An International Thanksgiving: Celebrating the American Holiday in Djibouti


Holidays can be especially lonely or homesick times for expatriates. At Thanksgiving I think about gray November skies, trees bare of leaves, and a cold, stinging wind. I think about football games and the thrill of anticipating the first snowfall. I think about my grandparents and how we alternated between houses every other year, and that we all knew which year the turkey would be dry. I think about late-night Scrabble games and reading old books, and eating leftover turkey until we burst.

But those are my memories. They are not my current realities. Being an expat means creating new memories, often completely unrelated to the old ones. The thing that never ceases to amaze me is that now, what we have created has become my children’s memories. Thanksgiving does not conjure the same smells or games or jokes for them as it does for me.

This can be overwhelming, or it can be freeing. Released from the ‘way we’ve always done it,’ expats can build a new story, new traditions. And they will be equally meaningful to our children, but they will be different.

Now, Thanksgiving in Djibouti is characterized by baseball, dust, sweat, the question of: will we have a turkey or will we order Chinese? Now it is friends from all over the world to whom Thanksgiving isn’t meaningful, but celebrations together are meaningful. We will celebrate British Boxing Day, and our British friends will join us for pumpkin pie.

Enjoy this taste of Thanksgiving in Djibouti, as created by a handful of Americans in the Horn of Africa.

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