Stephanie Rockitter with daughter Chelsea Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: It was a subdued Thanksgiving — no big gatherings of family and friends doing barbecues and sitting around a table full of sumptuous foods, including roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn and pumpkin pies.

But it was still a delightful Thanksgiving for American expats in the UAE — a time spent with their loved ones (although via Zoom for many) and a time when they paused and remembered to be thankful for what they have and still be optimistic, despite the many challenges this year.

Thanksgiving is celebrated in the United States every fourth Thursday of November. Although it has historical roots in religious and cultural traditions, it has long been observed as a secular holiday and Americans celebrate it with family gatherings and social events. It also marks the start of the Christmas season.

All about family

Susan Simmons Whistler

“Thanksgiving is all about family,” as Susan Simmons Whistler succinctly described it. She told Gulf News on Friday: “We had a family gathering on Zoom. I have two children — one is in Denver and another in Vermont — they are 2,000 miles apart while my husband (William) and I are 5,000 miles away from them.”

Bill Whistler

“Bill and I ordered our dinner but our children were busy cooking, making stuffing, preparing the gravy, pies, chips, and roasting turkey — one had a vegan turkey and the other a giant turkey on rotisserie,” Susan shared. She added: “It’s not Thanksgiving without having turkey. Here in Dubai, we ordered our to-go dinner and we had turkey with stuffing, gravy and Brussel sprouts, which is another staple at Thanksgiving table.”

But one thing the American couple, who is originally from New York, missed most this year was the opportunity to prepare a large Thanksgiving banquet for friends. Bill said: “I loved to cook. I used to make meals for around 20 people. I always prepared for them unique dishes which I learnt from a very fancy cookbook by Martha Stewart and I enjoyed doing these great things every year.”

Thanksgiving in the UAE desert

For her ninth Thanksgiving in the UAE, Stephanie Rockitter, 58, spent the holiday in the desert of Abu Dhabi with friends from US, South Africa, Canadian and other nationalities. “It was fabulous — we had all the Thanksgiving food, including a turkey and pies,” said Stephanie, adding she preferred spending Thanksgiving in a rather serene environment. “I don’t miss the US but I do miss my family. I don’t miss people running like crazy to the malls or even stores being open on Thanksgiving.”

Gentle reminder from US Mission to UAE
The Embassy is recommending all within the US diplomatic community as well as private American citizens in the UAE to observe safeguards, precautions and regulations set forth by the UAE government to prevent the spread of COVID. There are local businesses offering options to celebrate the holiday that comply with local regulations, and we are directing any inquiries to that information.

“I used to cook a huge meal for about 15 people every Thanksgiving — turkey and everything — all wonderful yummy foods, including pecan and pumpkin pies,” added Stephanie, who is originally from North Carolina and a teacher in the UAE.

To sum it up, Thanksgiving was a day of fun, food, family and friends for American expats and now, as Susan put it: “After Thanksgiving, now we can officially flip the switch to Christmas.”

Kitsy Smith

"We still carry on the Thanksgiving tradition of eating all of the traditional food. We love eating turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. We also traditionally go around the table and talk about what we are thankful for, which is different this year," said US expat Kitsy Smith. "While we can’t see our extended family back in the United States, we are so happy for each other and what we have. We are so thankful to be living in this wonderful country as well. Having a holiday of Thanksgiving really helps you turn the situation around. We are thankful for what we have versus being upset about not being to celebrate with our extended family in the ways that we used to celebrate."