How To Host Thanksgiving For the First Time

Nothing says "grown-up" like hosting a family holiday for the first time.

White and Gold China on Teal and Rose Table Cloth for Thanksgiving
If your special occasion china is simple like the one here, that means you have an unlimited amount of choices when it comes to setting the table. We decided to go with bold teal and rose accent colors instead of the traditional autumn-themed accents. Break Out the Jewel TonesWhile there's no changing the formality of these two heirlooms—Haviland's Silver Anniversary fine china and Gorham's Strasbourg silver (both available from— you can infuse modern energy onto the table with colorful linens. The bright block-printed tablecloth (made of Schuyler Samperton's Woodley in Poppy) pushes the palette toward teal, deep rose, and straw rather than browns and golds.Balance Fine and FunThe trick to keeping fancy tables from feeling fussy is compromise. The napkins may be starched, but we chose dusty blue from Sferra Fine Linens rather than pure white. Low, amber-colored water glasses from Hawkins New York counter the dressiness of bell-shaped goblets (Blanco Wine Glass). Perforated votive holders from ABC Carpet & Home and the Sunday Shop's Rope Taper Candles in Terrain brass candlesticks create flickering light in an offbeat way. Mixing high tapers and low votives provides the optimal candle glow. Calligraphed place cards rest in rattan holders that could easily appear on a casual spring table.Arrange Flowers a Little MessierStart out with two similar—but not identical—vases to help create an effortless, pulled-straight-from-the-cabinet effect. Fill each of the vessels with a combination of white roses and dried hydrangeas to set a calm, neutral tone that won't compete with the vibrant patterned tablecloth. Then give a little extra texture to the two arrangements with a few scabiosas and berry clippings. Make sure the berries are long enough to drape loosely over the sides to achieve a more dramatic effect. Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Produced: Page Mullins

If you've never hosted a holiday before, it can feel intimidating. Hosting comes with a lot of responsibility and a long to-do list, but with the right amount of preparation, it can be a breeze. While Thanksgiving means more dishes than normal, chances are you've mastered most of the classic ones already. It's important to get all your ducks in a row as far as the menu, the guest list, and the decorations go, so you can plan your time accordingly and make the day as relaxing as it can be. The host deserves to enjoy the holiday as well, so enlist the help of some extra hands when they're available. No matter the size of the gathering, remember your guests will be thrilled to spend time with you on this holiday, so don't get too stressed over the details. The most important part of hosting is to remember to enjoy yourself and your company.

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. Don't try to make a recipe for the very first time on Thanksgiving—either give yourself a practice round or two or stick to recipes you know and love. 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 with these recipes that will satisfy any crowd:

Casual Thanksgiving

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving

Kid-Friendly Thanksgiving

Vintage Thanksgiving

If you even think you have people attending with dietary restrictions, find out exactly what they are and adjust the menu accordingly.

Make a baking and cooking schedule, especially if you're working with just one oven, and invest in a warming tray if you can. One helpful way to set your schedule is to see how many baking dishes you can fit in the oven at once with empty pans while it's turned off. Don't expect to be able to fit two casseroles and a turkey in there at the same time only to throw off your plan the day of. Plus, don't forget to see exactly how long your turkey needs to safely thaw if you purchase it frozen.

Roasted Herb Turkey and Gravy
Greg DuPree

Recipe: Roasted Herb Turkey and Gravy

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.

Don't be afraid to ask your guests to bring a dish. If they want to bring something and you're not afraid of being too type A, send links to trusted recipes (from Southern Living, of course) to take out the guesswork (and best manage that ever-important oven schedule we mentioned).

If baking isn't your thing, don't force it. Go to your favorite bakery and pick up something special. Bonus: This will save precious oven space. And finally, as one editor said, "Sister Schubert Rolls. No need to spend time when perfection (in its own handy container) already exists."

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 won't break the bank and won't overwhelm you. Consider making easy DIY place cards; this will cut down on guest confusion on T-Day.

It's not just individual place settings that can be prepped in advance: Once you have your menu, plan and lay out your serving dishes and utensils. That way, you know what you are using to bake and serve each recipe, in case you need to ask a friend or family member to bring an extra Pyrex dish or silver serving spoon over. Label each dish with sticky notes with what will go in them (i.e. turkey, sweet potato casserole, green beans, etc.) so you don't forget.

Cork Turkey Place Card for Kids' Thanksgiving Table Setting
Robbie Caponetto; Design: Mariée Ami; Styling: Kathleen Varner

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.

Come up with things for your guests to do if you don't want them in the kitchen with you while you prepare the meal; for example, set up a game of cornhole in the backyard, display a DIY Bloody Mary bar, and always, always, always, put on the day's football.

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.

Big-Batch Mulled Cider
Victor Protasio; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall; Prop Styling: Christine Keely

Recipe: Big-Batch Mulled Cider

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 themselves. Remember to have fun (but with moderation when it comes to alcohol). Keep your wits about you and hold off on too many celebration libations until your last course is out of the oven or off the stove.

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