Does Turkey Celebrate Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving in Turkey Explained in Fewer than 140 Characters (2023)

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If you’re looking to figure out “Does Turkey celebrate Thanksgiving,” then I have your answer below. 

The short answer is “not officially”, though it has begun to become more popular in pockets of Turkey where there are many Americans. 

I moved to Istanbul in September 2019. This is my only experience living abroad in spite of having traveled internationally fairly extensively. 

When I got here I took for granted the little things that would be so different. I just didn’t even realize the things that would make me sad if I missed them. 

The first year I was here, all of my friends had full-time jobs, or at least one of the spouses did.

I was in full-time language learning and so I had a lot more flexibility.  We celebrated our version of Thanksgiving really late that day so it felt a bit cramped.

This is my favorite holiday and while I was so grateful to celebrate it, it felt odd for sure. They were all new friends and everything felt different. 

But we adjust and pivot. I have had some really great celebrations since then. 

So whether you just wanted the 140-character answer or you’re looking for more, let me share a bit more about this holiday in this beautiful country

Beautifully roasted turkey on a white platter on a butcher block counter

American Thanksgiving Traditions Abroad

Every year Americans celebrate Thanksgiving as expats, even if no one else.

However, often because expats are working in schools and offices that don’t recognize the holiday, it can’t be celebrated on Thursday it is often celebrated much later in the day or over the weekend. 

I know as an American expat myself we have celebrated it on the Saturday after Thanksgiving with friends.

While I am self-employed and can work from wherever, whenever, I have the flexibility to change my work hours. 

But I have many friends with kids and those kids are in school. This means they would miss out on the festivities if we tried to proceed as normal.

But let’s be honest, the expat life is anything but normal

Thanksgiving in Turkey is anything but normal. Often you can’t find what you want/need to make a special recipe back home and so you must improvise.

One of the things I miss most is fresh cranberries.  You can rehydrate dried ones but they are often coated in so much sugar it just doesn’t seem worth it.

So when November rolls around, you will see people asking if anyone is coming from the States so they can bring that one item that’s needed for their tradition. 

Thankfully you can roast turkey and make pumpkin pie and mash potatoes for a pretty decent meal even if there is no ham or real marshmallows or cranberries. 

Side note: while doing research I came across this cool article from History.com about what was actually eaten that first Thanksgiving.

That being said, as Americans celebrate and invite their local friends, there are pockets of locals celebrating and really catching on to the idea of a holiday centered around thankfulness. 

Türkiye’s holidays of thankfulness

While Turkey does not celebrate Thanksgiving as an official holiday, gratitude and thankfulness are important aspects of Turkish culture, particularly during their religious holidays.

Eid al-Fitr

One of the most significant religious holidays in Turkey is Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, a month of fasting.

During this festival, Muslims express their gratitude to Allah for the strength and ability to complete the fasting period.

They also extend their gratitude to family and friends by exchanging gifts and participating in communal feasts.

Eid al-Adha

Another important holiday is Eid al-Adha, also known as the Feast of Sacrifice.

This holiday commemorates the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to Allah.

Muslims express gratitude by sacrificing an animal, usually a sheep, and distributing a portion of it to the needy.

This act symbolizes their willingness to give and share with others.

National Sovereignty and Children’s Day

Furthermore, Turkey has its National Sovereignty and Children’s Day on April 23rd, which celebrates the establishment of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

This day emphasizes the importance of children and their rights.

It is a day when children are praised and appreciated, and gratitude is expressed for their role in society.

Although Thanksgiving dinner in its traditional form is not celebrated in Turkey, the appreciation and gratitude ingrained in their religious and cultural festivities show that the spirit of gratitude is undoubtedly present in Turkish society. 

Thanksgiving spread in Turkiye with mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, pies, sweet potatoes and gravy.

How to say ‘Thank You in Turkish 

Well, lucky for you, there are a few different ways to do it!

One of the most common ways is by saying ‘teşekkür ederim’. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but it’s a polite and formal way to express gratitude.

If you’re feeling a bit more laid-back, you can go for ‘sağol’. It’s a casual way to say thanks, kind of like saying ‘Thanks, mate!’ Typically used when you don’t know the person. 

Another casual option is ‘teşekkürler’. It’s a bit easier to say, but still gets the point across. This one you would use with people you know in a casual setting.

Now, if you want to give someone a little extra thanks, you can say ‘ellerinize sağlık’. It’s kind of like saying ‘Thanks for your hard work’. Usually, this is said when someone cooks something or makes something with their hands. 

If you want to express gratitude in a more religious context, you can say ‘şükür’.

And if you really want to sound old-school, you can say ‘eksik olma’ or ‘kesene bereket’. These are kind of like saying ‘Thanks a bunch’ or ‘Thanks a million’. 

So, whether you’re feeling formal or casual, Turkish has got you covered when it comes to saying thanks! 

Which Countries celebrate Thanksgiving?

I have talked a lot about Americans in this post but something that still makes me smile is the growing number of Canadian friends I have made here in Turkey.

They also celebrate Thanksgiving albeit on a completely different day.  Let’s take a look at some other countries around the world that celebrate.

  • Canada
  • Germany
  • Grenada
  • Liberia
  • Saint Lucia
  • United States
  • Leiden (Netherlands)
  • Norfolk Island (Australia)
  • Territories of the United States
  • Territories of Canada

I know there are also other places that celebrate it in a less official capacity. I have a good friend who is from Azerbaijan and married to a Turk.

She often talks about how back home they celebrated Thanksgiving as a day of thankfulness. 

It isn’t an official holiday there just as it isn’t an official holiday in Turkey. That doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate it though!

dessert at a Thanksgiving feast including cheesecake, angel food cake with strawberries, carrot cake and of course pumpkin pie

Reasons to be thankful for Türkiye

In honor of this post being about Thanksgiving and Turkey, I thought I would share 3 of my favorite reasons I am thankful for this beautiful place. 

1. Turkish Baths

Or as they are called in Turkey, hamams. I went to my first one just a few months after I moved here.

Then it was a long time until I went again. As the years have gone on, the more I have grown to appreciate them.

I now go at least once a month and maybe two times a month during the winter when the heat is more bearable. 

2. The people

Turks are some of the most hospitable people I have ever met, and I’m from the South.

I still get tripped up by cultural differences and not really understanding something I perhaps should but still, they love me.

Whether it is making you a bowl of soup when you’re sick or the local shop owner offering you some tea while you wait for your ride. They are just the best!

3. Healthy Living

Sure you can do this anywhere but for me living in Turkey has really helped me get more healthy in a lot of ways.

The vegetables here are absolutely delicious! I have never eaten so much salad until I moved here.

But what’s even better is that I never walked so much until I moved here. Every day I have to walk to get where I want to go. I appreciate that it is part of life and not a “workout” which I would just abhor in the end. 

Did the pilgrims eat turkey?

Wild turkey was definitely something that was common in the days the pilgrims first landed. It is, however, not noted anywhere that they had turkey on the first Thanksgiving celebration.

Who decided on turkey for Thanksgiving?

This is actually a much debated topic and there isn’t any definitive information on the topic. It is, however, suggested that both Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” and Sarah Hale have contributed to the idea.

Do people in Turkey eat turkey?

Yes, they do eat turkey. Here it is called Hindistan. It is quite hard to find it as ground turkey, like in the States, but otherwise, it is available.

Final thoughts on this American holiday in Turkey

Turkey doesn’t officially mark Thanksgiving, but its influence has found a foothold among expats and pockets of the population influenced by American culture.

As an expat in Istanbul, I’ve embraced the unique experience of celebrating Thanksgiving abroad.

While the day might not always align with the traditional calendar due to work commitments, the core sentiment of gratitude remains a constant.

This adaptability and the fusion of traditions highlight the resilience and unity that defines the expat journey.

Navigating this intersection of Thanksgiving and Turkish life, I find myself thankful not only for the cherished customs that bridge the gap but also for the fresh experiences, warm connections, and unexpected moments of unity that make this celebration a unique and integral part of my journey.

From embracing the Turkish lifestyle to forging meaningful friendships, my gratitude extends to the diverse tapestry of Turkey that has enriched my perspective.

As the world adapts and weaves stories together, the threads of gratitude continue to bind us across boundaries and cultures, transcending time and place.

Turkey Vacation Basics

When I plan a trip these are the websites I use. Hope they help you plan your next adventure as well!

FLIGHTS: I am a huge fan of Skyscanner and WayAway.

VISAS: You can use the free e-visa portal here but for a few extra dollars you can use iVisa and someone else will handle any issues that may come up.

E-SIM: When I traveled to SE Asia I discovered e-sims and I’m never going back. Airalo has been easy and cheap!

TRAVEL INSURANCE: I use TravelInsurance.com for my trips abroad.

CAR RENTAL: I have loved working with Discover Cars when I rent cars in country.

AIRPORT TRANSFERS: I have used these transfers many times and they are always great. If you’d like more options, I also recommend GetTransfers.com as they allow you to compare companies.

ACCOMMODATION: Find the best Turkey hotel deals on Booking.com.

CITY TOURS & DAY TRIPS: You can browse GetYourGuide’s website to find just the tour you’re looking for!

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