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Thanksgiving In France: 6 Challenges To Celebrating The Day

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is unique. It is an American holiday based on American history. No other country celebrates this treasured day, and for expats or Americans living overseas, there are challenges to marking this day with an authentic touch.

Here is my list of 6 challenges to celebrating Thanksgiving in France. Do you have your own challenge to add?

From challenge #1: In France, turkeys such as this are not ready until Christmas

Thanksgiving Turkey [327/366]

Thanksgiving in France?

Here in France we have tweaked our Thanksgiving celebration to accommodate that the 4th Thursday in November, Thanksgiving Day in America, is just a regular day here in France.

As a bit of fun, here is my short list of challenges for creating a Thanksgiving holiday in France. How do you celebrate Thanksgiving in your overseas location?


        1. Finding the Turkey: In late November the turkeys in France are still being fattened up on the farms for French Christmas dinners. If you are lucky you might be able to find your turkey for Thanksgiving on some French turkey farm (yes, these exist!), but it will be skinny, skinny, skinny.
        2. It is a Regular School and Work Day: The fourth Thursday in November is a normal day: no one has the day off of work, kids have school, mail still comes. Just normal. Not the ideal environment to swing into holiday mode.
        3. No Big Sales the Day after Thanksgiving: No “Black Friday” to look forward to. (For me this is actually a plus). The thought of shopping in crowded stores with four kids to fight over bargains? This is self-inflicted insanity!
        4. No one Else Knows What Thanksgiving is: Thanksgiving is an American holiday with origins from American history. Going around wishing everyone “Happy Thanksgiving!” returns blank stares. However, all the French who have shared Thanksgiving dinners with us have thought it was a wonderful occasion and have embraced the American history and traditions of this day.
        5. Typical Thanksgiving Foods Are Not Available to Buy:  No Libby’s pumpkin meat in the can, nor Ocean Spray cranberry sauce, nor French’s French Fried Onions, nor Stouffer’s Stuffing. These foods bring back great childhood memories and I attach them to my ‘this is the way things were before’ Thanksgiving dinner. (I have developed a recipe for homemade French’s Green Bean Casserole without French’s Fried Onions click here for recipe).
        6. The Ambiance is Missing Something Big: No American football or Macy’s Parade on television. If you are lucky you could watch a soccer game and some French cabaret. The ambiance is missing, je ne sais quoi.
Well, c’est la vie. That’s Life. When you live outside your country you must adapt, right? Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday to be celebrated wherever we find ourselves. The main thing is to be thankful for what we have. And oui, je suis. Yes, I am!
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7 Responses to Thanksgiving In France: 6 Challenges To Celebrating The Day

  1. Michelle A. Mead-Armor November 27, 2014 at 00:59 #

    My mother was French, and my Dad American. I lived in Paris for 14 years, and sometimes puzzled over how fanatical many Americans were about trying to celebrate Thanksgiving in France. It’s hard to get in the mood when no one around you is celebrating, unless you are one of those ex-pat Americans who only hangs around with other Americans (I knew a lot of them), buying all of your food from the American Embassy PX. Why are they living overseas????

    Our family tradition was my father reading Art Buchwald’s explanation of Thanksgiving to the French. Enjoy!

    • mbrighton November 27, 2014 at 13:21 #

      Thank you so much for your delightful comment and link to the column. I will read it to my kids tonight! Thank you!

  2. Larina November 26, 2014 at 22:11 #

    I wanted a small thanksgiving with my husband but it’s a shame we both work! I’m more than a little bummed out about this..

  3. Bala November 25, 2014 at 18:46 #

    The soup in the cover picture, the turkey and the green beans look very appetizing, Mary!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Ryan March 9, 2013 at 16:40 #

    Odd time of year to come across your post but just wanted to say as an American in Europe it’s actually not that hard to celebrate Thanksgiving here.
    As a side, I was suprised when I was in Paris the day before Thanksgiving (enroute to the US) how nearly every deli was offering a pre-prepared Thanksgiving meal with ads in English although the fixings were a little less then traditional. I also believe many restaraunts offered a special meal.

    I’ve managed to find basically EVERY part of the meal in Eastern Europe:
    -Turkey — no problem — just more expensive
    – Cranberries — OK ..actually mixed berries and dried cranberries and cranberry juisce
    – Mash potatoes — of course no prob
    – Corn – easy — ”Sukkatash” harder, haven’t found lima beans
    – Stuffing — make it from scratch — technically it’s better but still miss the boxed stuff
    – Pumpkin pie — from scratch — real pumpkin — same as above
    – Green Been Casserole — Maybe not French’s but can be made
    – Sweet Potatoes — Easy to find in recent years, or plant a garden .. but I am sure you have Carrefoure and they have them
    – Those of us from the mid-Atlantic can’t imagine a turkey dinner without sauerkraut.
    Find it canned at German supermarket chains and make from scratch
    – Pumpkin Eggnog — a growing tradition and we make it every Thanksgiving…. (It’s the real eggnog that is harder to make if you don’t want to drink raw but we combine egg lichor with more cream and a few other items)

    Macy’s Parade, etc. Never would miss it …, (For $50 you can have a box that brings in US TV over the internet and for a monthly fee you can get US cable channels on your TV or buy a day pass — for example Thanksgiving Day. I see Macy’s Parade on WGAL Lancaster, PA each Thanksgiving from Eastern Europe)

    I also have on DVD Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Mouse on the Mayflower, Dutch and more.

    Turn off cell phones.

    Consider renting a cabin somewhere… get away from it all and have a nice fire.. it’ll feel like Thanksgiving.

    American schools are closed b.t.w. in Europe for the holiday.
    Take the day off. Invite friends (as you do) to experience there first? Thanksgiving. Consider your home American territory on the day and be especially connected with America rather then feeling like the only one on the block the holiday came too. After all they will have French holidays that you might treat like any other day or you might get an invite…but it won’t be the same. Thanksgiving is your holiday in exchange.

    Finally, read about Order of Good Cheer and Thanksgiving in New France and look French Canadian Thanksgiving recipes (for Action du Grace .. spelling?)
    on the internet for some French flair to the meal.


  1. Mary Brighton - November 15, 2012

    One week away until Thanksgiving. Here in France it is not as easy to plan/prepare and celebrate this special…

  2. Suzanne Saxe-R, Ed.D - November 24, 2011

    RT @mbrighton66 6 Challenges To Celebrating A Real Thanksgiving In France: For Americans, Thanksgiving is a holi…

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