Our First Thanksgiving in France

It’s Thanksgiving in France, which means it’s just another ordinary day. That is if there are any ordinary days while in confinement. It was a comfortable 55-degrees outside, and we enjoyed all the sunshine we could during the one-hour allotment at lunch. I had the day off work and “enjoyed” listening to Jordan on his long conference calls. The calls inside were somewhat muted by the not-so-subtle background noises from outside. The apartment below was taking apart wooden pallets on his balcony, and construction workers were sanding down wood shutters on the building across from us. Needless to say, it was not as peaceful or relaxing as I expected.

But to be honest, Thanksgiving was nothing like we expected. Our plans for how we thought we would spend Thanksgiving changed multiple times. First, we thought we might be able to see my family. Then, we thought we may be able to have “Friendsgiving” with our new friends here. Now, it’s just the two of us, spending Thanksgiving in France in a very unconventional way.

Our Thanksgiving looked completely different than we expected or even wanted it to be, but it was still perfect. Yesterday was a day to reflect on how thankful we are for.

a few things we are thankful for

  • That we have this wonderful opportunity to live abroad that continually pushes us outside our comfort zone
  • To both have jobs that help keep us busy during the second confinement
  • For a technology that allows us to Facetime our families for hours on end during the holidays
  • To have this time to grow closer together in our second year of marriage

When it came to deciding what to eat for Thanksgiving, there were lots of debates. Both of us have different family traditions, and we would end up with a lot of plates to meet our needs. I’m all for ham on Thanksgiving! There would also be too many ingredient substitutions, as many of the necessary items are not sold in France. Lyon does have an American store, but it’s currently closed due to the lockdown.

our first Thanksgiving in France
Our Thanksgiving Turkey Trot

What can’t we find in France?

  1. Brown sugar: There is no brown sugar as we know it in the United States. Instead, Cassonade is the only thing available and is more similar to cane sugar than that perfectly packed brown sugar.
  2. Pumpkin puree: The coveted Libby’s pumpkin puree does not exist on the grocery store shelves in France.
  3. Turkey: Turkey is a popular meal for Christmas, but it’s rare to find them available before the Christmas holidays. We would have had to special order it from the local butcher shop a few weeks in advance to purchase a whole turkey. And that would cost us! A six-pound turkey could run around $150. As a bonus, they may still even include the organs and head. “Well, you did say you wanted a WHOLE turkey…” These are all true stories that I read on the Lyon expat group on Facebook.
  4. Canned cranberry: It’s one of Jordan’s must-have items, but unfortunately, nowhere to be found.
  5. Boxed stuffing: You know, Stove Top boxed stuffing. The good stuff. Not available in France.

Ok, I know we could make most of these items. There are plenty of recipes available to make fresh pumpkin puree, cranberry sauce, and stuffing. But that’s not the point! Sure, we could make it, but it wouldn’t taste like home. After many discussions, we knew trying to recreate a traditional Thanksgiving meal would not compare to the real thing. So, what did we eat for our first Thanksgiving while living in France?

We took inspiration from our recent trips to Switzerland and the French Alps and decided to make fondue for our first Thanksgiving in France! Jordan found a fondue recipe online written in French, so we knew it must be good.

Last weekend, we went to the local market to buy cheese. These would be the freshest cheeses we could buy, and as a bonus, it would help us practice speaking French. We had to buy four different types of local cheese: Tomme de Savoie, Comté, Reblochon, and Beaufort. We chose the largest cheese stand with the longest line. The longer the line, the better the cheese?

Cheese at a market in France
Blocks of cheese at the market
Cheese at a market in France
So much cheese to choose from

After an initial stumbling when trying to order, we had our cheese! We always struggle with French people understanding how we pronounce numbers, and this day was no different. We pronounce the numbers exactly how they are supposed to be said, but still run into trouble.

I said 800 grams, “huit cent grams,” but only got 200 grams. Again, I asked for 800 grams. Jordan also said it, and I even typed it into the calculator app on my phone to show the employee. She didn’t understand, and I thought we might leave empty-handed. I started to get anxious as the line behind us was long, and we were not helping it move faster. But finally, she understood! We ultimately ended up with 1000 grams of one type of cheese. Better to have too much cheese than too little. 

We did a test-fondue run last weekend to make sure we knew what we were doing on the main event. The worst thing we could do when celebrating Thanksgiving in France is be subjected to order take-out after a burnt meal! With a successful test-run in our bellies, we were prepared for the big day.

how to make fondue

  1. We cut off all the rind and sliced it into small, easily meltable pieces to prepare the cheese. We kept the Reblochon separate from the other three types of cheese.
  2. Before melting the cheese, we rubbed a clove of garlic along the inside of our fondue pot “until the garlic wore off.” The recipe said to do this, but I don’t think it made a difference.
  3. Then, we heated up two cups of good white wine into the fondue pot.
  4. Finally, it was time to add the cheese! We added this gradually. The recipe said to stir in a figure-eight motion for best results.
  5. It was then time to thicken the cheese — the recipe called for a kirsch, like a cherry liqueur. We could not find this in stores and instead used Eau de vie de Poire Williams. It sounds fancy, but it’s just a pear liqueur substitute. We mixed a little of this with cornstarch and then added the mixture along with the Reblochon cheese.
  6. Viola. Twenty minutes later, it was fondue time.
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A simple Thanksgiving meal, ready in well under an hour! We enjoyed our fondue with bread, a variety of dried meats, and local white wine. For the bread, we bought a baguette and cut it into little bite-size pieces in the morning. This would give the bread time to get a little stale by dinner time. Easy to eat, and easy cleanup!

As tradition goes, the first person who drops their bread in the fondue pot owes everyone else a round of drinks. Not a problem when you have the bottle already open at home!

The day before Thanksgiving, I told Jordan that I would really like a tart to go with dinner. We agreed on a raspberry tart, and Jordan specifically said “the shiny one”! The morning of, I walked to the local bakery to buy fresh bread and a tart. I saw the perfectly made berry tart, with its golden-brown crust. This was it! But next to it, I saw a “shiny” pink pastry. I thought maybe this is what Jordan actually wanted. I took a chance and bought this, even though it wasn’t a tart at all. Needless to say, I should have stuck with my gut feeling.

Raspberry cake from a boulangerie in France
Our raspberry cake, “framboisier”

I didn’t know what I had bought. Was it cheesecake? Mousse? Regular cake?! There was only one way to find out, and that was by eating it! After dinner, Jordan cut two small slices of our mystery cake. It was a combination of mousse, berry filling, and Italian sponge cake. It was a delicious mistake! We will just have to try the raspberry tart another time.

What about black Friday in France?

Black Friday is not just for the United States. The traditional start of Christmas shopping has made its way over to France, and is even on the same day as the United States! But not this year. Due to our second lockdown, most shops in France are still closed today. There’s a massive push to support local shops instead of Amazon, but it’s kind of hard to do if they are closed. So the French government partnered with Amazon and all the big box shops that compete with the small stores and postponed Black Friday for a week. As of tomorrow, November 28, the small stores will be allowed to reopen and prepare for the biggest shopping season of the year.

This is a good sign for us, as France moves in the right direction to end confinement. This weekend, we will no longer be confined to 1 km for an hour a day. We can now go up to 20 km for three hours. Yes, we can be out for THREE hours! The next milestone is on December 15 (our anniversary!), when confinement would officially end, and a 9:00 pm curfew would begin. We would also be allowed to travel outside our region and no longer need the attestation letters to leave our apartment. The third milestone would be mid-January when restaurants could finally reopen.

Christmas decorations in Lyon, France after Thanksgiving
The first Christmas decorations are up!

So while there is progress, we still have a long way to go. Most Christmas markets and festivals are canceled this year, and ski resorts will remain closed for Christmas. There goes our plan B idea! Borders are probably remaining closed, and the reality of staying in Lyon for Christmas is becoming more real each day.

And while it will not be what we expect, I’m sure it will be perfect, just like our Thanksgiving. In the end, we have a lot to be thankful for!

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! What are you most thankful for?

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2 thoughts on “Our First Thanksgiving in France

  1. Thanksgiving is being with and thankful for family. You and Jordan are a family, just like Bob and I are. So many of us were just the two of us for which I am thankful. Being alone on Thanksgiving would be a tragedy and I am sure many were. But then I’m thankful we can reach out via messaging, texting, phoning, emailing, Facebook to our families. We are truly blessed! Love you both – my family.

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