How to Celebrate Thanksgiving in Spain as an Ex-pat
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I am encouraged to spend a mere Thursday gorging myself on turkey and pie, without any of the pressure of gift-giving. What could be better?
Many English teachers and other ex-pats arrive in Spain at the beginning of the fall semester. Thanksgiving is usually the first time they start to feel genuinely homesick. The reality of being thousands of miles away, especially in the COVID era, starts to sink in.
It should come as no surprise that Spain (or any country outside of North America) does not celebrate Thanksgiving. If you’re a fellow stuffing and mashed potato lover like me, there’s no need to fret. I haven’t let leaving America stop me from celebrating and you shouldn’t either.
There are countless ways you can bring the Thanksgiving spirit to Spain and have a uniquely fulfilling holiday.
Find the Right Restaraunt
There are quite a few restaurants in large European cities owned by ex-pats, who bring their North American and British tastes to the table.
Unfortunately, with COVID-19 regulations constantly changing in Madrid and the current limited seating capacity, it is likely that many of the go-to places won’t be serving their usual menus.
During simpler times, there were several restaurants that could always be counted on for serving a set-holiday menu that will remind you of home. We found some restaurants that are still serving up turkey dinner. La Gringa, The James Joyce, and The Irish Rover are a few of the standouts.
Additionally, many simply want to eat typical American food and aren’t too focused on the cranberry sauce. Instead, they spend their holiday eating at American-inspired barbecue joints, gourmet hamburger places, or enjoying a bacon-filled brunch instead.
Madrid is a diverse city brimming with food-lovers and in my experience, it’s never difficult to find a restaurant where you will leave feeling like you just ate entirely too much.
Searching the Supermarket
Although a bit of Spanish jamón is always welcome, the supermarkets here lack an international spark. If you want something that isn’t typically Mediterranean, it can be almost impossible to find. It’s not uncommon to travel to three different supermarkets to find all of the ingredients for just one recipe.
Taste of America has various stores throughout Madrid and other major Spanish cities. The prices are a bit steep compared to what you would pay at home. For me, a can of cranberry sauce is essential to my Thanksgiving dinner enjoyment, so I take the financial hit every year. You can also find stuffing mix, pie crust, canned pumpkin, and more there.
If you want to make your own American favorites, you may have to get creative. Cranberry sauce can be made from soaking dried cranberries (easy to find here), pumpkin puree from roasted and blended butternut squash, and I use puff-pastry for my pie crusts, found in every grocery store as masa de hojaldre. Digestive biscuits work just as well as graham crackers for your cheesecake cruts. The local produce shops will usually have brussel sprouts and other vegetables that the supermarkets don’t often stock.
Plan ahead and start searching now to see what you can swap in a recipe to get a similar taste to what grandma makes.
What about the turkey?
Whole turkeys aren’t usually sold in supermarkets in Spain. If you are lucky enough to have an oven in your piso (a curiously uncommon appliance in Madrid real estate), then you will have to special order it from a butcher.
Ask for the turkey a couple of days in advance to ensure you have it in time for Thanksgiving. Make sure you have a large enough roasting pan, found at bazaars or home-goods shops around the city.
Waiting until the Weekend
One of the best things about living in Spain are the frequent federal holidays. While working in a public elementary school, I had at least one long weekend every month. Unfortunately, neither American nor Canadian Thanksgiving is one of them.
It can be difficult to find the time to cook a dish and bring it over to a friend’s house when you have been working all day. Most years, I wait until Saturday to have my big celebration with friends.
The Saturday before or after Thanksgiving, I invite my friends to come over, each bringing one dish. You might even invite some of your classmates from your Viva Spanish class. We start a group conversation a couple of weeks before to ensure we don’t end up with five pies and no mashed potatoes.
If you are hosting, I suggest some homemade hot mulled wine. It’s easy to make and after the first sip, people are instantly in the holiday mood.
Most years, my fellow American coworkers are my guests but they often bring along their Spanish friends so they can experience their first Thanksgiving. I don’t know if some of the European guests will ever get over the shock of seeing a dish of baked yams with marshmallows on top.
The Thanksgiving you spend in Spain will be different than the ones you have had with your family stateside. If you are open to something new, they may end up being one of your favorite memories.
Have you celebrated holidays away from your family? Do you have a tip for finding the right ingredients in Madrid or an easy-to-find substitution? Let us know in the comments!