Thanksgiving Reconsidered

“Are you still going to do Thanksgiving?”

This is one of the questions I get asked when I tell people I’ve renounced my US citizenship.

Yes, I am still doing Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving in the Netherlands

It’s always felt a little odd to celebrate Thanksgiving in the Netherlands. It’s a celebration of a particular event in American history, after all. Because almost all Americans celebrate it, regardless of their religion, it has a unifying effect. No matter what divides Americans—politics, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, gender, whatever—they still do Thanksgiving in one way or another.

Sweet potato pie is a must every Thanksgiving.
Sweet potato pie is a must every Thanksgiving.

Here in the Netherlands, the only people who celebrate Thanksgiving are expatriate Americans like me (and Canadians celebrate their equivalent Thanksgiving in October). In a way, it’s nothing but an homage to a remembered tradition—an exercise in nostalgia—rather than anything that’s really alive in our current lives.

It’s also more difficult here. I either have to special-order a turkey, or else drive across the border to Germany to find one in a supermarket. Turkeys don’t come with giblets, so I buy chicken hearts and livers to make the gravy. I make the cranberry sauce from scratch. Same with the pies: no store-bought crusts or canned pumpkin in Holland.

We also generally don’t do Thanksgiving on the day itself because we have to work on a Thursday. It usually takes place on the following Saturday to allow the full day for cooking. This year, since I don’t work on Fridays, we’ll have our meal this evening.

The table is set and ready for Thanksgiving tonight.
The table is set and ready for Thanksgiving tonight.

I always invite a few fellow Americans, though non-Americans often outnumber Americans. This year the party will include our family (my husband, our son, our two Syrian foster kids, and me), an American friend and her daughter, a Canadian and another American friend.

It’s always what the Dutch call gezellig, an untranslatable word that means a cozy, pleasant, congenial atmosphere.

Today’s Thanksgiving Dinner

It’s afternoon now, as I type this. The bread is on its second rising, the cranberry sauce is setting in the fridge, the pies have been baked, and the turkey is waiting to be stuffed and put in the oven. Later I’ll prepare the potatoes for mashing, shape and bake the dinner rolls, and my guests will bring various side dishes.

The bread dough on its second rising.
The bread dough on its second rising.

This year, though, I feel a bit of a fraud. I’ve renounced my citizenship. I’ve rejected the US, though I hasten to add it wasn’t really a rejection of the US as such but of how the US treats me and the rest of us Americans overseas.

It feels almost forbidden. Certainly if I’m not American, that would not prevent me from attending a Thanksgiving dinner. But it feels like I’ve somehow lost the right to prepare and serve the dinner myself.

Chicken giblets on their way to becoming gravy.
Chicken giblets on their way to becoming gravy.

I know that’s silly. Thanksgiving dinner is one of those lasting memories: we bring our childhood along with us into adulthood, and also into our lives in other countries. I can keep doing Thanksgiving for as long as I want. My children will carry it with them as one of their childhood memories, no matter where they end up settling down. My daughter, studying now in the US, prepared her own Thanksgiving meal for the first time yesterday.

I suspect, though, that Thanksgiving will, from now on, also become the day each year when I consider—and mourn—my lost citizenship: a bittersweet, nostalgic meal.

My whole US citizenship series:


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about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments!  Read more…
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No one can take your childhood memories from you! You are as American as you feel and I know you feel American. The citizenship renunciation was more a formality that you were forced to take because of screwy tax rules.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday in the US, for all the reasons you mention. It’s just very American, celebrated regardless of religious or political persuasion. For us, it’s a time to gather with family and we always invite “foreigners” to share in this quintessential American holiday. This year we invited a Greek scientist who just started doing a post doc in my husband’s lab. On the way to our son’s house, we explained some of the “nuances”, including the likely possibility of family pathology to be on display. She laughed and said that she would feel right at home since family pathology is likely to be on display during just about all Greek family meals.