Dining Table with Wine Glasses

Celebrating Thanksgiving in China

As you slowly recover from the brain fog induced by a combination of overeating and drinking way too much wine, football games to forget (if you are in the US), and answering that one uncle who asks you the same damn questions every single Thanksgiving, those living in China got a 13-hour head-start on the tradition of stuffing 3 days’ worth of calories into our gullets within a few hours.

Believe it or not, Thanksgiving isn’t a national holiday in China (though you can bet there is a Chinese version of the “Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock” story out there – with much cooler and older staff-wielding pilgrims, rather than someone who boasts about how many belt buckles he can accessorize with). Still, we celebrated turkey day in Hangzhou at an amazing kitchen store on Jingzhou Rd. called HOKA with both Americans and people from all over the world who got to experience Thanksgiving for the first time in their lives. Here are a few things we learned from this experience:

1. You Forget How to Make a Turkey and Appetizers (And it Doesn’t Matter)

Most expats living in Hangzhou are under 30 and have never had to make a Thanksgiving dinner all by themselves before. That means turkey dinner preparations are going to include a trip online for some nice recipes. It also means that some idiot (George) is going to forget that a 20 lb. (9kg) turkey doesn’t thaw out in one night, even if you ask it nicely.


Don’t cook your Thanksgiving dinner “cold turkey”.

Luckily, we defrosted the turkey in time to stuff it into the oven. Our star cooks for the two days we spent in the kitchen – Katie and Addie – picked out some bad-ass apple pie, crescent roll, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and pumpkin pie (which we had to turn into pumpkin-pie cupcakes) recipes that everyone devoured in about an hour and then took home for the next morning.pumpkin cupcakes croissants pumkin + chocolate cupcakes pumpkin cupcake

In the end, both hardened turkey-scarfing Americans and those eating a Thanksgiving dinner for the first time had no idea it was our first time cooking one alone. Aside from the food being amazing, our moods were also great because…

2. People From Any Country Can Identify With the Concept of Thanksgiving – (and it Brings us Together)

People traveling to a new land and struggling to make headway is a story that nearly half of those living in Hangzhou can relate to, because they are migrants from all over the country. All of the expats here, American or not, can relate to this because they are all in a distant place, and many receive help from the locals at just the right time.

The other side of the “essence” of Thanksgiving – that is, being thankful for who and what we have – has an even stronger effect in a country with a huge gap between the rich and poor. People are aware that they are lucky to be able to have an iPhone, a house, a car, etc. Before we dug into our Thanksgiving feast, we all gathered around the cooking area and talked about what we were thankful for. It was at this moment that we could have been in any place in the world celebrating Thanksgiving because everyone’s answers would still ring true. People are happy for what they have, and are more than willing to give back to the community.

group making turkey dinner china

“More thanking, less wine please”

Having these very-basic thoughts in common does more than just give us something to talk about; it creates a magical atmosphere that pulls everyone together like glue, no matter how good his or her language skills are. And it is this atmosphere that makes everything worth it, because…

3. A Bunch of Work Goes on Behind the Scenes to Make a 4 Hour Party Perfect

We started planning Thanksgiving at the beginning of November, when people still had beer and sugar hangovers from their Halloween parties. To be completely honest, we got lucky with a few things that saved us a bunch of time planning: for example, I had just met the manager of our amazing venue, HOKA, a few months before. This was the best place we could have found in Hangzhou, because they have at least 8 small / medium size ovens and stove-top burners – we ended up using all of them at the same time with pies in the ovens and people learning how to make potato pancakes on the burners (we blew the fuses 2 times). The staff helped us out big-time as well, buying some of the things on our grocery list and helping us finish off the pie-cupcakes.whipped cream cupcakes hoka hangzhou

After searching for the perfect turkey on Taobao (you can buy a turkey off of Taobao) for about a week, we luckily found one located in Hangzhou. The others were in Beijing and Shanghai and couldn’t guarantee it would be here on time because logistics systems were still gridlocked from the Single’s Day buying frenzy.

We also had to write some articles promoting the event, handle registrations, and make sure everyone knew how to find the venue. In the end, we had a waiting list of over 15 people (our next event will have more spaces), and the team did an amazing job informing people of the event.

Finally, Katie and Addie spent at least an entire week coming up with the recipes, ingredients list, event article and comics, and of course the 2 days it took to cook everything from scratch. Special thank you to them.

But it was all worth it because we were able to let a bunch of people experience Thanksgiving for their first time, while at the same time providing Americans with a “long distance Thanksgiving,” while they are far away from home and their families.

Categories: Food, Life

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