The Challenge of Thanksgiving in Brussels

So you’d think that after nine years in Brussels, I would learn…

Like so many things about living in Brussels, celebrating Thanksgiving here can be a challenge. One feels a certain obligation to celebrate it properly, but there are so many obstacles. Indulge me while I explain:

  • You may routinely forget that Thanksgiving falls on a Thursday when you don’t have the day off.
  • As such, you may, every year, suggest to your clients that they do something that involves calling America. And every year you end up remembering America is closed on Thursday and end up  feeling like they should revoke your passport.
  • You’re kind of peeved that you don’t get the long weekend that your family gets back home gets.
  • You retaliate by being kind of mopey at work and leaving a bit early out of spite.
  • You may get a little bit homesick when you talk to your family back in the States later that evening.
  • You may realise how much you miss your grandparents and the way your grandfather always squeezed your hand at the dinner table.
  • You spend an entire week, if not longer, explaining to those around you what a Thanksgiving meal consists of.
  • You then have to explain why you make so many dishes – like anything with the word “casserole” in its title – when really all you want is the stuffing and cranberry…
  • You have to pre-order a ridiculously expensive turkey because in Belgium, they only appear in supermarkets for Christmas.
  • You may have once been naive and adventurous in the early years and endeavored to pick your turkey up at your favorite butchers across town on a bike after work. It may have then started to snow. You may have then had to bike 30 minutes uphill back to your house in the snow with a 10 pound turkey. {Ahhh, memories.} 
  • After arriving home with the above-referenced well-travelled turkey, you may realise your oven is not big enough for said turkey. {Lesson: European ovens are smaller. Invest in a measuring tape.}
  • You may routinely throw leftover turkey parts in a plastic bag in the kitchen, then pass out for a few hours in a food-induced coma, to return to the kitchen to find various leftovers and a demolished plastic bag all over the floor. {Read: cats also enjoy Thanksgiving.}

Not all is bad in the Brussels Thanksgiving house, however. Some bonuses:

  • You can always find cranberries.
  • Because they only sell the whole cranberries, you stop buying the jellied kind in a can {which surely can’t be natural?} and actually learn to make cranberry sauce from scratch. {Read: self-sufficiency is a good thing.}
  • You may have a crazy and wonderful group of friends who like naming your turkey. This year we have Greta. Once upon a time, there was a Sigismund. 
  • You may have a lovely friend with a grown-up apartment and a turkey-sized oven who has offered to host the dinner.
  • You may have another lovely friend who test bakes a pumpkin pie a week in advance every year just to make sure she hasn’t forgotten the recipe. Every year it is perfect.
  • You may have another friend who draws pictures on everyone’s plastic  wine glasses, making even the very first sip of the meal entertaining.
  • You may have a significant other capable of both making a stellar potatoes au gratin and giving the best bear hugs.
  • You may have played some spectacular games of charades over the years after stuffing your face with food and hope that happens again.
  • You may realise you are actually pretty lucky. Even if you are celebrating two days later. And that is something to be thankful about.

Lovely photos from a fall wedding shoot as found on Heavenly Blooms, photographed by Gavin Wade Photographers

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  1. Jay said:

    Haha – oh goodness. I can just picture you biking that turkey home.

    It sucks being abroad on holidays that aren’t celebrated. I always wonder why we can’t claim them anyways – if it’s a religious holiday you can get the day but what about being patriotic?

  2. Not that it would make you feel any better, but I’m Canadian and our Thanksgiving is a month earlier. So it’s even more difficult to remember here in Belgium since no one ever reminds you, and you can’t even order the special turkey, and then when you tell people it’s Thanksgiving, they tell you it isn’t until November.

    Yes, to the cranberries, the small oven, the pumpkin pie (which my flemish spouse is still dubious about). I think I try to compensate a lost thanksgiving by overdoing Christmas…

    happy thanksgiving, Jess.

  3. Michael said:

    On the plus side – in Europe you (usually) have enough leave, so you can actually take a couple of days off without giving up your summer vacation. Of course, to do that, you need to remember in advance when your holidays are.

  4. Tatiana said:

    so true – it’s like a guide to an Ex-Pat thanksgiving. and charades after dinner are a must. 🙂

  5. Wow. Biking through the snow with a turkey — now that’s determination!

    Have a good Thanksgiving, Jess! I hope you and your friends have a good one. Sounds like it.

  6. Man, I shouldn’t have read this post, now I’m dealing with a serious turkey craving!
    Luckily Christmas is around the corner, I only have to wait until the 25th of December and then I’ll be cooking my own turkey.

    Have fun tomorrow 😉

  7. Love the image of you biking uphill with a turkey! I’m hosting Thanksgiving tomorrow and I ordered a free range turkey from the local meat shop. The guy called me panicked on Monday to tell me that none of the turkeys had grown large enough for the Americans who wanted “big” turkeys. They were all taken for Canadian Thanksgiving and now he only has “runts” who are supposed to keep growing until Christmas. Runt turkey it is– such is the life of an expat 😉 Happy Thanksgiving, Jess!

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