How to Host Thanksgiving for the First Time

Nothing says “grown-up” like hosting Thanksgiving for the first time.

Kaylee Hammonds
Thanksgiving Turkey
Hector M. Sanchez

1. Make a Plan

Take a deep breath. Get out some paper and a pen. Figure out the following: how many people will be attending? Where will the meal be served? What is your comfort level in the kitchen–do you have go-to recipes? If so, make them a part of your meal. Figure out your menu, and identify things that can be made ahead of time, and then actually make them ahead of time. If you don’t have any idea what to serve, start here. If you even think you have people attending with dietary restrictions, find out exactly what they are and adjust the menu accordingly.

2. Accept Help

Do not be too proud. This is important. Nothing ensures a Thanksgiving hosting disaster like biting off more than you can reasonably chew. If someone offers to come over and help you move your furniture around, say yes. If a friend needs somewhere to go and feels like they need to earn their keep by swinging by the liquor store for wine and beer, let them. Grandma still wants to make her cranberry sauce? Yes, please bring it.

3. Set the Table

Do this the day (or several days) before hosting Thanksgiving dinner. Not only will it leave you with one less thing to do on the big day, it can identify gaps in your tableware situation. Short on spoons? Better to know now than when you’ve got a room full of people and Aunt Jenny can’t have dessert because there aren’t enough utensils. You may be tempted to go overboard with decorations. We get it: the lure of Pinterest is strong. But a nice tablecloth, some pretty napkins, and a solid flower arrangement will do just fine, won’t break the bank, and won’t make you crazy. Consider using place cards; this will cut down on guest confusion on T-Day.

4. Buy Your Groceries

Make a list. Go to the store. Purchase the list. Do this a few days ahead of time, and you’ll not only have time to prep the dishes that can be made ahead, you’ll have plenty of time to run back to the store for whatever it is that you inevitably forgot. You do not want to be one of those frantic, zombie-like people in the grocery store early Thursday morning, having a meltdown about parsnips.

5. Set Boundaries

In hosting Thanksgiving, as in so many other facets of life, boundaries are important. Send invitations clearly stating the time you’d like guests to arrive. Demand that they RSVP. If people are staying overnight, you need to know that, and if you are not equipped to host guests for a night, they need to know that. Stray guests arriving two hours early can wreck your carefully planned prep-time, and unexpected overnight guests might be the last thing you want after it’s all over and you just want to curl up on the couch and drink the rest of the bourbon.

6. Don’t Forget Beverages

Often overlooked, beverages are an important part of this equation. Don’t forget to stock non-alcoholic choices for children or those who don’t want to drink. One option? A big slow-cooker full of spiced cider, with bourbon or rum on the side for those who want it. Abandon the idea of making individual cocktails. That is folly. Wine with dinner is traditional, but don’t stress about it. Offer a good, hearty red and a crisp white, and just pass the bottles around the table, letting guests serve themselves.

7. Enjoy Yourself

This one is easy to forget. One facet of enjoying yourself while hosting Thanksgiving is making sure you don’t look like a mess when guests arrive. Pick out your outfit early, make sure that it’s clean and ready, and leave enough time to wash the flour, butter and gravy out of your hair/off of your face. Then, as the doorbell starts to ring and your home starts to fill, just follow your carefully prepared game-day plan. And if your carefully prepared game-day plan falls apart? Don’t worry about it–everyone is on your side, willing to help, and honestly just happy that they aren’t hosting Thanksgiving this year themselves.
Get our favorite Thanksgiving recipes for pies, sides, and leftovers.