How to celebrate Thanksgiving in Madrid with your Spanish friends and family


Thanksgiving is without a doubt my favorite American holiday. Food and family come together for one special day filled with laughter, stretchy pants, and the smell of pumpkin pie. And while spending Thanksgiving Day in Spain could easily mean disaster (imagine a day filled with teary Skype sessions and aching nostalgia), I’ve actually had some of my best Thanksgivings living in Spain.

When a group of Americans from all over the US come together to celebrate Thanksgiving in a foreign land, you know it’s going to be a good time. Everyone usually volunteers to make their favorite Thanksgiving dish, which almost always has a distinctly regional touch. I’ve tried some incredible southern American Thanksgiving dishes here in Spain — ones that I never would have had the opportunity to taste back home in New England.

Thanksgiving is different

It’s almost guaranteed that your expat Thanksgiving will include some Spanish guests, and likely other nationalities will also be represented.

Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving on a plate

At first, your non-North American friends will think that you’re crazy for meticulously preparing such a feast, spending hours or even days toiling in the kitchen. In our group of friends, all around our age, I find that the majority are shocked at the time and cooking preparations involved. Many of them have never cooked more than simple dishes like tortilla before, as cooking duties still go to their mothers at family events.

Furthermore, they won’t understand why you had to find a turkey, instead of simply making a couple of roasted chickens. Neither will they understand why you would spend a ridiculous amount of money on imported cranberry sauce, much less what it is.

Clue them in! Thanksgiving is a perfect chance to share our American culture with them — a refreshing change since it’s normally the other way around. Bring your Spanish friends into the fold by enlightening them about our reverence for the gobble gobble and deep love of the red tangy gelatinous log. By the end of the meal, these poor souls who have never experienced a true American Thanksgiving on US soil will embrace the holiday and become life long converts to the day’s feasts and festivities.

Additionally, as expat Thanksgivings are usually filled with limitless supplies of alcoholic beverages (reliably brought by the Spaniards), you will likely end up much tipsier than at a family occasion. This will have you thinking less about missing your family back home, and more about what disco to head out to after dessert.

Overall, an expat Thanksgiving will never be the same as being back in the US with your family. But it will be fun, you will eat very well, and you will be surprised at how many people you’ll impress with American food and culture.

Where to find Thanksgiving ingredients in Madrid

Taste of America: Canned pumpkin, cranberry sauce, pre-made pies, marshmallows, gravy and more.

My American Market: An online shop for staple ingredients like pie crust, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and canned pumpkin. Good old Amazon has plenty of Thanksgiving picks, from fantastic recipe books and baking ware, to the actual canned ingredients.

Your neighborhood shops: Don’t forget you can also make the majority of your Thanksgiving favorites from scratch. Roasted butternut squash (simply calabaza in Spanish) can be substituted for canned pumpkin in any recipe, just add the seasoning of your choice. Pie crust can be bought in the refrigerator section of most supermarkets (with the hojaldre and empanada dough) or you could also make it yourself.

Read about how I made a last minute Thanksgiving dinner last year, and feel free to add any ingredient or recipe questions in the comments below!

UPDATE: NOV 15, 2012 Two more stores in Madrid that sell American goods: American Sweet near Metro Quevedo and Yummy Planet (only online)

Lauren Aloise

About Lauren Aloise

Drawn to Spain by promises of great food and wine, Lauren loves exploring Madrid’s hidden corners and is always searching out the city’s best places to grab a bite.


  1. Rafa

    November 14, 2012 at 11:23 am

    As a Spaniard who's experienced the American holiday and will probably attend a Thanksgiving meal in Lavapies, I really enjoyed your post. It's very funny and poignant. I've always been interested in the contrasts between American an Spanish cultures. I will follow your blog, since you get so much fun out of it. Congrats!

  2. Daniel Welsch

    November 22, 2014 at 10:07 am

    Your local pollería can probably get a turkey if you ask a few days ahead. And there’s a place in Lavapiés that sells dried cranberries. C/ Torrecilla del Leal, 32.

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