Thanksgiving 5000 Miles from Home

Trav and I debated whether to host Thanksgiving in Switzerland this year.  In the States, we’ve always celebrated with family, or during years when we couldn’t make the long journey home to North Idaho, we would get together with friends for the holiday.  This year, with all of our family in the US and us here in Europe, we weren’t sure we were up to the challenge of recreating the holiday on foreign soil.  Ultimately we decided to go for it, and we’re so glad we did.  It will always be one of the most memorable Thanksgiving holidays we’ve ever had!

As anyone who’s cooked Thanksgiving dinner knows, it’s a crazy amount of work.

We had never been so ill-prepared to host a large dinner party as this year, and it was ten-fold more stressful without the many things we always take for granted back home.  The logistics alone were challenging.  We’re still using partial sets of dishes and silverware donated to us by our neighbor when we first arrived, have a table that seats 6, max, and we didn’t even have a single large pot for boiling potatoes, rice for stuffing, or for apple cider.

Luckily, the day before Thanksgiving, our friend Rana came to the rescue.  She loaned us several pots, an extra pie plate, a whisk for gravy, and a 9″ x 13″ pan for rolls.  On top of that, she took us to a Turkish store near her house, where we finally found a pan for only 7 bucks that was large enough to cook the turkey, superb Granny Smith apples for pie, and black olives that actually taste like ours back home, though with the pits intact.

So much for sticking them on all your fingers.

With our arms loaded down with wine and all of our purchases, she gave us a ride home from town so we didn’t have to lug all our stuff on the train.  We were so grateful!

Since Thanksgiving isn’t a traditional Swiss holiday, turkeys aren’t readily available from the super market, particularly in the size that we required.  Rana and her husband, Jack, had ordered a 7 kilo turkey from his cousin and made arrangements for it to be delivered right to our door early on Thanksgiving morning.  Slaughtered that very morning, it was definitely the freshest turkey we’d ever had.  It was also the most expensive, coming in at just under $100.

We needed a turkey that would be big enough to feed about 14 people but that would still fit in our oven, which is very small.  The turkey that arrived was a couple of pounds lighter than we expected, which was perfect, because the slightly smaller bird just barely fit in the oven.

Turkey for Thanksgiving in Switzerland
This might be the smallest turkey we’ve ever cooked, but it still comes within millimeters of touching the sides of the oven.

It’s traditional to stuff the turkey with bread stuffing, but since both Trav and I prefer rice stuffing, he stuffed ours with baby onions, rubbed him down well inside and out with his special mixture of herbs, and threw him in the oven to slow cook for 5-6 hours.  His plan of action was to rotate the turkey 90 degrees every 20-30 minutes to prevent overcooking where it was closest to the heating coils.

Next up was rice stuffing.  We’d bought what we thought was brown rice for it but realized we had a problem when it quickly congealed into mush in the pan on high heat.  So much for that.

One of our neighbors came to the rescue and gave Trav a box of rice with instructions to let it soak for several hours on very low heat, then add his other ingredients.  Though it didn’t have the fluffy texture of what we’ve always used, it was more edible than our first batch of gloop.  Apparently I’ve taken our boring old brown rice for granted.

We always have bacon and green beans with garlic, onions, and lots of spices.  This year we used canned rather than fresh green beans, and before we even cooked them, they were dark green and unexpectedly mushy right out of the can.  They at least tasted better than I expected, but oh what I would have given for several big jars of the ones my mom used to can.

Best green beans in the world!

The next near fiasco was the gravy, which Trav typically makes.  Since we haven’t been able to find corn starch, he set out to make homemade gravy from the turkey juice with just flour.  It failed to thicken and stayed a ghoulish gray color – not turkey gravy at all.  I offered to take over, added more flour, spices, and more turkey juice, and somehow it thickened into a perfectly tasty mixture.

Thanksgiving miracle, I tell ya.

While I finished the gravy and pies, Trav whipped up a tasty batch of garlic mashed potatoes.  We cheated and instead of making homemade bread, we bought the only thing I could find that resembled our customary dinner roles.

Homemade apple pie in Switzerland for Thanksgiving
Travis and I usually tag team in the kitchen. He takes on they turkey while the pies are my domain.

We borrowed an extra table, chairs, plates, and silverware from our friends, Carlos & Nicole, and we were all set.

Guests brought plenty of wine, chocolate, snacks, and even a candle as a gift.  The group was a fun mixture of friends we’d met from different places who didn’t know each other, and yet everyone got along as if we were all old friends. It was amazing!

One of the neatest things was that Trav and I were the only Americans, so it was fun and new to share our holiday with a group of folks who were experiencing Thanksgiving for the first time.  They asked questions about the origin of the holiday and about things they’ve only seen in American movies.

Friends from 7 countries gather around our table for Thanksgiving in Switzerland
We’ve never had so many friends come together to help us make Thanksgiving dinner. These are truly friends for whom we’re grateful.

After dinner, I was amazed to see several of our guests in the kitchen washing and drying dishes.  I tried to usher them back to the party, but they just smiled and continued cleaning –  and snapping each other with dish towels – until the kitchen had been largely put back together.  I thought back to all the holidays when my mom or my mother-in-law spent the entire day cooking, only to have dinner dishes to also clean up afterwards.  I’ve never seen guests pile into the kitchen like that to pitch in.  This is definitely a tradition more Americans need to adopt.

Another loose tradition we have is to allow each person a moment to give thanks, typically for their health, family, job, and friends.

One of our guests mentioned this tradition several times throughout the evening, so after we’d all finished strawberry rhubarb pie and vanilla ice cream, we put everyone on the spot and opened the floor.  We were both touched by the outpouring of gratitude to us for hosting dinner, though we apparently should have been more clear that giving thanks didn’t carry an obligation to heaping praise on the hosts.  Regardless, we were struck by the common thread we heard around the circle that so many of us were grateful to have connected with such an interesting, unique, and diverse group of people.

After many bottles of wine and too many Long Islands, the party finally wound down at around 2 am.  I fell asleep exhausted, but content.  Yet again, our new friends here have surrounded us like family, saving us from what otherwise could have been a very lonely Thanksgiving in Switzerland, over 5000 miles from home.


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