Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays for a few reasons: from spending time with family and friends, to preparing and eating delicious food, to sharing the moment and stories together all around the table, and also because there are no presents are involved, leaving the focus on your favorite people and delicious food.
I’ve been used to celebrating Friendsgiving every year since I didn’t live close to my parents during grad school and it was a common thing to share this particular holiday with friends. It was easy to do because I lived in a college town and there were always a lot of students who couldn’t make it home to their families, including many international students wanting to discover and get a taste (literally) of what Thanksgiving is and means. To save on money we would have a potluck dinner, meaning each person would prepare one dish and bring it to the host’s apartment or house and we would share the meal together. I’ve since carried this potluck-style tradition over to France.
I can remember clearly the last Thanksgiving I spent in the states before moving to France. It was at a good friend’s house, who was also my former professor during my undergrad years. She hosted myself, a Brazilian student and a Korean student. She told us not to prepare anything and to come hungry. It was so nice! We spoke about our different cultures, food, the Thanksgiving tradition, I can even remember the menu: turkey and stuffing, green bean casserole, chips with homemade spinach artichoke dip, rolls, and key lime pie for dessert. We ate so much but my friend had made so much food that we were all able to take home leftovers.
This year, I celebrated Thanksgiving in France for the third year in a row, in the little seaside town of Saint Nazaire that I now call home. Generally, I keep the celebrations condensed to just my friends and outside of work, but this year I wanted to share “the gift of giving” with my co-workers and students. The expression “giving thanks” is always important to me, especially this time of year, and I wanted to pass on the true meaning of “Thanksgiving” to my students (all of French nationalities), who are usually familiar with the term of the holiday and that we eat turkey, but not really what the holiday represents.
One of my favorite places in Saint Nazaire, the fishermen houses
On Thanksgiving Day I was working, of course, since this annual holiday is observed in just two countries: the United States on the fourth Thursday of November and in Canada on the second Monday of October. The night before Thanksgiving Day I started preparing one of my favorite Fall dishes to take to work for my co-workers. I actually discovered this dish from my host family’s housekeeper in Argentina. Butternut squash is a super popular ingredient in many Argentine dishes, and the housekeeper would always make a savory butternut pie for lunch multiple times every month. I asked her for the recipe, and she not only gave it to me, but taught me step by step how she makes it. My co-workers loved it!
The famous butternut tarte
The following Saturday it was the annual Friendsgiving potluck dinner with my friends. This year, one of my friends volunteered to have it at his house since it has a lot more space than my little apartment (last year we had 20 people sitting at 2 connecting tables in our not-so-spacious living room – I have no idea how we did it!) and he also volunteered to cook the turkey. I was super grateful for his generosity.
The table all set and ready to dine!
All the invitees agreed beforehand what they would be bringing. I was in charge of the “apero” or small bites alongside a cocktail of some kind, and the first course, which I decided would be my favorite butternut squash pie – Yes, we did the meal the French way this year instead of the usual American buffet style. The main dish would be the turkey accompanied with sweet potato puree, roasted chestnuts (a French Christmas tradition), corn on the cob, stuffing, and a heavenly homemade cranberry sauce (also made the French way, and much better than normal cranberry gelatin sauce). For dessert we had the choice of apple crumble, or an apple and cranberry tarte with ice cream. Each year we celebrate our Friendsgiving it continues to get better and better with the menu.
Appetizers to begin the evening
The 5 kilo turkey! Cooked to perfection!
Roasted chestnuts and made from scratch cranberry sauce
Last but not least, dessert!
As an extra touch, I found some free printable table place cards, each with an individual question about what you’re thankful for and other questions about the holidays and family. Everyone really enjoyed this and it was a great conversation starter to talk about American and French cultures and traditions. I will definitely be using them again next year, and I most recently found a Christmas version!
Let's eat! Bon appetit!
The Christmas season begins much earlier in France and the rest of Europe in comparison to the U.S. You can see the first preparations of the town’s Christmas lights and decorations up by mid-November, around my birthday. In the states I think we try to separate the two different seasons, Fall and Winter with Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, but in France Halloween is barely celebrated, and if it is it’s only for children; Thanksgiving isn’t at all.
In some small farming towns the harvest is celebrated. The only way I know this is because I give English lessons at an international company located in the middle of nowhere with farms and small villages sprinkled here and there, and have seen makeshift advertising for harvest events displayed on huge barrels of hay at major intersections between the farmland.
However, there aren’t any pumpkin patches to go and pick your pumpkin, no hay rides through the farm area, no scarecrows and cobwebs in your front garden – nothing. The closest thing representing Fall and Thanksgiving during this time are the seasonal vegetables, like butternut squash, potatoes, pumpkin, etc. This makes sense because the French like to eat fresh fruit and veggies when it is the appropriate season for each crop.
Traditions can be different in other areas of the country as you have many different geographies and historical influences to take into account, so maybe what I’ve seen and experienced is valid in the part of the country I live in. I’m only speaking for the places in France that I know well, meaning the Brittany and Loire-Atlantique regions – cities of Dinard, Nantes, and Saint Nazaire are my usual stomping grounds.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that no matter where you are in the world, you can always share your culture and traditions with others. The world is smaller than you think and everyone has some amount of curiosity for things they’re unfamiliar with. Share your experiences and culture with others, it’s fascinating to see how similar you actually are.
Saint Nazaire, France – the place I call home
In saying that, here is a short anecdote showing you an example of what you can discover from meeting a new person:
It’s crazy how you meet certain people in your life. Sometimes it’s only for just a brief moment during an ordinary day, sometimes it’s for a few months or years, or maybe it lasts forever.
I just had a lesson with a student originally from Morocco, who used to have a wedding dress shop in the past, located literally across the street from the center I work at. She had to sell her shop because the taxes and costs were way too high when trying to maintain a business and pay for general building expenses (typical in France). Now, she dreams of opening up her own cake shop. She doesn’t want to open up another shop in France so she is now turning her focus to New York, Miami or Morocco.
She asked me if I could help her find a short-term training course specialized in pastries and desserts in the US that she could register in for next summer. I am excited for her and her future dreams so I said I would take a look into it and see what I can find.
I told her that I was also interested in learning more on making desserts, as I only know how to make the basics, and she jokingly said to me “Come with me and we can do the class together!” I don’t know if there was some seriousness in this sentence or not, but it got me thinking. Why not? I love being creative and I have big goals in 2017 to do big things. And, not to be a nerd but I took a quiz on social media for fun to see what type of chef I could be and I got pastry chef – because I’m patient and like to take simple ingredients and make something amazing out of them. You never know!
Now it’s your turn: Do you have any Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving stories to share? How about a special encounter you had with someone new or a new friend?
Go Get Inspired by…Quote: “You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go. Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest. So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact And remember that Life’s a great balancing act” ~Oh The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss
Disclaimer: ALL pictures are taken by myself and are not to be reproduced without my knowledge and permission.