How We Celebrate US-Thanksgiving as Cultural Nomads


I’ll never forget my very first Thanksgiving outside of the U.S. My husband and I had only been living in central Japan for one year. We’d made lots of friends in our community who were also from the United States and Canada, and had been discussing a way to share this special cultural celebration with others like ourselves who were far from home during this very family-centric holiday.

As a food lover and an avid cook, I was excited to be able to bring people together over a fantastic meal. I was thrilled by the challenge of sourcing a wide variety of familiar ingredients in such an unfamiliar place. I was also keen to see and hear how the Japanese spouses and their multicultural children would respond to participating in such an iconic North American tradition.

Carving the first turkey

Our first-annual Thanksgiving was a roaring success! Not only that, but before the end of the evening, we were already making plans for the following year with all of the families in attendance.

By the time my son was just two years old, he was already completely immersed in this beautiful family tradition that we’d established. We now had not one, but two enormous dinner parties on our holiday schedule. The first was the original event that we’d started with other North Americans and their families within our community. The second was the annual event that we held at our international Montessori school, The International Academy of Matsumoto.

Participating families from our school community had the opportunity to come and help with the food preparations hours before our dinner event in a downtown restaurant. From turkeys to cornbread, from stuffing to apple and pumpkin pies, we made all manner of dishes together. Adults and children alike chatted and laughed and got their hands messy rolling out dough and chopping onions and learning about the foods that form the core of this quintessential feast.

Preparing a Thanksgiving dinner for 50 in Japan, my son bastes a turkey before it goes into the oven.

As we ground and measured and mixed our special spice blends, we rattled and smelled and tasted the bold seasonings that transformed an apple grown and cultivated in central Japan into a classic filling for an All-American Apple Pie. As we peeled and sliced and diced the root vegetables from our school’s garden, we discussed the traumatic history of colonialization and invasion that had brought our mutual countries to war with one another. And as we sang and danced and literally enjoyed the fruits of our labor later that evening, we gave thanks for the peace that brought us all around the same table to practice peace.

Children spoon cornbread batter into a pan for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at our school in Japan.

After ten years of living and working in central Japan, our family sold it all to live the Worldschooling principles we’d been teaching outside of the four walls of the school we’d established. Although it was challenging to contemplate raising our son in a different place from the town in which he was born, we were even more excited to practice the principles upon which we had been expounding for so many years! We dove into our Italian cookbooks to practice the language of our soon-to-be new home in preparation for a wild and crazy culinary adventure that would eventually take us literally around the globe!

When we moved to Mexico, we made hordes of friends who also loved to share good food. The exchange of tacos and enchiladas and aguas frescas for the cookies, cakes, and pies of my childhood was never-ending. We were thankful to have such abundance and to be able to bless those who might not have as much as we had, but had a heart filled with love and sharing that we could reciprocate!

An assignment in Australia saw us seated around a table of friends and family from a variety of places all over the world. Aussies and Americans were joined by French and Czech. The whole range of dietary requirements was present, as well: omnivores shared meals with vegetarians and vegan, and our dinners were filled with storytelling and laughter, joviality and generosity.

My son prepares to knead a Southern biscuit (bread) dough to share with our friends in Australia.

We have just landed in Tirana, Albania, and are beginning to make new friends in our neighborhood. Some of them speak English, but many do not. We are particularly blessed to have made the acquaintance of one woman in particular, who really loves to cook, and her granddaughter, who is just two years older that my son. Although their English vocabulary is as limited as my Albanian so far, they have enthusiastically shared some of their family dishes with us. We have bonded quickly over food. She slowly articulates the names of the ingredients in her native language. I translate them into mine, and we all practice in our respective tongues.

We recently had the chance to celebrate our passport nation’s Independence Day together –  complete with the burgers and hot dogs and french fries that are a staple of that summer celebration from my childhood. It was an extraordinary opportunity to take something as simple as dinner, and get to know our neighbors even better. To bond in friendship and love over that shared meal made our new apartment really feel like home

We’ve now had the chance to share a variety of our favorite culinary traditions from around the globe with our friends in every single place we have had the pleasure of living. From making Mexican fare like tacos and burritos in Italy, to sharing Italian favorites like hand-rolled pasta and homemade pasta sauce in Mexico, we continue the family tradition of sharing our bountiful blessings wherever we roam. Much like our very first Thanksgiving since leaving the United States 12 years ago, we have learned that the joys of community and friendship are more easily formed and cemented when we work side-by-side to nourish one another. We always find we have so much more in common than we ever imagined, no matter the differences in our languages, locations, or looks.

The classic “All-American Apple Pie,” a treat we’ve made and shared with friends on 4 continents.

Never in a million years would I have believed that sharing a culinary cultural tradition in a foreign country would become our family’s new way of life! Now, I can’t possibly imagine our nomadic existence being any other way. We’re really excited about the fall holidays this year, too. Although we might not know from which corner of the globe some of the foods will come, we do know that our cups will be filled to overflowing with love!

Karen M. RicksKaren M. Ricks is a Christian wife, worldschooling mom, and a nomadic chef. Teaching for 22 years, she has been a Montessorian since her own preschool days. She holds Montessori teaching certificates for guiding children from infancy to elementary school. She has cooked professionally, in restaurants, commercial kitchens, and private homes on four different continents over the last decade..

After 10 years of teaching in central Japan, where Karen and her family owned and operated their own international Montessori school, they sold it all to begin a nomadic life of full-time travel.

Karen spreads her message of embracing a Slow Food Lifestyle, a lifelong love of learning, and education for peace by teaching people of all ages how to cook for themselves and why they need to share that gift with those they love.

You can find more of the family’s edible exploits and the lessons they are learning as they gallivant around the globe over at Our Kitchen Classroom.

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