No Gobble Gobble: Celebrating a Nontraditional Thanksgiving

Kyoto temple
Kyoto Temple. Photo courtesy of Michelle Volkmann.

“You ate what for Thanksgiving?!?”

“Takoyaki. It’s breaded and fried octopus. Osaka is known for it.”

I thought my mother-in-law was going to faint during this international phone call. She couldn’t understand why I didn’t roast a turkey purchased at my military commissary like every other American living on Okinawa.

The answer was mainly utilitarian. I didn’t roast a turkey because our Japanese home didn’t have an oven, only a three-burner stovetop. I couldn’t bake brownies, let alone a 12-pound turkey.  Sure, we could have purchased a traditional American Thanksgiving meal and ate it while sitting on our tatami mats. We could have watched football in the middle of the night on AFN. We could have whined about the lack of Black Friday shopping options. Instead we decided our first Thanksgiving in Japan would be a four-day vacation to Kyoto and Osaka.

Perhaps this Thanksgiving you are far from your extended family in an unfamiliar place. Here are three ideas to embrace a nontraditional celebration this year.

3 Ideas for a Non-Traditional Thanksgiving Celebration

Our Kyoto Thanksgiving wasn't exactly Traditional, but it was a lot of fun!  Photo courtesy of Michelle Volkmann.
Our Kyoto Thanksgiving wasn’t exactly Traditional, but it was a lot of fun! Photo courtesy of Michelle Volkmann.

No Gobble Gobble? No Problem. When we lived overseas certain foods (apples, potatoes, and watermelons) were expensive. In response, we cooked takoyaki over a hot griddle in a Japanese restaurant where the waiter was not amused with my curiosity. Don’t want to eat out? Host a Thanksgiving barbecue. You supply the hamburgers; your friends bring the side dishes and desserts. No cranberry sauce allowed.

Bullet train
Sometimes living overseas is the perfect excuse to try something new. Photo courtesy of Michelle Volkmann.

Be Flexible. In Tokyo, English is everywhere. In Kyoto, you are lucky to find an English menu. During our Thanksgiving vacation, I once ordered by pointing to an unrecognizable word and saying “please”. How bad could it be, right? It was a cold bean dessert with a gelatin texture. Did I mention I was starving? After a long laugh, I choked down that bean dessert, a poor, but hilarious selection. Make this Thanksgiving, not perfect, but memorable.

Branching out with a bean dessert! Photo courtesy of Michelle Volkmann.
Branching out with a bean dessert! Photo courtesy of Michelle Volkmann.

Be Thankful. In these nontraditional moments I try to count the blessings in my life, even if they seem like inconveniences. For example, I was thankful to avoid the congestion of American highways during our Kyoto trip. What are you thankful this year? Make that the focus of your nontraditional Thanksgiving.

Celebrating a nontraditional Thanksgiving ensures that someday when I celebrate a traditional one with my extended family in Iowa, I’ll savor my Mom’s turkey and dressing. And I won’t turn down a second helping of pecan pie.

Michelle VolkmannPart-time writer, full-time Navy spouse Michelle Volkmann (@Iowa_Michelle) currently lives in Monterey, California. She has celebrated Thanksgiving in six different locations during the last 12 years. She thinks it’s remarkable how turkey tastes the same in every single city in the United States.


    • My daughter and I enjoyed reading about the delicious calamari yummies you prepared for your unconventional Thanksgiving, Its such an interesting article, one that is very well written. I read over at LinkedIn that you have a new paid writing job and I just wanted to wish you all the very best with it. ( I’m Trixie Lassner over at LinkedIn )


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