Living in another country comes with plenty of perks but it also comes with the difficulty of missing out on celebrations with friends and family during the holidays. Although December in Medellín is one of the best times to be in the city, the build-up can leave ex-pats feeling a little homesick. However, as more and more people relocate to Colombia, holidays like Thanksgiving are becoming easier to recreate and share with new friends. Whether you want a reminder of home or hope to share your American culture, here’s how to celebrate Thanksgiving in Medellín.
Host a pot-luck dinner
Being abroad doesn’t mean you have to compromise the most important part of Thanksgiving day – the food! Gather a group of friends – or organize an event on Facebook – and ask each person to bring a particular dish to your place (or another venue) for Thanksgiving dinner. You can opt for a traditional dinner with turkey, yams, potatoes, and pies, or why not mix things up and tell people to bring something typical from their home country? That way, you’ll have a fusion of cuisines and cultures that are bound to get everyone chatting over the meal table.
Where to buy ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner
If you prefer to host a classic Thanksgiving dinner where your guests can experience a wholly American holiday, there are a number of places to buy the goods.
Turkey – Carulla and Exito sometimes stock turkeys at the end of November. Your best chances of bagging a bird are in the Poblado stores. If you can’t find the star item, chicken is a tasty alternative and much easier to find in Medellín.
Yams – these aren’t available in Medellín currently, however, potatoes or yuca could be a worthy substitute
Potatoes, carrots, greens, etc. – any supermarket (also speciality markets like Plaza Minorista, La América, La Mayorista)
Gravy – granules may be available in the speciality aisles of supermarkets but it’s probably safer to make the sauce from scratch using stock cubes (available in most markets and food stores) and juices from the meat
Stuffing – Another opportunity to get busy in the kitchen, you won’t find pre-made stuffing in Medellín but the basic ingredients to make it yourself are readily available
Cranberry sauce – Carulla and Exito in the imported sections, or fresh cranberries in La Minorista
Pumpkin pie – canned pumpkin is non-existent in Medellín but if you’re a confident cook, fresh pumpkin can be bought at most grocery stores. Butternut squash and sweet potatoes can also be made into an equally flavorsome purée for the pie
Another option for ingredients is to ask in the ex-pat groups on social media for recommendations or even the possibility of someone bringing bits with them from the U.S.
These groups are particularly great for questions about Thanksgiving:
Dine out at a restaurant
Patrick’s Irish Pub in Parque Lleras draws crowds of Americans for its annual special Thanksgiving meal. On November 28th, the pub will serve up turkey with mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables, homemade stuffing, and cranberry sauce. For dessert, there’ll be pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Dinner is available from 1 pm until midnight and costs 70,000 COP per person. If you’re keen to be around fellow Americans and indulge in all the trimmings, Patrick’s is a brilliant home-from-home on Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving falls on Thursday, and if you work for an American company, you should be given Thursday and Friday off as vacation days. Unfortunately, if you work for a Colombian business, the holiday isn’t recognized in Colombia, so you’ll need to request time off. Whatever your situation, the extended weekend is ideal to escape the busy city and venture somewhere new. Medellín has regular bus routes to pueblos (towns) in Antioquia, as well as cheap flights to cities like Bogotá, Cali, and the Caribbean coast. Why not treat yourself to a Thanksgiving spent by the beach, hiking through the coffee region, or pottering around colorful cobbled streets?
Make the most of technology
It may sound obvious but the best cure for feeling blue when living abroad over the holidays is to take advantage of Skype, Whatsapp, FaceTime, and social media. There’s a variety of platforms that make speaking with loved ones back home both simple and free. Organize a time with your family/friends in advance and try to place yourself somewhere impressive when they call. On your balcony in the sunshine, surrounded by your Colombian friends, serving the huge dinner you’ve made – whatever you’re doing, you can relate to the people in the U.S by celebrating Thanksgiving in your own way, regardless of the distance.
A nice idea would be to add a Paisa infusion to your day, so you can show the people on the other end of the screen what life is like in Medellín. Eating Thanksgiving at Mondongos, baking Dulce de leche and apple empanadas and, of course, shots of Aguardiente are good starting points.
In keeping with the spirit of being thankful, why not give a little back to the local community? Although Medellín has experienced significant transformation over the past decade, it still struggles with homelessness, drug use, crime, and the repercussions of a 50-year civil war. Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to spend the day working with organizations to help the people who need it most. From playing football with kids in lower-income comunas, teaching English, cooking food for families, or even building houses, sharing your time can make a huge positive impact.
If you’re unsure how to get involved, see our guide on where to volunteer in Medellín.