Thanksgiving in Paris – The inside story from an Expat
Whether you’re American or not, Thanksgiving on November 24, has got to be one of the best holidays. It’s simply about being grateful for what you have and sharing time with family and friends and this holiday includes all backgrounds and religions. Oh, yes and the food. It’s very much about the food! MLP asked Jen Hamerman to report on how she and her half-American family keep Thanksgiving alive in Paris.
Bringing the Thanksgiving tradition to Paris
One of the many great things about marrying an American is the fact I can officially celebrate Thanksgiving, which has quickly become my favourite holiday of the year. We first started marking this holiday together after our little girl was born, eager to be sure she got to share in the best of all the traditions our mixed backgrounds can bring. And when we moved to Paris in 2011, we really wanted to keep Thanksgiving going. For us, it truly marks the start of the festive season and we were eager to find ways to celebrate in our new city.
Celebrating at home
There are really two ways to celebrate Thanksgiving in Paris. The first (and our preferred way to spend the day) is to prepare Thanksgiving dinner at home. This does require quite a bit of organisation as you hunt down the all-important ingredients but it’s definitely possible. Each year I promise myself I am going to remember to bring ingredients back from one of our US trips but of course, I never do. It turns out you can find most of what you need here in Paris. It just takes some effort and no small amount of money.
For the crucial turkey, you might want to think about chatting as soon as possible with your local butcher shop or with the butcher at your nearest outdoor market to reserve a turkey. You also might want to look into borrowing an extra oven from a friend – the tiny little French ovens that many Parisians have in their kitchens do not lend themselves well to the multiple roasting and baking that goes on. You literally could not fit a turkey inside some French ovens. A kind neighbour lent me her little toaster oven for the day and it was a big help. Cheats like me will also be delighted to know that Marks and Spencer do an excellent turkey joint which is just ready to go in the oven. Get in quick though, as people will murder you to get their hands on the last turkey joint in the M&S food hall the day before Thanksgiving!
Tracking down the pumpkin spice
It did take me a while to get used to the idea of Thanksgiving food. Classic dishes include sweet potato puree that is sweetened. The idea of sweetening vegetables seems initially quite weird to we Europeans. But oh how quickly I have adapted! The truth is, these concoctions actually taste great. Some families apparently add marshmallows to their sweet potato. We haven’t gone that far yet….
Your best bets for the all-important pumpkin spice, pumpkin puree, ready-made bases for pumpkin pies, gravy, cornbread and stuffing mixes are the Thanksgiving store on rue St Paul or The Real McCoy in the 7th district for your supplies. Be warned that they are expensive and understandably so, given that they have to import all that stuff. You can save some money by heading to Marks and Spencer food halls for some ingredients. But I have to say I love the atmosphere at the Thanksgiving store as everyone chats, standing in line for their supplies, spotting old friends and wishing each other a happy holiday. For me that trip is part of the holiday. The Thanksgiving store will also take orders for pumpkin pies and pecan pies and you can also order a turkey with them.
Put the kids to work on the decorations
If you are celebrating at home, one way to save money and also make it a warmer, more authentic celebration, is to research lots of ideas on the internet for table decoration and task the kids with making them. I have been hunting around for this year and these turkey place cards look fun and easy and these paper ‘leaves of thanks’ look like a great way to focus kids on what this holiday is all about.
Share the fun and the work
Also, if you’re going to all this effort, why not invite friends over and turn Thanksgiving into a potluck, where everyone brings some dishes over? Many Americans feel homesick at this time and will be delighted to share the meal with you. And don’t limit your invitations to fellow Americans – we find friends of all different nationalities love the chance to experience this holiday. Just warn them to expect a lot of carbohydrates.
Or let a restaurant do the work for you
Now maybe this is all sounding like a lot of work and you’d rather eat out? O Chateau is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner at 9pm on 24th November. That seems quite late for younger kids but could maybe work for families with teens. Breakfast in America has a very reasonably priced dinner at their restaurant in the 5th district and they are doing it three times! There will be seatings at 5pm, 7pm and 9pm on 24th November. Reservations must be made in advance. The restaurant in the Hotel Edouard VII is also hosting its annual traditional Thanksgiving dinner and you can make a reservation by calling 01.42.61.86.11.
Thanks Jen for such a fab post. For more insight about Paris life subscribe to Mama Loves Paris and for daily tips click here:
MLP wishes you a wonderful time celebrating your Thanksgiving in Paris!