An American Thanksgiving in Oz, with a Bun in the Oven

Photos: Anna Kooiman, Bondi Beach, Emma Wand Photography

Photos: Anna Kooiman, Bondi Beach, Emma Wand Photography

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Photos: Anna Kooiman, Bondi Beach, Emma Wand Photography

This opinion piece first ran on

I’ve enjoyed Thanksgiving as an American living in Ohio, North Carolina and New York. And now I enjoy living in Australia – a wonderful place except … Aussies don’t celebrate the wonderful holiday.

This is quite understandable, given that Australia is a place far, far away – where back in the 1600s there were plenty of kangaroos, but neither Native Americans nor Pilgrims.

What do you think of when you smell apple cinnamon and pumpkin spice? It’s something we don’t even have to think about as Americans, right? The holiday season, of course


I’m willing to bet you’re getting a warm, fuzzy feeling inside your tummy this very second. It’s why Starbucks makes such a killing this time of year selling their festive lattes. Those tempting aromas mean Thanksgiving is here and Christmas is just around the corner.

Let’s continue my game for a moment. What do you think of when you smell coconut sunscreen and salt in the air? Again, as Americans our mental rolodexes flip to beach vacations in the months of June, July and August.

OK. Now flip everything you know on its head. Let’s travel to another hemisphere. Let’s go to the wonderful land of Oz! A faraway land where the seasons and corresponding months are just the opposite of all I’ve ever known.

A land where Australian kids don’t grow up making pilgrim hats out of construction paper or making turkeys out of their handprints in preschool. What a shame!

I’m currently living in the Land Down Under and have a bun in the oven. I only have a couple months left until our due date, so as you can imagine – between making stroller, crib and car seat decisions – I’ve also been giving a lot of thought to family traditions.

My Aussie husband and I moved to Sydney a little over a year ago. It is an absolutely magical place. The people are cool, the culture is laid back, and I have to say, there is no beach in the U.S. (outside Hawaii) that can rival countless beaches in Oz.

Australia is paradise in a lot of ways. Particularly if you’re like me and just adore outdoor fitness and spending time with Mother Nature in some of her purest forms.

But when it comes time to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, I hate to say it, but … it just doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving and Christmas. And that makes me miss what I have always known. Home. America.

When I lived in the U.S., Thanksgiving traditions always felt wonderfully similar. It’s a lovely time of the year in America isn’t it? The air becomes a little fresher and leaves on the trees have transformed to brilliant, yellows, oranges, and reds.

Whether taking a stroll in New York City’s Central Park, tailgating for a football game in the Buckeye State, or leaf peeping in the North Carolina mountains, the fall air always seemed to glow. 

My new home is in Bondi Beach, which is Australia’s most iconic beach. So I certainly can’t complain about the natural beauty around me.

The November sand between my toes is relaxing. The blue blue BLUE water is ever refreshing. And the sunsets are both serene and inspiring.

But I have to say it feels very strange to be in tank tops and flip flops, trying to check off items on my Thanksgiving grocery list, in a town that wouldn’t dream of stocking frozen turkeys, pumpkin pie filling and extra cranberries in the month of November. 

Last year my husband wanted to make sure I felt at home, so we celebrated Thanksgiving with another couple he’d introduced me to who had recently moved to Sydney from San Francisco. It was a blast!

We all had different food assignments. Pumpkin pie proved to be the toughest to pull off. My new girlfriend searched all over the city for canned pumpkin and ended up spending close to $20 (in Australian currency) at a specialty food store.

None of us could find a big turkey in time, so we ended up just putting some lamb and salmon on the grill, and focusing on the “sides” instead. I put an Aussie twist on one of my favorite Turkey Day dishes … I made green bean casserole with a new secret Land Down Under ingredient… Vegemite.

This year I wanted to make sure we got to celebrate Thanksgiving again. It’s one of my absolute favorites. Another new girlfriend here in Oz is Canadian and was telling me during one of our weekly coastal walks that she wanted her young girls (ages 5 and 7) to learn her Thanksgiving traditions.

She asked if we could have a feast together. Who in their right mind would turn down a feast celebrating the first harvest? Not me. And funny enough, Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving almost identically to Americans. The holiday just falls a few weeks earlier on the calendar in America’s northern neighbor. 

When my husband and I walked into my friend’s house, the aromas instantly took me back home to America. The apple cider, the turkey roasting, the freshly baked pumpkin pie, the sweet potato casserole with melted brown sugar on top, and more.

I was in heaven and said, “Ahhhhhhhh!  It smells like Thanksgiving and Christmas in here!”

My friend (who also married a handsome Aussie bloke) said: “I am so glad you said that, because nobody here knows what I mean when I say apple cinnamon and pumpkin pie remind me of the holidays.”

This year our group planned the celebration far enough in advance to organize a gigantic turkey. And boy, did we stuff that turkey good! We each slaved over stoves for hours!

We found some American football on the “telly” for the pre-feast snacks. And then we all gathered around the lovely decorated table.

We taught my friend’s young girls the meaning of Thanksgiving and each went around the table to say what we were thankful for. And finally … the moment we had all been waiting for … we dug in until our bellies were stuffed and our American, Australian, and Canadian cultures, lovingly collided!

What a fabulous day. I can’t wait to teach my little boy to gobble turkey and give thanks every November, no matter where we are living in this big, interesting world.

Friends, I hope so much you have an amazing Thanksgiving holiday surrounded by people who love you. Thanks for keeping up with my Australia journey. Please continue following me on social media and my lifestyle website,

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Anna Kooiman moved to Sydney, Australia in Septemer of 2016 to be with her Aussie husband's family. She is a freelance host on several nationally broadcast Australian TV networks. Kooiman also launched a lifestyle, travel, and fitness website in December of 2016. Follow her on Twitter @annakooimanand visit her website