Thanksgiving is my husband’s favorite holiday. He loves that, unlike other holidays, it’s relatively non-commercial. Rather than being driven by retailers and merchandise, Thanksgiving is what he considers an uncorrupted holiday—one in which the focus of the day is on the true intended purpose of the holiday, to give thanks for the blessings in our lives.
Since he is unburdened by any of the duties related to preparing the feast that he cherishes as part of our Thanksgiving tradition, his view of the holiday is untainted. This is probably why it seems like a great idea to invite everyone he knows to join us in celebration that day since he is completely unaware of the added effort and expense that each additional guest creates. Also, as one of 14 children to a true Wondermom, his mother never gave the slightest indication that preparing one’s home for dozens of guests and enough food to satisfy their appetites presented any difficulty whatsoever.
So, each year, I can count on hosting anywhere from 5-15 guests in addition to our happy family of six. The first couple of years were extremely stressful. Through trial and error though, I learned a lot about how to make the entire experience much more pleasant for everyone (including me). I’m sure many of you have worked out some of these ideas for yourself, but I’m sharing them anyway hoping that perhaps one or two will be new to you and will help you enjoy your hosting experience.
Plan Your Menu and Schedule
Rather than reinventing the wheel, I took some notes from my mother-in-law’s Thanksgiving playbook and modeled much of my menu and Thanksgiving Day schedule after hers. Sometime between 11 and Noon, I put out a buffet of appetizers. Usually I try one or two new recipes, but here are the appetizers that are always included:
- Cocktail Meatballs
- Cocktail Weenies
- Shrimp Platter
- Taco Dip
- Veggie Platter
- Relish Tray
I aim to serve dinner between 4 and 5 pm. Again, I like to try a new side dish recipe each year (this year I am trying this recipe for Stuffed Acorn Squash from Feeding Big), but the staples I stick with are:
- Roast Turkey
- Mashed Potatoes
- Sweet Potato Casserole
- Green Bean Casserole
- Cranberry Sauce
- Dinner Rolls
- Wine (for adults)
- Sparkling Cider (for kids and adults who don’t drink)
After dinner, I like to clean up a bit. Usually a couple of the guests offer to help and we continue our conversations while we clear the table and do dishes. Then, the entire group gets back together and we might play a game or just chat some more. Around 7, I serve dessert.
- Apple Pie
- Pumpkin Pie
- Vanilla Ice Cream
Establish a Detailed Schedule
Since I do stick primarily with the same menu and timeline, I keep a file that includes my Thanksgiving schedule and checklist. I start three weeks out and include everything up to clean up after the feast. Each year I have to tweak the list a little depending on who we are inviting and whether or not any of our guests will be staying with us before or afterwards. This is how, with only one oven, I am able to serve all of the food hot to all of the guests at the same time since my husband’s ideal Thanksgiving calls for a sit-down dinner where we can all eat and share our thanks. I prepare as much of the food as possible ahead of time so that I only have to warm the food before serving. Also, I rely heavily on crockpots and buffet servers to heat and keep the food warm.
I’ve adapted my list so that anyone can use it. Since the appetizer lunch isn’t part of everyone’s tradition, I’ve omitted those items from the pre-Thanksgiving checklist but left serving lunch in the Thanksgiving Day schedule since you won’t want to forget to feed your family at some point before the big feast.
For a printable version of these checklists, click the following link: Thanksgiving Checklists.
In my notes, I plan exactly which serving dishes and utensils I will use so that I know in advance if I have to borrow, rent or buy anything. Years ago I stocked up on plain white plates and salad bowls at Ikea and gold chargers at Walmart. Then, I snagged a deal on a flatware set and wine glass set for 20 people on Black Friday. If you don’t plan on hosting a big group every year, consider borrowing supplies from a friend or renting them from a party supply store. Likewise, consider purchasing or renting buffet warmers or crock pots to keep food hot if you can’t fit everything in your oven at once.
Don’t forget to stock up on disposable storage containers so you can send leftovers home with your guests. Also, if some of your guests are bringing children who are older or younger than your own children, think about purchasing or borrowing games, toys, or movies that will help keep them entertained during their visit.
Delegate and Accept Help
In my Wondermom aspirations, I used to think I was somehow failing if I allowed anyone else to help me. I am glad that I eventually figured out that in allowing others to help you, you are actually doing them a favor. In general, people do not like to feel indebted to others. We all want to feel like we are pulling our weight, that we are contributing our fair share, that we don’t take advantage of others. So, when a guest asks, “What can I bring?” take them up on their offer!
I am not a great baker so I usually ask if the offering guest would like to bring a dessert. Also, while I like choosing wine, I’m not very knowledgeable about beer so I will usually suggest that a male guest bring beer. If a guest is going to be joining us for our appetizer buffet, I will suggest that they bring an appetizer. Also, I don’t have a keen eye for decorating and depending on who is joining us, will ask that they bring flowers for a centerpiece in lieu of a hostess gift or side dish (though if any of our guests this year happen to make and bring this adorable casserole cozy from Organized 31 as a hostess gift, I certainly won’t complain). So, if there’s anything you don’t personally enjoy making, pass it off. Your guests will be happy to contribute so that they don’t feel like they’re taking advantage of your generosity.
As far as delegating, although my husband doesn’t help prepare any of the food for our Thanksgiving feast, he does chip in A LOT in the days leading up to the holiday. He helps me clean the house and to keep the kids on task. He also sometimes helps with the shopping and running any errands that need to be done. My family has often told me that they’d much rather do a little extra work to help get ready than to deal with the stressed-out crazy lady I become when I try to do it all myself.
Hopefully these tips and checklists will help your Thanksgiving party go smoothly so that you can enjoy the company of your friends and family without feeling burdened or overwhelmed. If you are instead being hosted in someone else’s home as a guest for the holiday, you’ll want to check out this article from Coconut Head’s Survival Guide on how to be the perfect guest for Thanksgiving.