My German Thanksgiving
Updated: Jan 3
Today is Thanksgiving in America and here in Germany, it is just Thursday (German = Donnerstag). I actually cannot remember the last time I was in the USA for Thanksgiving. I am assuming it has now been 8 or 9 years ago.
Over the years I have had a few friends in America ask me what my plans for Thanksgiving in Germany were. I first had to remind them that, “well…..Germany does not celebrate American Thanksgiving………..they didn’t have the whole pilgrim and Indian thing going on over here and I will be working.” (to be politically correct, I believe Native American is the proper reference for American Indians these days)
The reason some of my American friends may have asked such a silly question is because the average American has probably lost sight of the history behind this holiday and simply assume that this huge holiday is celebrated around the world. (under full disclosure, I must admit I may have asked the same question several years ago)
I did Google “German Thanksgiving” and learned that Germany does have a celebration called “das Erntedankfest,” which means Thanksgiving Harvest Festival. Erntedankfest is more of a religious-oriented event to give thanks for the harvest and is usually observed on the first Sunday of October, but is observed at other times in some regions of Germany to align with the harvest of their particular crops.
The origins of the American Thanksgiving (and Canada – which is the second Monday of October) align with the German Thanksgiving and other similar celebrations around the world as a day of giving thanks and sacrifice for the blessings of the harvest.
Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated from England in the 1600’s carried the tradition of the “days of fasting” and “days of thanks” with them to New England. At one of these early celebrations, the Pilgrims gathered to eat with Native Americans. In the previous winter the food supply of the Pilgrims was running low and the Native Americans helped the Pilgrims by giving them food to get through the previous winter. (hmmm…. the Native Americans gave some of the first settlers in America food to survive and we all know how that ended for the Native Americans later in history)
Over the years American Thanksgiving has lost some of its ties to its origins. Of course, for many people, this is still a day of thanks. However, it is no longer associated with the celebration of the harvest (unless you are a farmer). Many people will still take time on this day to give thanks for their family, thanks for their health, thanks for their prosperity and the like. In less reverent cases, they may be giving thanks for their awesome car, their mega house, their smoking hot girlfriend or a crop of a different type that is slowly being legalized throughout America. Nonetheless, I hope there is still a “thanks” factor on this day. (Come on, you must have to at least think about thanks in some way…..because it is in the name of the holiday)
In America, Thanksgiving means a lot of different things to different people.
2 days off of work (Thursday and Friday)
A four-day weekend
A day of excessive eating, followed by watching football on the television and napping (sleepiness is an effect of eating turkey….it is true “Google it”)
A dreaded day spent with relatives that annoy you
A day for big parades
The day before Black Friday (Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving – which I see now has made its way over to Europe. This day is the biggest shopping day of the year in the USA, as Americans start shopping for Christmas. Last year in America, 5 billion dollars were spent in retail stores on this day and another 7 billion dollars were spent online on Cyber Monday (the online shopping day the Monday after Thanksgiving)
My Thanksgivings as a child and in my adulthood were pretty much the same. This was a day of gathering with family to eat turkey and an array of side dishes (mashed potatoes, green beans, sweet potato casserole, broccoli casserole, dressing or stuffing) followed by pumpkin pie for dessert.
The venue for our family celebrations changed over the years. In my childhood years, we would go to my Grandmother’s house with all my Mom’s extended family. As I grew older, we would celebrate at my Mom and Dad’s house and then as my children and my parents grew older, the celebrations would sometimes be at my house.
The preparation for these massive feasts often started days prior to Thanksgiving. Thawing the turkey (German = Auftauen des Truthahn) can take days. (for my German readers, when you purchase your turkey, you buy the entire bird and it is frozen like a big chunk of ice) The average weight of a turkey you will purchase for Thanksgiving in America is 15 pounds (almost 7 kilos). To thaw a 15-pound turkey in the refrigerator it will take 3 to 4 days. You can alternatively thaw it in cold water, and this will take 8 to 9 hours, but you need to change the water every 30 minutes. Yep, that’s a whole lot of work for one meal.
My first Thanksgiving in Germany, I was in Wolfsburg for a meeting with Volkswagen. We were invited to eat at the company cafeteria. On this particular day, the VW cafeteria had “Puten Schnitzel” on the menu. Puten is the German word for the meat from the turkey. So, this American boy went for “Puten Schnitzel & Pommes” (Pommes = french fries). It was a far cry from the feast that was going to be occurring in the USA, but at least I got my turkey on that particular Thanksgiving Day.
On two other occasions, I have had a traditional American style Thanksgiving meal while I have been in Germany. The first problem of pulling off this meal in Germany is the turkey itself. In Germany, they don’t seem to sell the full turkey at their supermarkets. To get a full bird, you have to order it from the butcher (Metzgerei).
Now hold on to your wallets. For one of the Thanksgiving gatherings I attended, the price for the full turkey from the butcher was 90€ (yep, that’s about a $100 USD). Now the bonus to this concept is, that the turkey was probably alive and hanging out with his turkey buddies the day before you bought it and you don’t have to thaw it.
In a conversation with my boss in America this week, he told me he had just purchased a 20-pound (10 Kilo) turkey for $7.00 at a store that was running a special sale. Even if someone did not buy their turkey on special, the price would still only be in the $20 range, which is still a far cry from 90€. Why the difference? First of all, there are large turkey farms in America that basically raise turkeys for this special day and are not expensive at a wholesale level. Secondly, when a grocery store gets you to come into their store to buy your turkey at a special price, you will probably spend another $100 to $200 or more on ingredients, foods, and drinks for the rest of the meal.
Check out the picture below. A 15-pound turkey at this sale price would cost you about $5.00.
As an American, this is a holiday that is ingrained into my persona. Over the last years, it is a holiday I miss and often I find myself feeling quite sad on this day. Solution!!! First of all, I took the day off from work (hoorah). Secondly, I am making a big batch of chili dogs today and will take them to a place in town called the Brick Bar and share these American treats with some of my friends and patrons of the bar. I am going to be the Hot Dog Santa Claus.
I have a secret recipe for the hot dog chili that I got from an Italian man in my former hometown. He actually owns a chili dog drive-in restaurant. He is the Hot Dog King. My hometown and the surrounding area is roughly the size of Landshut. I put his restaurant on Facebook about 10 years ago and managed his Facebook page for several years. His Facebook page now has 13,000 followers. People love the hot dogs from this restaurant. When he gave me the recipe, he would not disclose to me all the spices he uses (I am assuming that is because if I gave his recipe to anyone, he would have to kill me), but I think I have tweaked the recipe enough and it is pretty close to his.
Okay, a chili dog is a far cry from a turkey, but it is my own way of celebrating Thanksgiving in Germany today. For me, this is a day that has always been a day of sharing and giving thanks. An expat from America (pilgrim to Germany) sharing a chili dog with some Germans (natives) is not exactly the same as the early beginnings of Thanksgiving, but it will work for me and the Germans do love a good Wurst (sausage or hot dog).
I look forward to my German Thanksgiving this evening and I will also take some time during the day to reflect on the things that I am most thankful for in my life.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.