This year was my first ever Thanksgiving outside of the U.S., but it did not disappoint! In case you were wondering, Germans normally do not celebrate Thanksgiving; but my housemates did for me! And they were actually quite excited about it!
A few weeks back I had been thinking about Thanksgiving and what I should do to celebrate. I figured I had to at least make some sweet potato casserole (one of my favorite dishes in recent years!), and maybe a pie, but I was unsure whether I should try to organize a full-on Thanksgiving, and if so, with whom – American friends? My WG? People at my work? In the midst of these musings, I wrote, “Thanksgiving!” on our WG/house calendar one morning. Later that morning, I received a text from my housemate, Johanna, resolving all of my vacillations! “Möchtest du Thanksgiving mit der wg feiern? [Would you like to celebrate Thanksgiving with the WG?]” I enthusiastically responded yes, of course!
Decision made, I next focused on the practical matter of actually organizing a Thanksgiving meal… outside of the U.S., no less. As it happens, I have helped with Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember – I received the task of making cranberry sauce, as that’s the simplest and I was the youngest, and I’ve helped with many other aspects of Thanksgiving as I’ve gotten older. However, let me tell you: planning more or less the entirety of Thanksgiving is a very different task from merely “helping.” First, I created a poll of Thanksgiving dishes, to let my housemates give some input as to what we would make (I decided I wasn’t going to make absolutely everything my family has ever made for Thanksgiving), and combining that with my own opinions, and the availability of certain ingredients (cream of mushroom soup and French fried onions were not to be found, so green bean casserole was out), I planned the menu. Throughout this all, I sent quite a few messages with questions to my mother. The week before Thanksgiving, wandering around the grocery store, I almost cried when I saw a bag of Thanksgiving cranberries. I had literally just earlier that same day been thinking – “I don’t even know where I would look for cranberries in the U.S. outside of Thanksgiving time…” and then they miraculously appeared that day in a German grocery store! Sometimes it’s the little things that really count. On the Friday before Thanksgiving, after looking in every grocery store I could and finding not a single turkey (the cranberry phenomenon was not universal), I went to my local butchery to inquire about ordering a turkey. They told me to call on Monday. The weekend before Thanksgiving, naturally approaching the whole project more or less like a lab assignment (“visualize every step, anticipate questions”), I went through as much of the process in my head as I could, and sent approximately another million questions to my mother – to which she graciously responded. Monday the turkey was ordered, recipes compiled from my mother, grandmother, great-aunt, and Google were printed, and a checklist of tasks to be completed on each day until Thanksgiving was outlined. (Tuesday: make cranberry sauce, slice brussels sprouts… Wednesday: slice stuffing bread, mix up poultry seasoning – which you can’t buy in Germany – cook sweet potatoes, pick up Turkey … Thursday: Turkey! Everything else!) By Thursday morning, everything was well on track. After a personal turkey trot (a fair amount of walking was involved, but it was up a mountain to where I work, so I think that’s reasonable and I still got an excellent workout in) complete with a past turkey trot shirt, I headed home and got to work on the food. My roommate Maike had kindly offered to help me with the turkey, although she had never made one either, of course. Having watched my parents/grandparents/family friends make a turkey almost every year for the past 20 years, you might think I would have some experience. Never dreaming I would need (soon) to do that piece of things on my own, however, I had never paid any particular attention. I was now regretting that fact. Still, all in all it was quite fun – Maike and I together laughed in mild shock as I first put my hand into the turkey, her taking pictures to commemorate the moment. Together we wrestled the turkey into an oven bag (word of the day: Bratschlauch!) in which it juuuust barely fit – Bratschäuche don’t come in turkey sizes here. Next we rubbed the bird in butter and my homemade poultry seasoning (yes, we did this after putting the bird in the bag, which probably was not a particularly astute decision, but I was very worried about it not fitting in the oven bag), stuffed it, and popped it in the oven!
Then ensued several hours of waiting, during which I read, showered, puttered around adding more spices to my sweet potato casserole, played a bit of piano, applied a face masque. In short, I enjoyed some chill time. Then came the crazy time. I think this is probably inevitable with Thanksgiving, or really any major dinner involving hot food, as you can’t do too much ahead if you want things to be warm. After my relaxation, I was suddenly running around the kitchen, pulling out stuffing, starting the gravy, texting my mother when it wouldn’t thicken, mixing whipped cream, texting my mother when it wouldn’t whip, baking the sweet potatoes, warming the brussels sprouts, checking the baked stuffing, etc., etc. Maike again appeared and got the whipping cream whipped, and after carving the turkey together (I watched several youtube videos to prepare for this, on the suggestion of my grandfather), we were just about ready to go!
A brief few thoughts and insights on this experience, before we get to the meal: whoever did the majority of the planning/organizing for your Thanksgiving – give them an extra hug today, and maybe try to pitch in a little extra next year. Pay attention to the turkey! Watch and learn – you never know when you might end up needing to make one on your own. And thank goodness for mothers with the patience and kindness to respond to many questions!
The table set, my housemates gathered around, and after a fair number of pictures of the beautiful table, we started to eat! In total we had: Turkey, stuffing, gravy, brussels sprouts (my great-aunt’s recipe), homemade oatmeal bread, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and whipped cream. And I think my housemates really enjoyed it! They all expressed their thanks, and of my six housemates, only one had ever celebrated Thanksgiving before (and for what it’s worth, he said our WG celebration was better), and perhaps most gratifying to me, they ate well! Strange as it was to not be in the U.S. or doing Thanksgiving with my family, it was really fun to introduce it to my housemates. Introducing the tradition of going around the table and saying something you’re thankful for, listening to them tell each other, “did you try the sweet potatoes yet? They’re so good!”, watching the homemade bread disappear, and just generally enjoying each other’s company, it was a wonderful experience.
I’m definitely looking forward to a more typical Thanksgiving with my family next year, where I will play an ancillary and not primary role (though I am committed to helping more from now on!). The holiday season in general, I think, makes me miss home and family a bit more. But that said, this Thanksgiving I am grateful to be in Germany, and grateful to have such wonderful housemates with whom to enjoy the Thanksgiving tradition.
And now, as a postscript, I invite you to enjoy the video created by my housemate, Maike, after our turkey adventures yesterday morning (PSA: I did not actually go on a three-hour-long run – that was a joke!). Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and may the Christmas season officially begin!