Hosting a Happy Thanksgiving

Hosting Thanksgiving

Ah… Thanksgiving. Don’t you love it? More food than you can eat, no gift-giving responsibilities, something all Americans can share together, a day to focus on what we have instead of what we have not, permission to nap; it is all good, right? For the most part, I agree. At the same time, for those responsible for hosting the feast, it can be a bit stressful. Here is a timeline to help get you through.

Before Thanksgiving Week:

Make hospitality decisions

  1. Who will sleep where? Do you need to purchase/borrow air mattresses?
  2. What towels will everyone use and which bathrooms will they use?
  3. What supplies do you need to stock up on? (toilet paper, toothbrushes, shampoo, coffee, etc.)
  4. What pillows and blankets will each guest use?
  5. How will guests arrive at your home? Do they need an airport pick up?
  6. Are guests bringing babies or children? Is special equipment needed, such as cribs or high chairs?
  7. Is there space in the closet for their clothes? Do you need to empty out drawers and/or add a few empty hangers? 

Decide on your menu

  1. What will you make?
  2. What will others bring?
  3. What special dietary restrictions will you need to accommodate?
  4. What will you serve to drink? Do you need to buy extra ice?
  5. What time will you serve dinner?
  6. Will you serve appetizers? If so, which ones and when?
  7. Do you need to get any condiments that you don’t normally use but guests might want?
  8. Will you offer coffee & tea with dessert? Do you have enough sugar/sweetener/creamers?
  9. When will you cook each dish? (write down the day & time for each one)

Plan the physical layout

  1. Where will guests put their coats when they arrive?
  2. Where will guests put the food they bring? (ideally somewhere away from the cooking zone)
  3. Where will guests gather before the meal (e.g. for cocktails)?
  4. Will you have a fire in a fireplace? Who will tend this? Do you need to buy wood?
  5. Where will guests sit to eat dinner? Do you need to set up extra tables and/or add in table leaves?
  6. Will you serve from a buffet or at the table?
  7. What will be your seating plan? Will you assign seating? Will there be a separate children’s table?
  8. Do you need trivets and/or table pads?
  9. Do you need a side table or extra serving surface in the dining room?
  10. Where will you set up the bar? What will you place there (e.g. corkscrew, bottle opener, ice bucket, drink markers, etc.) Will this be “self-serve” or will someone be in charge of making sure guests have drinks?
  11. Do you need extra cold storage (e.g. a cooler or outside fridge)?
  12. Will you take a group photo before the meal? Who will take it, when and where?
  13. Will the turkey be carved in advance or at the table? Do you need a special knife?
  14. Where will dessert be served?
  15. Where will you set up the coffee/tea? Will it be self-serve?
  16. Will you play music during the day? If so, what?
  17. Will there be football viewing? If so, where and when?
  18. Where will you collect trash? Do you need extra receptacles? How about for recyclables? 

Design your table

  1. Will you use a tablecloth and/or placemats? How about a runner?
  2. Will you use chargers or other decorative dishes?
  3. Will you use china, daily dishes or paper and plastic?
  4. Which silverware will you use? Does anything need to be cleaned or polished? [Note: it is is handy to have a separate set of silverware strictly for entertaining so you aren’t trying to empty the dishwasher at the last minute]
  5. Which glasses will you have on the table (and which at the bar)? [Note: when setting a formal table with glasses, working from the center to the right, the order is water, red wine, white wine]
  6. Which napkins will you use? Will you use napkin rings?
  7. Which salt and pepper shakers will you use? (place shakers at both ends if you have a long table)
  8. How will you serve butter/olive oil for bread?
  9. What will be your centerpiece? (flowers, cornucopia, garland, holiday decorations, etc.)
  10. Which candles and candleholders will you use? [Note: you can supplement real candles with battery-operated flameless candles to minimize risk of fire on a busy day.]
  11. Will you use place cards? If so, what kind? [Note: this can be a great project for little ones who are underfoot.]
  12. Which serving dishes/platters and utensils will you use for each dish? [Tip: it is helpful to put a note in/on each dish to remind yourself of what food item should go where during the last minute rush.]

Prepare everything you can in advance

  1. Polish silver
  2. Clean crystal
  3. Iron table linens
  4. Clean the oven (Thanksgiving tends to bring “peepers”)
  5. Decide what you will wear (and make sure it is clean)
  6. Buy all shelf stable items and paper products
  7. Buy wine/liquor/champagne/seltzer/soda/etc.
  8. Prep food that can be made in advance
  9. Set up a playlist to run during the day

Early Thanksgiving Week:

  1. Run laundry
  2. Complete your grocery shopping
  3. Thaw your turkey, if frozen 
  4. Set up for overnight guests

Wednesday Before Thanksgiving:

  1. Cook cranberry relish/sauce
  2. Prepare side dishes that can be refrigerated
  3. Dry bread cubes for stuffing (if you are using fresh)
  4. Chop onions & other vegetables
  5. Prepare salad ingredients
  6. Pre-measure ingredients/spices for food you will prepare on Thursday
  7. Bake pies
  8. Thaw whipped topping
  9. Buy extra ice, if needed 
  10. Chill white wine/champagne/soft drinks 
  11. Set the table
  12. Empty trash and add extra bags to the bottom of your bins

Thanksgiving Day:

  1. Get turkey in the oven
  2. Prepare side dishes and keep them warm in a slow cooker or warming drawer
  3. Set up the coffee/tea so you all you have to do is push “start”
  4. Prepare and set out appetizers and drinks
  5. Assemble and dress the salad
  6. Uncork the wine
  7. While turkey is sitting, make the gravy and bake the rolls 
  8. Light candles
  9. Fill water glasses
  10. Take the “holiday photo”
  11. Serve and relax!

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A few extra thoughts:

Once Thanksgiving Day arrives, enjoy it. Don’t sweat over food that gets burned or items that get spilled. Relinquish perfectionism and focus on making positive memories with your friends and family.

Don’t be afraid to delegate. Most guests want to help, but they need to be assigned a job. Helpers can be enlisted to fill water glasses, dress the salad, light the candles, carry items to the table, say grace, wash dishes, etc.

It is a nice gesture to offer guests the opportunity to take leftovers home. Consider stocking up on some affordable plastic storage containers that you don’t mind giving away.

*     *     *     *     *

What tips do you have for hosting Thanksgiving?

22 thoughts on “Hosting a Happy Thanksgiving”

  1. Believe it or not, I have never fully hosted by myself. I usually host with my mom. But still, the best advice is to take a few moments to breathe and enjoy the day. Happy (early) Thanksgiving now, Seana 🙂

  2. Remembering to allow enough time to thaw the turkey is critical! I read somewhere it’s not good to put it in hot water though most people think it’ll thaw quicker that way, but rather to submerge it in a cold water bath. I host Easter so for Turkey Day I just have to think about a few veggie side dishes.

    1. A warm water thaw is a big “no no” for turkey. Experts tend to say Tuesday, but I don’t think this is long enough. Nothing is worse than pulling out your turkey on Thursday and finding it is still half frozen. The cold water bath, changing the water every 30 minutes, is a better alternative if this happens. Of course, critical to remember to disinfect the sink if you soaked the turkey inside. Nobody wants to make everyone sick on Thanksgiving:)

    1. Repetition does make it easier- I agree! I suppose I could jazz up the menu, but everyone seems happy to eat “the same old things,” so that is pretty much what I make. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Marcia:)

  3. This is brilliant! We are not hosting this year but still planning SO many logistics with puppy surgery post-care and what to do with the cat and whether to take two cars or not. So much to plan!
    You’ve covered SO MUCH!

  4. What a comprehensive list! I don’t know what I’d do without my Thanksgiving (and other parties) lists. They help reduce stress because I know what I need to do and when. My husband and I love hosting, especially Thanksgiving. We tag team it. He’s the turkey, stuffing and gravy maker. I’m the pie, salad, and side dish maker. We share the food shopping, house prep, cleaning, and set-up. The most important part, though, is enjoying the time with our loved ones. Lots of love and time goes into the prep, but if you’re just stressed out during the time everyone’s gathered, that’s not good. I loved your point about having things to delegate. It makes guests feel more comfortable if they can help. I never refuse offers of help and always have things that people can do, IF they want to. Wishing you and your loved ones a wonderful, joy-filled Thanksgiving!
    Linda Samuels recently posted…What Happens When You Focus on Gratitude?My Profile

    1. Wishing the same back you and yours, Linda. As I cook I will now be imagining you and your husband tag-teaming in your kitchen. What a wonderful thing to share together. I hope your table overflows with abundance, love and joy:)

  5. In years past, I would drive down the road to my mother’s to get the turkey ready and assist with some of the details before racing home to change clothes and bring my family back with me. My mantra was always ‘do your best and be done’ instead of stressing over ‘perfection’. Now, my family is scattered. I’ll be having a lovely quiet thanksgiving with a dear friend. Happy Thanksgiving, Seana!

    1. Each year is different, for every holiday. When we are used to a big family tradition, it can be sad to miss those who aren’t with us. I have found that the most meaningful moments in each year’s celebrations are the ones that surprise me… little blessings that I never would have anticipated. I hope you experience some of these this year, and wish you and your dear friend a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  6. The holiday season is a very busy time for most people, and what I stood out for me with this post, is that you continually mention “planning in advance.” That’s definitely the best way to stay ahead of the game. Feeling rushed and forgetting things during this time can be stressful, and it can also take away the enjoyment that the season offers.

    1. I agree Shannon. Timing is often the most difficult aspect of any project, including cooking a big meal or hosting a big party. Whatever we can get done in advance is an investment in a smoother, more pleasant holiday. Have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

  7. I use and revise my recipe ingredients Excel file yearly. We usually only change the side dishes and leave the other ingredients on the list from year to year. It helps me tabulate all the ingredient totals. I have in the past overbought several ingredients. Really, how many onions do I need? This spreadsheet has helped me immensely stay on budget over the years.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…7 Easy Thanksgiving Time Saving Tips to make your party a huge successMy Profile

    1. Having a system for recording your menu and ingredients is brilliant. The fact that you update it each year shows your keen organizing mind:) I make mostly the same things each year. Seems that is what people want, and I am to please! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Sabrina!

  8. I never host holiday gatherings anymore because everyone has much more space than we do. For that reason, I’m frequently a guest, and I have to say how much I appreciate being offered leftovers. I do know someone who stocks up on containers for that purpose, and it’s extra nice to know they planned to share the leftovers.

    1. I’m always happy to have a way to share the leftovers, since my husband and I could never eat them all anyway:) Having some containers you don’t mind never seeing again makes this easy. In fact, I always have some of these around for anytime I entertain.

    1. We had a great day… definitely ate too much. But that is all part of the fun! Have you ever had the traditional Thanksgiving spread? Do you have an equivalent day over there?

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