. Being far from family at this time of year, as well as being often unable to get hold of the traditional foods, can be tough for expats, however if there’s one thing that expats are good at, it’s an ability to improvise.

Thanksgiving is about giving thanks after all, and our ancestors only started eating the foods we think of as traditional Thanksgiving foods because they were the only foods that happened to be available locally. In fact, expats have a lot in common with the early settlers who first celebrated Thanksgiving - America was ‘abroad’ for them too at the time, after all.

Many expats celebrate with friends old and new, merging traditional and new ingredients and traditions to create new ones.

Cat Gaa is an American living in Spain. “When I moved to Spain, Thanksgiving took on a whole new meaning. I host Thanksgiving each year for my Spanish in laws - they're in charge of Spanish appetizers like cured meats and olives, while I spend a few days preparing the trimmings and roasting the turkey. They may not be quite sure why we celebrate, but I'm thankful that they're willing to appease me every November!”

Some expats hunt down traditional Thanksgiving foods however they can on the other hand, finding niche importers or approaching farmers directly. Others find local restaurants that will cater for them.

Nearly 200,000 American military personnel will also be spending Thanksgiving abroad this year, and Uncle Sam makes sure they celebrate too, even in War Zones.

Beth Wolny, currently working for Bright!Tax US Expat Tax Services in South America, previously spent Thanksgiving in Afghanistan as a US Marine. Beth said: “There was a significant effort to help us feel that we weren’t missing anything by being so far from our loved ones. We counted on the typical Thanksgiving dinner - turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing and apple pie. They put festive decorations in the dining facility too, to put us in the holiday spirit.”

Like so many Americans abroad, Thanksgiving also provided Beth with a quiet moment of hope and reflection: “We were nearly through the deployment, and everyone was safe and looking forward to returning home in time for Christmas.”

Expats have a lot to be thankful for, as living abroad is remarkable experience.

Helen Burggraf, editor of the London-based American Expat Financial Journal, is an American journalist who has lived outside the U.S. for over 25 years, mainly in the UK.

“As an American in a British setting, insisting that everyone else accommodate my desire to have a traditional sit-down Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings can be difficult,'' she explains.

“But some of my American friends here in London are so passionate about it that they can end up having two and even three Thanksgiving dinners for different groups of friends!”

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