How to Celebrate Thanksgiving in the US as an Expat

Holidays can be a difficult time when you’re far  from home. You miss your family traditions, seasonal food, the TV shows and movies that signify the holidays are coming. For many expats living in the US though, they discover a seasonal bonus—Thanksgiving! Unless you’re a Canadian relocated to the US, Thanksgiving is a whole new experience. Having fallen in love with this quintessentially American holiday myself, I decided to interview a cross section of expat friends and ask them what Thanksgiving traditions they had adopted since arriving in the US. Here are some of my favorites.

Sharing Time With Family and Friends

Just about everyone commented that they love that Thanksgiving is all about families and friends getting together and reflecting on what they have to be thankful for. The fact that there is so little commercialization and no gift giving was a huge plus for just about everyone.

Ginger, originally from China and also now married to an American, shared a memory of her first American Thanksgiving: “I came to the States around Thanksgiving time 28 years ago. I was invited by a colleague to celebrate the holiday. The family warmth I experienced will never be forgotten.”

Elaine and Alison, Brits now living in the US, love inviting groups of friends to share the holiday. With no family in the country, friends become your family at special times.

If you’re lucky enough to have American relatives too, like Carola, who is originally from Argentina and married into a wonderful Texan family, you get annual invites to a big gathering. All the traditional dishes are on offer as well as the chance to catch up with extended family.


The primary factor that makes Thanksgiving so quintessentially American is the food. Dishes like turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie are treats that are almost impossible to find outside the US. Perhaps one of the most famous dishes, green bean casserole, seems to top the lists of many expats, as well as pecan pie.

Luba, originally from Russia and married to an American, combines holiday foods from home with American staples to complement her blended family. Meanwhile, Ita, who relocated from Ireland many moons ago, has adopted some American foods, but still has to make a trifle to feel like her holiday menu is complete. One expat group in particular, Brits, uses Thanksgiving as an excuse to recreate their traditional Christmas dinner.

American Traditions

Kate, a Brit raising her young family in Texas, has enjoyed adopting the American tradition of putting up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. For many of us, it’s great to have an official start date to the holidays. Lorraine, a Brit now living in Dubai, but whose heart is still firmly in Houston, keeps to this tradition. Her tree will be up despite having very few people around her who understand why that’s the day the holiday season starts.

Making New Traditions

Many of us decide to make the most of the luxury of a long weekend and travel a little. Fiona and her family love to eat out for their traditional dinner then head to the beach. This was a favorite of ours in years gone by. As we strolled on an empty beach wrapped up in cozy sweaters, I was always reminded of the old British song: “Mad dogs and Englishmen…” But in our case, it was more lik, “Hang out on a windy beach in November.”

Svetlana realized that she and her British husband have never actually stayed home for Thanksgiving, choosing to celebrate in a different place each year. Shahina and her family, who have lived in the US many years now, love to head out to the lake to enjoy the autumn colors and scenery.

On behalf of everyone at CORT, a very Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family—wherever and however you celebrate!