Thanksgiving in France (2019)

November 29, 2019 at 4:51 pm 4 comments

Thanksgiving is my favorite American holiday, and I am certainly not alone in this sentiment. Americans around the world tend to carry a passionate fondness for Thanksgiving with them wherever they go, and they have a habit of introducing their friends in other countries to the special traditions, foods, and ways of celebrating it. (A few years ago, I wrote about how Americans in Paris celebrate Thanksgiving for Bonjour Paris here.)

In France, enthusiasm for Thanksgiving–shared with locals by Americans abroad, but also often by French people who have lived in the United States or been otherwise exposed to it–has created more awareness of it than one might expect. The first time I was here for Thanksgiving, a few years ago, I had not thought about making a Thanksgiving meal. (To be honest, I am not much of a cook, and though I love going to Thanksgiving meals, I am much more comfortable in the role of bringing the sweet potatoes, or the cornbread, or the cranberry sauce, than in the role of hosting it. So to be honest (again), in a way I was feeling a bit relieved that that year I could just skip the whole thing.)

However, to my surprise, one day my friend Rosanna (who is French) out of the blue exclaimed with delight, “Oh, you will be here for le Thanksgiving!” (“How do you even know about Thanksgiving?” I asked, stalling for time to think of how to respond more appropriately…)

Well. Rosanna reads a lot, and that is how she knew.

And so. I could see that it was my turn again: it was time for me to step up once more, and host a Thanksgiving meal. (Fortunately, Rosanna is a wonderful cook, and the meal we prepared was very much a joint effort.)

I’ve celebrated several more Thanksgivings in Essoyes since then, some in my home, some in the homes of others, and they’ve all been a nice mix of French and American guests, and sometimes friends from other places as well. (This year the two Thanksgiving celebrations I was lucky to enjoy included British friends from a nearby village, and a German grad school classmate of one of my sons.)

For Americans abroad, one of the most delightful aspects of these celebrations is the opportunity to share the history of Thanksgiving (as well as some of the myths surrounding it) with our friends from other countries. The questions they ask can lead to a variety of interesting conversations, or sometimes just surprising bits of knowledge gained, both for the Americans and for the others. (For example, one question that was asked this year was “Why is it always celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November?” My answer? “Because Abraham Lincoln said so.” (Here’s more on that, by the way…)

Since the fourth Thursday of November in France is simply the fourth Thursday in November, most Thanksgiving celebrations here take place either on the weekend before, or more commonly the weekend after the actual day. This year I was really happy to be able to celebrate with both of my sons, since they are both currently living in France. Their German friend is named Felix: it was his first celebration of an American Thanksgiving, and his curiosity about and enjoyment of it was delightful. One of his questions was about what people usually do in the morning on Thanksgiving Day. I told him that varies a lot, it’s not the same for everyone; but that it usually involves lots of cooking; and that what I often did was watch the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on television, while I prepared the stuffing for the turkey. When my son added that there are giant balloons that are carried through the streets of New York during the parade, Felix’s response made us all smile: “Oh I know about that from the Spiderman movie!” he said.)

Because I took the reins of planning the meal more aggressively this time than the first time I hosted Thanksgiving in France (I tried to tell Rosanna that first year that you really don’t have to have a cheese course with a Thanksgiving meal, it just isn’t part of what we do, but she wasn’t having any of that...). So this time we started the meal at a more typical starting time for a Thanksgiving meal, 4 pm. (Which is emphatically not a typical starting time for a meal in France.) As a matter of fact, as we all sat down to our first course, a pumpkin/sweet potato/carrot soup, Rosanna remarked in a tone that was not at all disapproving, but was nonetheless more or less incredulous, “I’ve never had soup at this time of day before…” This struck me as amusing, but later in the week I read an article in France Amérique which mentioned in passing that indeed one of the strangest things for the French about Thanksgiving meals is the hour at which they begin.

We had a lovely meal with many courses, including a cheese course this time. (By now I too have become fond enough of French cheeses to not want to skip something so perfectly perfect. And how else are you supposed to prepare for dessert, anyway?)

This year, thanks to a very brave and generous French friend who had been wanting to host a special meal of sanglier (wild boar) for a few of us for nearly a year, and never had been able to find the right time came up with the idea that maybe she should host a Thanksgiving meal–on the actual day! “Could we eat wild boar on Thanksgiving, instead of turkey?” she wondered. “Of course we can!” I said. (I have stated quite clearly in my book that Americans are very flexible people, and I thought this presented an excellent opportunity to prove it.)

And so it was that last night, after a very pleasant hour or so of chatter and hor d’oeuvres and champagne, we all sat down to a beautiful table and, after a seafood entrée, we feasted on wild boar prepared by our French hosts, with side dishes of sweet potatoes and green beans.

Our hostess had graciously agreed to let my silly (and historically inaccurate) poster board Pilgrims watch over the meal from their mantel, and she invited me to read one of my favorite Thanksgiving poems aloud.

Afterward there was delicious apple crumble, and pecan pie. And more champagne of course.

And through it all, there was lively and amiable conversation, once or twice veering dangerously close to those political topics that seem to be both irresistible and best resisted at Thanksgiving meals, but never crossing the line. Pshew! 🙂 

As I reflect on all the joyful pictures I’ve seen in the past 24 hours on my Facebook feed–of Americans at home and Americans abroad sharing images from their Thanksgiving celebrations–I have been trying to think how best to summarize why we all love Thanksgiving so much.

All of these pictures, no matter where they were taken, or what was on the menu–whether the turkey was succulent, or dry, what kind of stuffing was used, or whether there was any turkey at all–all of those pictures, every single one of them, show people being happy together. People smiling; people putting their arms around each other affectionately (even some people who we know from experience were probably at some point during the day within inches of getting into a fierce political disagreement about something…). People in families, people in groups of friends, creating a sense of family for at least that one day, people in mixed groups of family and friends…

People enjoying just that: the fact of being together. Of being together for this day. Of having the chance to say “thank you” to whomever, or whatever force, or strokes of luck, or circumstance, have allowed us all to make it to this day once again (“…bringing us past great risks & thro’ great griefs surviving to this feast…” as the poet put it), well enough to enjoy a meal together, to be grateful for our blessings, and unashamed of saying so.

Doing this makes people happy, you can see it in the photos. You can see it, and you can feel it. And you can remember it from all the Thanksgivings you have ever experienced before, and you can look forward to future Thanksgivings, and you can hope for more chances to feel so good for such simple, good reasons.

That is all.

That is enough.

I hope you and yours had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Here are my pictures from this year.


Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

P.S. The holiday season officially begins today, you know: don’t let it get to you! Hold the pure, simple, sweet spirit of Thanksgiving close to you, and don’t let go!





Entry filed under: About Essoyes. Tags: , .

Interview with Jane S. Gabin, Author of “The Paris Photo” Bonne Nouvelle Année d’Essoyes! (2020)

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. betweenmeandthee  |  December 3, 2019 at 1:00 am

    How WONDERFUL!! Love to read your posts! Sent from my iPhone


  • 2. Janet Hulstrand  |  December 3, 2019 at 9:24 am

    Thank you so much! 🙂

  • 3. DJB  |  December 5, 2019 at 7:52 pm

    Janet, I loved reading your take on Thanksgiving in France. Thanks for sharing this. Have a wonderful holiday season! DJB

    • 4. Janet Hulstrand  |  December 7, 2019 at 2:04 pm

      Thank you so much, DJB! And the same to you and your lovely family. Miss you! ❤


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