Post by International Military Life Community Manager, Courtney Woodruff
Celebrating our first Thanksgiving overseas was a learning experience for our family. For one thing, the giant turkey we purchased from the commissary wouldn’t fit in our German spec oven, so we had to get creative.
Being so far away from our extended family members was also challenging. Even though we were used to not spending the holidays together with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, we’d never had to worry about coordinating our holiday phone calls around a seven-hour time difference.
That first year was tough – especially for me. So many of the traditions I’d been working to create for our young family were tossed to the way side, but I ended up learning some important lessons about what it means to be truly thankful.
We spent the day together as a family. There were friends around our table to share food with. My husband wasn’t deployed. We had the opportunity to live in Europe.
And the list keeps going.
This Turkey Day, if you’re feeling like I was that first year, try to look outside the box of tradition, and discover new ways to celebrate and express your gratitude for what you do have during your time overseas.
Hosting a potluck feast for friends, colleagues, neighbors and single service members.
If you’re accustomed to having a full house for Thanksgiving, why not fill the empty seats around your family table with those who might otherwise be spending the day alone? Extend an open invitation to as many friends, colleagues, neighbors and single service members as you can - you never know who might appreciate the offer the most. The only thing our family asks in return is for guests to help offset the cost of food by bringing one of their favorite traditional dishes to share.
Learning more about your host nation’s culture by incorporating local seasonal dishes into your holiday menu.
Living overseas gives you the opportunity to get creative with your Thanksgiving menu. Instead of falling back on your list of traditional family recipes, research the produce that is available this time of year, and find out how traditional fall dishes are prepared. Who knows, you may discover a new family favorite that will be requested alongside the turkey and stuffing year after year - long after you move back to the States. During our time in Germany, we’ve developed a taste for tangy red cabbage (Rotkohl) and soft, cheesy egg noodles (Käsespätzle) paired with savory holiday roasts.
Using the long weekend to travel to a new destination for less during the tourist off-season.
With kids in school and less favorable weather in late fall, the end of November is considered a low peak time for tourism in many international hotspots. If there are a handful of places you’ve been itching to visit but haven’t been able to afford, do a little research to find out if any deals are available this time of year. We were able to snag flight and hotel bargains for a budget-friendly trip to Paris that weren’t available during the busier (and warmer) summer months.
Getting a head start on Christmas markets.
Many of the larger, world-renowned Christmas markets, including the ones in Strasbourg, France (Nov. 25, 2017), Aachen, Germany (Nov. 24, 2017) and (Nov. 24, 2017), open the weekend after Thanksgiving. The first day is always special - marked by tree-lighting ceremonies, live music performances and colorful parades. One year, we rented a house in France with another family. We spent Thanksgiving Day preparing traditional holiday dishes to share with one another. The next morning, we bundled up and headed out for the opening day of the Strasbourg Christmas market. The twinkly lights, delicious fest fare and fun times with our friends made it a Thanksgiving to remember.
Volunteering with a church or organization at your local military installation.
Looking for ways to give back to the international military community this Thanksgiving? Many churches and organizations hold special holiday meals for service members and their families. There are plenty of ways to help, depending on your time, abilities and resources. You can donate food, assist with event planning, or spend your holiday preparing and serving food at an installation Thanksgiving feast.
How have you celebrated Thanksgiving overseas?
Check out the USAA – International FAQ
About the Blogger: Courtney Woodruff is a military spouse, mom, writer, editor and web content manager currently living in Germany. She has a heart for our troops and their families and hopes to share what little she has learned along the way to help others overcome the unique challenges of military life. You can follow her adventures at her blog, Courtney At Home, or through her social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest