Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday. As an expat, though, it can be difficult. Work continues as normal, shops are open, and no one seems to care about turkey, black friday, or American traditions. Well, that is everyone except for other expats and some people in the city of Leiden, NL.
For a little background on how Thanksgiving, Leiden, the Travel Turtle family, and the Three Under family decided to hang out together check out my post from last Wednesday, The Most American Thanksgiving.
One thing you might not know reading that post is that I was nervous. Again, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I was really worried that the choices we made for last Thursday were going to leave me homesick for the U.S. I worried things might border on tacky, or exhausting, or a sad combination of both.
I’ve never been so wrong.
Pieterskirk Special Thanksgiving Service
It was like a dream. Here I was, an expat listening to a Thanksgiving service, in English, on Thanksgiving Day, surrounded by other Americans (and, at the very least, others who wanted to acknowledge a foreign holiday on a Thursday afternoon), while in the Netherlands, home of the Pilgrim’s first expat experience was pinch-me perfect. I think Farrah, from the Three Under, used the word camaraderie, and that was exactly what it was.
The kids surprised me. They did great.
For those with young children considering the Thanksgiving service in Leiden in the future, know this: it’s child friendly. It’s full, but it’s not crowded. When my one-year old was tired of sitting quietly, we headed to the very back of the church where she walked around quietly with other small kids.
After the service, the church offered cookies and drinks. Amongst the choices: snickerdoodles! turkey shaped frosted sugar cookies! speculoos!
Thanksgiving dinner at the Holiday Inn, Leiden
Most of my 30+ Thanksgiving dinners have been in the comfort of someone’s home. One exception was a trip I took to London in my 20s (so much fun!). Another was the year I visited my grandmother in Massachusetts and she opted to go out to eat instead of cook. That one did not go so well. The restaurant overbooked, we waited and waited, then felt rushed. The food was, well, boring. If you imagine the minimal items you need to make a Thanksgiving dinner, that’s what we had. On top of this, it was crowded and hard to enjoy each other because no one wanted to be there.
My nerves for Thanksgiving day mainly focused on dinner. The Holiday Inn’s Thanksgiving buffet was the only option I saw online for Leiden. (While walking through the city after church I saw at least one other restaurant had a Thanksgiving meal. My internet search prior to the trip found at least two in Amsterdam, which isn’t too far away. For future reference, those were at the Hard Rock Cafe and the American Book Store.)
Back to the Holiday Inn. I wondered, would it be crowded? Would the food be ok? Would it be cheesy? Would it make me homesick because it’s impossible to recreate the feeling of the holiday being far away from home? How are the kids going to deal with sitting at a restaurant after a day of driving to Leiden, attending a church service, walking all over the city and the museums? Can the Dutch make Thanksgiving not only special to me as I know it to be, but to my kids as well?
My concerns were put to ease immediately.
A friendly host greeted us and walked us past a display of American flags, pumpkins, and other season-appropriate decorations. They brought us to our long table seating 9 people. The first thing I noticed was the space. We weren’t cramped so close to other tables that we had to whisper our conversation. There was a large group of about 18-20 people sitting next to us and we didn’t even notice them.
On the other side of the restaurant there was a small playroom for kids of all ages. In it was a ball pit, an indoor climbing and slide contraptions, and several playstations. Our kids alternated between hanging out at the table and running around in the playroom.
I had low expectations for the food. This particular Holiday Inn has a family buffet night once a week anyway. I worried that it would be a slightly nicer version of that, but still not very good.
I don’t know what their family buffet is like, but this Thanksgiving dinner buffet felt special. Someone took good care in making a bunch of expats feel like they were home. There was an assortment of appetizers (I had the crawfish), soups (clam chowder and pumpkin), a salad bar with a lot of choices (and the best waldorf salad I’ve ever had and can’t believe I didn’t get seconds), as well as all the traditional Thanksgiving fixings, plus sweet and sour chicken, steak, (and who knows what else, I stuck to tradition) and a large variety of Dutch and American desserts (including an ice cream bar).
Everything was delicious. The ham, as always seems to be the case in the Netherlands, was amazing. The only complaint I heard, and agree with, is the stuffing had way too much gizzard and the pieces were way too big.
The buffet started at 6:00 and ended at 9:30. Your table was your table for the night. There was no rush, no lines of people looking in waiting for you to get up so they could sit down. You could do the one thing Thanksgiving is known for – graze. It was, without exaggeration, what Thanksgiving should feel like without all the family drama, loads of dishes, and rush to Target’s Thanksgiving day sales… it was perfect.
Would I do it again? I wouldn’t miss it for anything.
- If you’re an American and anywhere near Leiden for Thanksgiving, please go to the service and this dinner. It’s a really nice way to keep traditions alive while abroad and you’ll still get a cultural experience you would not get at home.
- The doors to the Pieterskirk open at least an hour before the service starts. Obviously, the earlier you get there, the more choice of seating you get.
- Our GPS was not working properly in Leiden. In a first for us, there were multiple times we were told to turn onto a street that no longer existed. Thus, the city streets then seemed really confusing.
- Reserve your table for dinner at the Holiday Inn in advance. We booked at least 2 weeks ahead of time and I noticed that all the tables were reserved.
- Get the pumpkin pie early. I overheard someone say it’s the first dessert to run out every year. I didn’t go back to check if it was there later, but I wouldn’t take any chances with pumpkin pie.
- Book a night at the Holiday Inn Leiden. It’s a nice place. Then you can relax before and after your meal without having to drive anywhere.
- Take Friday off. Part of what helps make Thanksgiving feel like Thanksgiving is the three-day work week.
- There is an American Pilgrim museum in Leiden that we missed. We didn’t want to push our luck with our kid’s patience and it didn’t seem to be too double stroller friendly. If you don’t have those limitations, go.
- For more tips on what to do during the day, check out the Three Under for their review of Thanksgiving in Leiden and on instagram: #amostAmericanTgiving
This post is part of the Instagram Travel Thursday linky hosted by Skimbaco Lifestyle, Destination Unknown, Child Mode, Hines Sight Blog, Live.Do.Grow., House of Anaïs, Luxury Travel Mom. Click on any of those links to access all Instagram travel posts.
You did a great job covering the church and the dinner! It really was awesome. The boys are still talking about going back to the ‘child’s play area’. Ha! Your tips are also spot on- excellent resource! And I’m with you- that was probably one of the best (if not THE best) Thanksgiving I have ever had.
It’s almost like it can’t be possible that such a successful Thanksgiving can happen in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. You know?
Im glad you had a great Thanksgiving with family and friends 🙂 That was great effort from the Holiday Inn Buffet !
Thanks, Jean! It was a great effort on their part.
Thanks for sharing your Thanksgiving! What a cool find, who would have guessed that you could spend an American Thanksgiving in Holland? We have always spent Thanksgiving outside the US too, but always just at home.
I’m originally from the States, too; there’s not much I miss, but pumpkin pie is one of those 🙂 Thanksgiving tradition!
I LOVE this idea. We might need to make the trek there next year for Thanksgiving from Scotland. I was super sad on Thanksgiving Day. What a wonderful gift for expats this is! Thank you for sharing about it, Ann.
What a great story, Ann. I love it and I’m so glad it was special for you. I was traveling that day and missed actual Thanksgiving, but had it on Sunday. I’m glad your holiday turned out great.
Love! So happy you guys had a good time!
DangI hate when the GPS plays games, lucky you found your way about, imagine having to miss out on that pumpkin pie if you arrived late!
Not only was the church beautiful and the service in English (!), but they served snickerdoodles?! I should’ve ditched my own turkey day plans just for that! I’m glad to hear the buffet at the Holiday Inn was so well done. We’ve got it on the list for next year!
Maybe we need to join next year too. We so miss pumpkin pie, and dare I say I also like the sweet potato casserole with marshmallows… Lovely to hear that you got to enjoy a great Thanksgiving in Holland!
It sounds like you had a pretty awesome Thanksgiving! I guess if you aren’t in North America, Leiden is a good place to have the holiday.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday too! Sounds like a lovely Thanksgiving you guys had! Our friends with Democrats Abroad in Ireland enjoyed a great Thanksgiving spread at the Dublin Hilton for it. Bell and I shared another atypical Thanksgiving this year. I ate super tasty lamb chops on the beach of a Borneo resort, so not too shabby, but I certainly missed any semblance of American tradition. The following day was my birthday- I love when Thanksgiving falls on the 28th! 🙂
Great to hear that you had a great thanksgiving experience in the end!! I have to admit though that the word Thanksgiving doesn’t really appear in my calendar…. But I’d love to experience it the proper American way one day!!