We're hosting Thanksgiving this year, not for the first time, but it feels like the first time in many ways because we're way more settled into our home than we were this time last year, and Kim and I both have family traveling from out of state to join us to celebrate together. No pressure, right. Last year we had clearly just moved in, our guests were prepped ahead of time and we all just collectively ignored the towering boxes that framed the perimeter of our dining room. A year later this feels like our first real Thanksgiving hosting.
The responsibility and planning behind hosting a major holiday can be stressful and overwhelming. Despite this being our largest hosted holiday yet (there will be thirteen of us!) I'm not nearly as stressed as I was the first time I hosted. I'd like to think that's because I've learned some key things along the way that have helped me relax so I can actually enjoy the day with my guests. Here are a few of my tips to make hosting Thanksgiving less stressful!
1) Wear a dark colored outfit: Don't wear white. I've always wanted to be one of those people who can wear white pants and make it through the day without a catastrophic embarrassment.. I've tried, and hilariously tried again.. and results in the form of dribbled chocolate ice-cream and the like have proven I'm not that person. When I'm entertaining I always wear dark colors which easily hide splatters from an over-boiling saucepan, or chocolate smudges from sweet little hands tugging at my shirt for attention, or what's even more likely-- when I drip red wine while laughing with guests. I'm not a total slob, but things happen when you're cooking and eating and I don't always throw on an apron (especially on my days outside the studio!) so this trick has saved me many times.
2) Put It All On The Table: Pull all your dishes, serving pieces, glassware, flatware, table linens, candles (unscented only at the table), and table decor onto the table the night before. I skipped this the last two years and both times my guests arrived and immediately commented, teasingly on the barren table. "I promise, Thanksgiving is happening here!" became something I said apologetically again and again as I rushed to find bowls to pour snacks into. Then when the meal was ready to serve I was again feverishly dashing around trying to find adequate serving pieces (a challenge even in my pottery filled cupboards) and embarrassedly wiping dust from my wine glasses hastily unpacked months before but not wiped down. This year I'm pulling everything out ahead of time, dusting and cleaning if needed, and setting the pieces on the table the night before.
3) Use Food to Decorate: Skip fussy floral arrangements that interrupt eyesight and conversation at the table and consider using in season fruits, vegetables, and herbs instead. These produce items provide tantalizing texture, lush color, and encourage appetites while sitting low enough in a bowl to add abundance to the tablescape without interfering with the meal experience. Another benefit is that even before the meal is presented your table will appear to runneth over, and guests will have a more enthusiastic reaction to that than the empty table decorated only with panicked Thanksgiving promises.
4) Encourage Your Guests to Be Involved: Plan activities related to both meal prep and some that are just plain fun to provide relaxing ways for everyone to settle in and enjoy their day off. We'll have our Wii set up with an entertaining and slightly physical game that'll definitely melt the ice and let kids burn off a little of that holiday excitement energy. Weather permitting we've also stocked up on dry kindling for our fire pit, and asked my parents to bring their Cornhole set (bean bag toss to all you north of the Mason-Dixon). That way when people look bored we have a range of activities already planned and ready to go.
5) Give Guests Helpful Tasks: This point relates back to the previous tip regarding meal related activities. Many of your guests want to be involved and will feel more connected to the celebration (and you, and others in the group-- which is a great way for two families to get to know one another) if they're working cooperatively on a task. Remember those table linens you placed on the table the night before? Ask a guest to be in charge of tying each with a ribbon and slipping a sprig of your favorite herb into each one before placing one at each setting.
6) Have A Cleanup Plan: Okay, so this is one of those things that kinda surprises me that I need to plan. But having a clean-up plan, especially when you know you have a preference for how things are cleaned will make the day flow much smoother. Some guests genuinely want to help with cleanup efforts and their feelings can get hurt if you insist on doing everything yourself. I get it, you're the one who knows which pieces are dishwasher safe and what kind of cleaner your table's surface can handle, but well-meaning guests don't have that same information and things can get unintentionally mishandled. To avoid this issue it's so simple: have a clear plan of how you want things cleaned and where those clean-up items can be found. Your marble table requires a special cleaner and soft cloth? No problem. Have those items in easy reach for your helpful guest and direct them to that so they don't accidentally use an abrasive chemical cleaner. Same goes for your silverware and china whether you need to hand washing and polish dry, or if those items are dishwasher friendly. Communicate with your helping hands and relax as the meal gets cleaned up without any issue.
7) Let The Ideal Go: That image you have in your mind of the ideal Thanksgiving meal. Let it go. The first Thanksgiving we hosted, Kim picked up a casserole dish filled with mashed potatoes and the entire thing slipped from her hands, smashing onto the table with a shattering crash and a cascade of fluffy, sticky starch. Oh, and one of my favorite vintage casserole dishes was now in a thousand pieces. What did I do? Well, I didn't roll with it as cooly as I wish I had. I tried not to react much, and I certainly tried not to overact, but I was clearly upset the entire meal and she felt awful, and our solo friend in attendance felt awful, and then I felt awful about all of that. We were better by dessert but I remembered my reaction and steered clear of it the following year when another potato mishap occurred. This time our potatoes overcooked and become dense, impossible to mash, starchy boulders. We tried roast, microwaving, reboiling, and nothing worked. Instead of being upset I laughed heartily with my mom and best friend as we tried repeatedly to do anything to make those potatoes edible before finally throwing the whole lot in the trash. The takeaway, let the ideal go because laughter is always better.
I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your friends and family! If you're looking for an easy craft to keep hands busy in the days ahead of the meal, this DIY Faux Porcelain Napkin Ring project is a big hit! There's still a few days left to place domestic orders for arrival before Thanksgiving next week! Shop our handmade shop here and my vintage collection on Chairish here!