An Expat Thanksgiving in Germany

It’s that time of year again. If you were in the United States right now, you wouldn’t miss a beat in knowing what I was talking about. Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Although this great American tradition is not celebrated in Germany, expats and their friends gather and have learned how to search and seek in order to create feasts in the new Heimat just like they would have back home. If you’ve joined an expat group or community of some sort, there’s usually an organized potluck. Since I’ve been in Germany, there have been years when I’ve celebrated multiple times (up to three) in a year to none at all. In addition to participating in the potlucks, I’ve hosted and invited others including all of my husband’s department colleagues one year and my German in-laws another.

In an effort to replicate the family feast, questions arise as to “where can you get … in Germany”?  Access to ingredients have changed over the last decade and availability of certain foods also depend on regions, but with some planning you shouldn’t have any problem checking off everything on your Thanksgiving shopping list in Germany these days. Otherwise, it might be time to improvise and introduce a new tradition in your new home.

Expat Thanksgiving

With some planning, a traditional US Thanksgiving can be replicated in Germany. Photo: Jane Park

First things first: where to source the turkey. At the request of an American friend, I once bought a frozen Butterball turkey at the army base in Stuttgart for our potluck. It was incredibly cheap. My first year in Germany though, I ordered a bronze turkey from my local poultry stand at my local market since my husband had just read an article about them in the FAZ. It was incredibly expensive, but it was really good. From then on though my tradition, while I was still living in southern Germany, became ordering an organic turkey from this stand. The only catch was that they couldn’t always guarantee the size I wanted. One year the bird was almost two kilos bigger than what I had wanted and and the other option was nearly two kilos smaller. And before you start grabbing for the bigger bird, don’t forget that standard German ovens are smaller than American ones. (Note: extra large ovens exist should you be purchasing a new kitchen and wish to design it around your Thanksgiving turkey. And yes, a friend has done this.)

The other items that tend to be on the “where can I get it in Germany” list include cranberries and pureed pumpkin. Cranberries are surprisingly available in large (and even small) grocery stores including Kaufland and Rewe during this time of year. If you cannot find any in your local supermarket, you could go to your local fruit and vegetable shop and either check if they have them or ask them to order some for you. As for pureed pumpkin, I’ve never seen a can of this at any mainstream shop in Germany, but I know you can order it online. This is typically the kind of ingredient I would pack in my expat suitcase or ask a visiting American friend or family to bring. Of course, the other option is to create your own puree from an actual pumpkin, but there’s a cooks’ debate around that, which you can decide on for yourself!

Sweet potatoes are not as exotic as they used to be. I see them at Kaufland and Lidl regularly as well as at the weekly farmer’s market. The other option is to check your local Asian grocery store, though the sweet potatoes might not be the orange color we Americans are familiar with. Otherwise, try ordering once again through your local fruit and vegetable shop.

Potatoes, corn, and bread cubes for stuffing from the Bäckerei are all easy to source. Green bean casserole has never been a dish to make it on our family’s must have list so I hesitate to advise on this one, but frozen green beans can usually be acquired (maybe secure a bag in late summer just to be sure) as will jarred ones in any comprehensive rather than discounter grocery store.

Lastly, I’m not a pecan pie baker, but I’ve recently seen pecans at Lidl, so I don’t think anyone will have to go without.

This is a year where I’ve decided on sitting out Thanksgiving, but having just written this post I’m now craving my slice of turkey slathered with gravy with a side of mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. While that’s not on my menu this year, I’ll still be giving thanks for what I do have, and wish you all a good Thanksgiving meal, no matter what is on your plate.


MORE: Learn how Germans celebrate their own version of Thanksgiving here.

3 thoughts on “An Expat Thanksgiving in Germany

  1. I lived in Germany and was an expat for over a decade and had my share of holiday surprises. My most memorable was Thanksgiving in a small town just outside of Cologne. The ingredients for the feast were a little difficult to find, especially the guest of honor the turkey. We had to order one from a local butcher because it wasn’t normal in the German markets a week in advance. The bird was twice the size that we ordered because that was the only bird the farmer had. We then had to get one of the local restaurants to cook it for us because it literally would not fit into our oven at home. It was the most memorable and fun Thanksgiving ever. Loved the post it brought back the good times.

    Dan Pavelka

    • Thanks for the nice feedback, Dan. Your comment reminded me of a point that I don’t know if I made explicitly enough in the post: it certainly is part of the expat adventure to learn how to reinvent traditions that we bring with us to our new homes. How nice that you could ask your local restaurant to roast your bird. I can smell it right now. Yum!

  2. I didn’t have a problem finding pecans, it was the corn syrup (and to a lesser extent the brown sugar) that were the issue. My German friends always load up on chocolate chips and brown sugar before they head back to Germany, to make American chocolate chip cookies.

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