Bringing Thanksgiving to Germany

Authored by:
Ally B.

Ally B.

       When I first began my exchange year, the participants were told a lot of possible ways to give back to our host families, as well as showcase our American culture to Germans. One of the things suggested was to make our host families a Thanksgiving dinner, and cue them in on our specific familial traditions.

       Ever since I was little I've loved Thanksgiving. I made many memories cooking with my Nana, aggressively fighting over spoons, and 'arguing' with my uncle about if paprika on deviled eggs makes it taste different or not (which is doesn't, by the way). I love waking up in the morning to watch the Broadway performance on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and then go to my Nana's to finish up preparations, and spend time with my family - eating and laughing and being together for the first time since the 4th of July.

       I was ecstatic to put together a list of foods and traditions to share with my host family, as well as some friends I've made here!


       The week before Friday, I started preparing. I made a list of all the foods my Nana and I usually made, and then narrowed it down to fit the eating habits of my guests (many of them were vegetarians), and also narrowed it down to feed 10 people instead of the 50 I'm used to. I also decided to have Thanksgiving on a Friday instead of a Thursday, so we could have more time together and it would be easier with my school schedule.
On Monday, the start of Thanksgiving week, my host brother asked me if he could help me cook for the event, and also asked about our traditions. I told him we watch football, that some families take a nap but my family is too loud for that, and that my family plays spoons (a game I previously shared with my host family). I also showed him the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which he was fascinated with because of all the floats and how many thousands of people who attended. I loved talking with him about my traditions from home, reminiscing on the last 18 years of memories I have.

       Then on Wednesday I went shopping for groceries at ALDI and EDEKA to get supplies, and also had a mini freak out session in EDEKA when I couldn't find the spices. I was panicking about my pumpkin bread and dressing, wondering why Germany didn't have nutmeg or sage, but, I actually asked a worker (auf Deutsch) where they were and she helped me find the wall of spices. As was well...

       After shopping I went home and made my first dish, Aunt Leeta salad. I don't have an aunt named Leeta, it's just a recipe my family has been making forever. My host brother helped me cut up vegetables for this recipe and kept asking if I really needed four tomatoes or a whole onion for the recipe, insisting it has to be too much. I found it a bit funny, because there can never be enough for Thanksgiving - the point is to eat leftovers for a week.

       Then, after dinner I started working on one of my favorites: pumpkin bread. Because there is no canned pumpkin in Germany, I had to actually cut, cook and scoop the pumpkin for my recipe, but eventually I figured it out, added in the spices and put it in the oven.

       It's also important to note that I had no proper measuring tools. I didn't have any cups, teaspoons, tablespoons, etc. I also didn't have something that measured grams or ml because it was broken, so I had to go from memory, telling myself, "This looks like a cup/teaspoon/tablespoon..." I had to do this for every recipe, but it all actually turned out fine. When I took the pumpkin bread out from the oven, it tasted exactly how my Nana makes, so I wrapped the loaves and went to sleep (I spent maybe 3-4 hours cooking this day).

       As soon as I got home on Thursday I began making deviled eggs, boiling off the eggs and sprinkling extra paprika on them. I had previously made these for my host family and already knew this was something they liked too. I also used actual American mayo this time, but don't think it tasted as good as the last time I made it with German mayo. Later this night I facetimed my mother's side of the family, who was having their Thanksgiving. I enjoyed messing with my family over facetime and seeing them 'in-person'.

       Then the day of truth came. I woke up at 7:00 to go to school and as soon as I got out at 13:20 I was changing into clothes that I was okay with getting dirty. I did some English homework and then started preparing for Thanksgiving at 15:00. I moved all the chairs and set out all the plates in the dinning room, cleaning the kitchen table off to set all the food out on, and doing the ultimate Midwestern thing my Nana does: sweeping the floor before you cook even though you're going to dirty it, because you can't cook if the floor is dirty...

       I first started on dressing (stuffing) where I tore the bread and tried to property portion the spices, as well as cutting the onions and celery. Then I started cutting veggies for the veggie tray (which was just red bell pepper, celery and pickles), and then I got all the bowls out, cutting potatoes to make mashed potatoes. My friend Gabby, a Brazilian exchange student, came over to help me prepare around 17:00. She helped me cut the potatoes, and we waited for a bit, talking about school, traditions and of course, the World Cup. Then we boiled the mashed potatoes and finshed the corn and mac'n'cheese.

       At 19:00 my two German friends arrived, along with my host mom and host sister, and we sat down to eat. I actually forgot Thanksgiving is a only American thing, so I was surprised when my friend asked what Thanksgiving was and why we celebrate it. My German friends also both brought gifts because they didn't know and it was super sweet of them - the gifts were cute!

       My host mom loved the pumpkin bread, calling it cake because it has three cup of sugar in it, which I can semi-agree with, and my host sister loved the Aunt Leeta salad. Everyone seemed to enjoy the food and had seconds, and my favorite was the mac'n'cheese, because I haven't had it in so long. During dinner my host parents talked to my German friends in German and eventually the conversation switched to English because everyone is fluent in it and it was easier for Gabby and I to understand.

       After dinner I showed my friends how to play spoons, a game my family plays very competitively every year after eating. Everyone got really into the game and we had a lot of laughs. We also talked and learned more about each other. This was my first time hanging out/inviting my German friends over, so I was a little afraid to do it, but when I asked them both to come over they seemed excited, and I'm glad I took that 'risk'. We played maybe five rounds of spoons with Gabby being the ultimate winner, and Julia not winning one. We also ate some muffins that Julia brought over and I opened the gifts they got me.

       After everyone left my host mom asked me if it was a success, and I said yes. I invited some German friends over, pulled off a whole feast and managed to cook all of these recipes almost perfectly to how my Nana makes them, and had an amazing time sharing a part of my culture with everyone. I can't wait to cook more in the future and I know my Nana would be proud. Needless to say, after this long day I was exhausted and went to sleep pretty quick this night...


       After that long week of preparations I have concluded a few things. The first is that I should invest in getting cup, teaspoon and tablespoon measurements to save me the hassle and panic of cooking without measurements.

       The second is that I'm glad I was busy preparing my own Thanksgiving, as it simulated what an actual week would look like for me in America (except I had to go to school here in Germany). I was busy making food, got to play spoons, be around people and have a celebration. Though it's not the same as home, this Thanksgiving was similar enough that it eased my homesickness, which I was starting to feel since the week before this holiday.
And my final conclusion is that now I know I can cook and make these recipes, and now know how much my Nana appreciated me helping. I enjoy cooking and have been making these recipes since I was old enough to sit on a table to tear bread into a pot for dressing, so it's nice to know that I can upkeep the traditions.

       The most important part, which I've probably said enough times, is that I got to share my culture with my host family, German friends and Brazilian friend. I'm glad they got some insight to what 'traditional' foods Americans eat and how we spend this holiday together. This is definitely an experience I will remember forever, and I hope that when I get home, my grandma and Nana will not make me cook everything, like they've currently been threatening...

       Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!



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