Because my parents live in Europe and I’ve lived in the States for the last 16 years, I’ve had lots of opportunity to indulge in what I call the (mostly) Family-Free Friendship Thanksgiving, a holiday I always look forward to. For the uninitiated, that’s when Thanksgiving turns into a cozy combination of all the best parties you’ve ever been to, but with lots of food and leftovers. Oh, and it gets started mid-afternoon (or earlier, if you enlist pre-festivities help), and a group nap before round two is always appropriate. Sound awesome? It is. But if you’re hosting, it can also be a little stressful.
So, after the jump, 10 tips to help keep things manageable, fun, and drama-free — just like Thanksgiving should always be.
1. Mind your guest list
This is your chance to reach outside your most intimate social circle and invite people you’d like to get to know better, who may not have anywhere else to go for the holiday. Foreign guests, especially those who are new to the country, are fun because you get to introduce them to a very American tradition (and pumpkin pie!). Plus, their addition to the party, besides their sparkling personality and unique stories, might be some delicious mousaka or some other fabulous dish from their home country. Foreign or not, introducing new peeps to your tightest social circle is a sure way to add a little flair to your Thanksgiving get-together.
2. Ask everyone to bring something
You don’t want to get stuck doing all the work and paying for everyone’s big meal, so make sure to ask each guest to bring something, whether it’s an entree, appetizer, dessert or some booze. If they have a favorite family recipe, invite them to bring that. This will spread the love and give everyone a small sense of ownership in the festivities, as well as being a big relief to your nerves and your wallet.
3. Have plenty of seating!
Even if you don’t plan on serving dinner at a sit-down table, you still need to make sure there are plenty of seats for all your guests. Eating a Thanksgiving meal off your lap is one thing; eating it while standing just isn’t going to cut it. If you lack a dining room and all you’ve got for seating is a sofa in the living room, buy or borrow a few folding chairs and some big comfy pillows to pull up to the coffee table (here are some more ideas for seating in small spaces). This doesn’t have to be the most formal thing in the world, but you do want to step things up and make your guests feel special.
4. Have plenty of booze!
My general rule of thumb is one bottle of wine per guest, one bottle of champagne per two guests, and an assortment of beer and liquor. (Don’t forget mixers: tonic, coke, juice, 7 Up.) If this is out of your budget, ask your guests to bring a bottle. And, of course, make sure you have some non-alcoholic bevvies for the teetotalers in your group.
5. Start preparing the weekend before
Any dishes that can be made ahead of time and either frozen or refrigerated should be started early. I like to make one dish a day starting on Sunday, so that when Thanksgiving Thursday rolls around, only the big things (like the bird and the stuffing) are left to worry about. Saturday is my big shopping day (make a list first and don’t forget beverages!), and over the whole weekend, I do a deep and thorough cleaning, so that before my guests arrive, I only need to do a quick pick-up and spot cleaning. If you need to borrow chairs or folding tables from friends or neighbors, this is the time to take care of that, too. You also want to make sure to pick up candles, wash your table linens, and take care of anything else you’re going to use to prettify your home.
6. Honor family traditions
Some of your guests may be relieved not to spend Thanksgiving with their crazy families this year; some may be missing them terribly. And probably all of them will have at least one family tradition — a recipe, a particular toast, stating one thing each person is thankful for — that always makes Thanksgiving Thanksgiving. So, honor those traditions and asks your guests to share them. Your party may not have a drunk Uncle Stan making inappropriate remarks at the dinner table, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still have a small dose of home for everyone.
7. Don’t try a new recipe
You have enough on your plate, so just stick to your tried and true recipes this time around. If you’re a cooking novice and don’t have any tried and true recipes, I’d suggest ordering a full meal from a place like Whole Foods, which offers entire Thanksgiving meals to go. (Note: the pre-cooked birds often take a couple hours to heat up, so plan accordingly.)
8. Decorate the table
The table is kind of the star of the show, so make sure it looks the part. Set it ahead of time so it looks pretty when guests begin arriving and you know for sure you have enough plates, utensils and glasses for everyone. If you’ve got a tablecloth or a runner you like, now’s the time to use it. Candles are a great addition to a tabletop, as is a floral centerpiece (a Mason jar with a few stems of a big-budded flowers with get the job done), a collection of gourds and small pumpkins, or even a bowl full of pine cones. If you’ve decided to forgo a sit-down meal at a dining table, at least set up the food in a pretty way on the kitchen counters or a buffet table. Casual is fine, but sloppy isn’t.
9. Plan a few activities
While it may take days to prepare, the Thanksgiving meal is usually consumed in about 20 minutes — add conversation and some wine and you’ll be occupied for an hour. So, have some activities to fill the time before everyone’s ready for round two: board games (my fave: “Apples to Apples“), a few movies, fun party games (here are a few ideas), even a group walk around the neighborhood. (My friends have a tradition of walking a mile to our favorite bar for a beer. The change of scenery and a little fresh air does wonders on a full stomach.)
10. Send guests home with leftovers
Before everyone goes home, have your guests help you strip the bird and consolidate leftovers. If you can, give everyone a little take-home plate (or container) with a small variety of the different leftovers. This helps you with your clean-up and ensures you don’t spend the whole weekend eating turkey and cranberry sandwiches (trust me, they stop tasting good after day two).
Original by Wendy Atterberry