Thanksgiving is one of the things I brought home with me when I moved back to Denmark back in 2014. I love this holiday because it – to me – is all about being grateful. Of course there is an entire history lesson behind it, but since we don’t have a holiday in Denmark that is dedicated to being grateful, I thought it would be fun to show my family and friends what an American Thanksgiving is like. I have now hosted Thanksgiving twice – in 2018 and 2019 – and it has been a great success. It has become a tradition in my family that I host Thanksgiving every year and everyone is always looking so much forward to it. However, it wasn’t easy hosting Thanksgiving for the first time outside of the US. There are so many recipes to find and some of them need American ingredients or use American measurements like cups or fahrenheit. It took me months of planning before the actual day. Therefore, I decided that I wanted to share some of my tips and tricks on hosting Thanksgiving outside of the US and hopefully it will help you if you ever decide to try it out for yourself.
Hosting Thanksgiving is not a piece of cake. Well, actually you do need cake, but that is not the point. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I put a lot of time and effort into this day. Back in 2018 when I was planning my first Thanksgiving, I looked at a million different recipes for each dish. You have to decide which dishes you want to make and which recipe you want to follow. The turkey was probably the most difficult one to find. There are so many ways to cook a turkey and so many things to decide, like how you want to brine it and what you put inside of it. I spent an entire weekend just watching YouTube videos on how to cook a turkey. I ended up making my own recipe. I took different parts of different recipes that I liked and put it all together so that I got my favorite parts of all the different recipes. I listened to the tips and tricks from professional chefs and moms and grandmas from all of these articles and videos, and wrote them all down to make it easier to remember when actually cooking the turkey. I also had several conversations with my host mom back in Texas about the ways she usually cooks the dishes, what to do and not to do, and from my host sister I got a family secret or two. I even found an old recipe for what I call a Thanksgiving cake, that I got from my friends host mom in 2013.
But it is so much more than just making the dinner itself. I make handmade invitations from scratch and send them in the mail – like we did 20 years ago, when we actually went to the postoffice instead of just sending an email – about 4 weeks before the actual day. I would like to believe that it is an experience to be invited to my Thanksgiving, and that it makes my guests happy when they open their mailboxes and find an invitation that I spent hours making for them. I also spend time choosing the napkins, the decorations and the flowers. I make table cards that match the invitations. Last year, I even made goodie bags with an american soda, a bag of american candy, teabags and a pair of fuzzy socks. I also wrote the entire menu on a canvas for decoration. There is a lot of work that goes into hosting a Thanksgiving dinner.
This is how I did it.
To do list:
- Choose your guests – I usually keep it around 10-11 people, so that it is not too many people the first couple of times I host. When I feel confident that I can host more than that, I can always expand the guest list. I chose to start by inviting my closest friends and family. You can invite whomever you want – there is such a thing as Friendsgiving as well. Make sure that you get your guests addresses.
- Choose a time and a place – I always host on Thanksgiving day around 18:00 or 18:30 (6:00-6:30 PM). But Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday, which makes it difficult because most people work on Thursdays. In the US most people are off because of the holiday. They have a Thanksgiving break, that usually lasts for about a week. But in Denmark there is no such thing as a Thanksgiving break, because we don’t have Thanksgiving. It is a day like any other. I always remember to send my invitations out about a month before so that my guests can make sure that they don’t have to work late that day. I like a homey Thanksgiving, but last year I had to rent a common area to host at. You can host Thanksgiving wherever you want, but I like to do it at home. Make sure to put the address on your invitations.
- Make invitations and send them out – as I mentioned earlier, I make my invitations myself and send them out by mail. You don’t have to do that. If you want to buy invitations, send an email or even just a quick text, that is up to you. And it will save you a lot of time. I just like to be creative and I don’t know if I’m the only one, but I love receiving a card or any kind of mail actually.
- Decide on the dishes – of course you will want to cook a turkey (if you’re not doing a vegetarian Thanksgiving, in which case, don’t ask me, cause I have no clue as to what you will be cooking then), but turkey alone is a bit boring. You’re going to want some side dishes. And a lot of them. There are so many dishes to choose from and you’re going to want to make a lot so that you can make sure that all of your guests will be able to find something they like.
- Find your recipes – this is where you are going to need to do some research. I already told you what I did to find mine. Look in cookbooks, in magazines, on YouTube, on blogs and just on the internet in general. Get creative and spend some time looking at not just one recipe for each dish but a few. Just to get an idea of the different ways there are to make it. Then make your decision. Or do like me and create your own.
- Make a grocery shopping list – I make one long list of groceries that combines all of the ingredients of all of the recipes. Then I strike out all the things I already have in my kitchen, like spices, flour and baking soda. Thereafter I color-code the list. One color for the things I can get a couple of days before the day. Another color for the things I need to get as fresh as possible, preferably on the day or the night before. I always remember to strike out the things I get as I go. I also write in which store I can get each item. With all of the american ingredients, I can’t just go to one store and get it all, like I would in the US. I have to do some research on where I can get things such as canned pumpkin.
- Get decorations – I get decorations and stuff to make the goodie bags a week or two before the day. I also make the table cards around the same time. If I can get as much as possible as soon as possible I will. It makes it less stressful when I start my grocery shopping to know that everything else is covered.
- Buy the items with your first color – this includes the turkey for me. I have to get my turkey frozen, because turkey is not the easiest thing to come by in Denmark. I usually get it at least a week before, otherwise I risk them being sold out. There are only 2 stores in Copenhagen that I know of that has a frozen turkey. That is Meny and Bilka (if any danes are reading this).
- Make the goodie bags – no one says that you have to make goodie bags. That is just me. But if you decide to do so, making them a couple of days beforehand is a good idea. That way, you don’t have to stress about it on the day. Take it from someone who stressed about it on the day last year.
- Print out the recipes – I like to have the recipes physically in my hand when I cook. That might just be me. But that way, I’m sure not to mess up my phone or my computer with wet hands or anything during an entire day of cooking. I usually also have a timeline and then I can strike out items on my to do list for the day, which helps me not to stress.
- Start prepping the turkey and some of the dishes the day before – I’m not exactly sure what is common to do when it comes to the turkey, since I made my own recipe. But I start prepping the turkey the night before and let it sit in the fridge all night long. I also bake some of the cakes and pies and anything else I can prep the day before.
- Buy the items with your second color – now the time has come for the big grocery run. Eggs, milk, vegetables and the rest of your shopping list needs to be in your kitchen the night before or (if you have time) in the morning of the actual day.
- Decorate – you might want to decorate the night before depending on where you are hosting. I usually forget and end up doing it an hour before my guests arrive… If you are smarter than me, you will decorate and set the table before you start cooking on the day.
- Cook your Thanksgiving dinner – after a lot of work and planning, you can finally start cooking your dinner. Do whatever you can to stay calm and not stress too much. Otherwise things will burn and get ruined. You are going to have a lot to do in a short amount of time if you want all of the dishes ready and hot at the same time. Just breathe and you will be fine. Don’t be afraid to ask for some help if someone is there with you.
If you need some inspiration on which dishes you should cook, here are my favorites to cook:
- Southern-style green beans – find a great recipe here.
- Mashed potatoes
- Gravy – I make a danish sauce instead of the American gravy
- Garlic roasted broccoli
- Cranberry sauce
- Mac & Cheese
- Bread sticks
- Sweet potato casserole/baked sweet potatoes
- Southern pecan pie
- Chocolate pecan pumpkin bread
- Pumpkin pie
- Chocolate chip cookies
- Red velvet cupcakes
Copenhagen tip: if you don’t feel like baking a pie or just don’t have the time, I found this great place called The American Pie Company that does American pies. You can even order them beforehand.
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