This Is What People Outside of America Think About Our Thanksgiving Traditions
What may seem normal to Americans on Thanksgiving causes serious confusion for outsiders.
Thanksgiving is a time to gather the family together, think about what you're grateful for, and eat a ridiculous amount of food. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Well, while the holiday may sound logical to those of us who grew up celebrating it, non-Americans have tons of questions about Thanksgiving. From the food to the holiday's history to the post-meal football game, there's actually a lot about Thanksgiving that's odd—and it takes an outsider to notice. Here are 10 Thanksgiving traditions that non-Americans astutely note are actually quite strange. Read on for their candid thoughts!
Eating "dinner" at 2 p.m.
It may be Thanksgiving "dinner," but for some reason, most families start serving up the meal by the middle of the afternoon, if not earlier. "Shouldn't it be Thanksgiving lunch?" asked Brit Angelica Giangreco Biancheri, reflecting on her first experience of Thanksgiving in the U.S. for The Tab. "I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that 6 p.m. is an appropriate dinner time in the U.S., but 2 p.m.? No. I refuse."
Putting marshmallows on top of sweet potatoes
If you grew up with it, you know there's nothing like it: A crisp layer of lightly browned mini marshmallows that give way to heaps of gooey sweet potatoes, unexpectedly enhancing the light sweetness of the yams underneath. Somehow, it works. And after you encounter it as a dessert-obsessed kid, you make sure it's on the table every Thanksgiving well into adulthood.
But if you're seeing it for the first time as an adult, you'd probably react the way that Englishman Ray Walker did during his first American Thanksgiving as a student at the University of Florida. "I was handed—what was that?! It was mini-marshmallows…on top of potatoes? No, sweet potatoes? Was it a dessert? No, they said it was a casserole. A sweet tasting casserole? I'd never heard of such a thing," he wrote for Odyssey in 2014.
But it didn't take long for Walker to become a convert: "I took a tentative bite and threw off my precautions. It was amazing—a sweet potato casserole. I took a napkin and wrote that one down."
The obsession with turkey
Some non-Americans question why we eat all that turkey on Thanksgiving. Hams or even well-seasoned chickens are more common celebratory dishes in other parts of the world. Yet in the U.S., we've made a rather ugly bird our star attraction. "Guys, turkey is terrible. You know this. I know this," Australian JR Thorpe wrote of his impression of the star of the Thanksgiving meal for Bustle. "I don't care if it's native to America; it's dry, tasteless, and takes ages to cook properly. You have to cover it in brine, stuff it till its ribs pop out, and slather it in cranberry sauce for the end product to actually be edible." Ouch!
Because a massive turkey was not ridiculous enough, we Americans found a new, far more gluttonous way to celebrate Thanksgiving: a duck, stuffed inside a chicken, stuffed inside a turkey, AKA the turducken, for those who are unfamiliar.
As you can imagine, if you've never heard of it before, the mere concept of the turducken comes as a shock. And that's exactly how it hit Walker. "Emerging from the kitchen was possibly the biggest body of bird I'd ever seen, and somewhere behind it was the lady of the house," Walker wrote. "She set it on the table in front of me and a closer look revealed it was more than one bird. It was combination of turkey, duck, AND chicken, called a churduken, or as I called it, a vegetarian nightmare."
Watching balloons proceed through the streets of New York City
There are parades in countries around the world. But what is particularly American and particular to Thanksgiving specifically are those giant Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons. Every year for decades, Americans have gathered in front of their TVs on Thanksgiving morning to watch the procession of massive hot-air balloons make their way down the streets of Manhattan. The mix of classics and more recent pop culture characters is definitely entertaining, but kind of strange when you think about it.
"I have no idea how anybody managed to convince an entire city to grind to a halt to watch a bunch of huge balloons wander the streets," Thorpe wrote. "But it sure makes for hilarious backdrops for ludicrous action films like Tower Heist."
The stuffing that doesn't get stuffed anywhere
When someone first tells you about this delicious thing called "stuffing," you might assume that you'd find it inside something else. Not on Thanksgiving here in America, where we serve it on the side as a beloved dish all its own (though we do "stuff" our faces with it).
On the blog That's What She Had, a Russian woman named Yulia wrote: "As an outsider, I can name a few things that surprised me at the Thanksgiving table. Like stuffing that, despite the name, is not stuffed anywhere but is eaten along with other dishes."
The shopping element
While Thanksgiving is a time to stuff one's face and celebrate with the people they love, many Americans don't want to party too hard… because there are so many sales to enjoy the next day! But when you think about it, Black Friday is one of the oddest parts of the holiday. The door-busting, dignity-shredding seriousness with which Americans approach the retail holiday can leave onlookers baffled.
In fact, it can leave them confused about the meaning of Thanksgiving in the first place. "Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks to the shopkeepers who are going to offer huge discounts the following day," Ana Maria, from the Dominican Republic, told Quartz about the meaning of Thanksgiving. "The more thanks are offered, the bigger the discounts!"
The day of the week it falls on
When BuzzFeed writer Ashly Perez asked her non-American friends on what day Thanksgiving took place, she got some answers that were close, but not quite right: An English friend said it was "the second to last weekend in November" and a Scottish friend said it was "the last Saturday in November, I think."
But can you blame them for their incorrect guesses? Holding a national holiday on a Thursday has always been an odd choice, and it's proven to be a confusing, hard-to-schedule-around celebration for decades. But, like switching to the metric system, the idea of nudging the holiday into a weekend proper just doesn't seem likely to catch on stateside, no matter how logical it might be.
The football game
American football baffles most foreigners no matter when it's happening, but on Thanksgiving, the extra focus it gets makes it all the more strange. "As a Brit who knows absolutely NOTHING about American football, I find it hard to understand why watching it is the activity of choice on Thanksgiving Day," wrote Biancheri. "But to be honest, if I were to eat that colossal amount of food, I would also be so sedated that the only plausible thing to do would be sit on the couch and watch TV, sparing only the energy to occasionally grunt at the sight of a touchdown."
The pumpkins everywhere
Wasn't Halloween the big pumpkin holiday? It turns out, those jack-o'-lanterns were just a precursor to the main event: Thanksgiving, where pumpkin pie is the star dessert and pumpkin spice is a key ingredient.
"What is so great about pumpkins?" asked Biancheri. "My theory is that this tradition stems from the need to do something about the leftover pumpkins from Halloween."