How to Throw the Perfect Thanksgiving Gathering

Thanksgiving turkey with trimmings

Don't Stress Out

Almost everyone would agree that holidays can be stressful. Yet, somehow the faces around the table at Thanksgiving parties are always smiling. That’s because food is a foolproof crowd pleaser, and let’s face it, Thanksgiving celebrates food.

Those holiday themed dishes and decorative table clothes come out of hiding to showcase everything from store-bought-stuffing to made-from-scratch cranberry sauce. You’ll notice that guests enjoy looking at the holiday table almost as much as eating what’s on it.

Tom Turkey manages to momentarily nudge out football as he struts the spotlight among the champagne glasses and fancy napkin rings. Even the Thanksgiving table for children is decked out with a holiday patterned candy dish and a fall themed table runner.

So don’t worry if you have a few guests who arrive in a bad mood: when they see your Thanksgiving china filled with delectable homemade treats or goodies from the caterer, those frowns will turn upside down.

Not surprisingly, though, it is easy to stress out this time of year, especially if you don’t plan properly. Discovering that you’re just one couple shy on the glassware or the fancy linen napkins quickly leads to pre-holiday panic.

If you’re looking forward to your party, but not a tension headache, follow the simple tips below and throw the perfect Thanksgiving gathering:

Formal, Laid-Back, or Outside-the-Box

Before you pick a date for your Thanksgiving gathering or decide what holiday centerpiece to use, ask yourself what type of party you’ll be throwing. If it’s a formal dinner, make sure you locate your Tiffany decorations, Neiman Marcus china, and Villeroy & Boch silverware–or some great knock-offs.

Also, remember things like place cards and hors d’oeuvre trays if you’re planning a cocktail hour before the main dinner. Count the courses you’ll be serving, and make sure you have dinnerware for each dish.

Lists are always helpful when organizing anything, but for formal events they’re a must. One forgotten item at a dinner party can lead to considerable embarrassment.

If you’re planning an informal get-together, your turkey or ham will likely replace the Thanksgiving centerpiece, and the side dishes will surround it in their own bowls and containers from which guests serve themselves. At such a gathering, separate utensils for every course and place cards are usually unnecessary.

However, even for informal parties, you must have enough pieces to accommodate everything; monkey dishes for the cranberry sauce, small festive plates for rolls and butter, and dessert plates for the highly anticipated pumpkin pie.

If you’re planning something different, such as a potluck Thanksgiving gathering, focus on ambience and decorations. Since everyone else is bringing the food, put your best foot forward with your decor.

Bring out your best china, and consider burning some pumpkin spice incense or holiday potpourri to set the mood.

Thanksgiving chair covers are a wonderful addition to your decor as well. You should also consider investing in a few party favors to place at each dinner setting. Votive candles in leaf-shaped holders or tiny bags of gourmet popcorn tied with orange or brown ribbons are great choices. A sugar cone cornucopia stuffed with pretzels or candy is another can’t-miss Thanksgiving party favor.

Thanksgiving decor display

See JoJo's Amazon Thanksgiving Decor Page

Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Sending invitations is an easy task, but make sure you follow up to discover who’s actually coming. Holiday calendars fill up quickly, so invite your guests three to four weeks in advance. Call those who failed to RSVP to ensure an exact headcount–or as near to one as possible. Determine how many children will be attending as well, so you can have some finicky-child holiday foods on hand.

Invite people in a super casual way, such as through a text or social media message, or send traditional invitations through the mail. The type of party usually determines the way you handle invitations.

Buying Thanksgiving themed invitations online is an easy way to cross that task off your list. Alternatively, you can invite people with a simple phone call. Regardless of the invitation method you choose, listing your menu is a fun way to tempt people into a commitment. There’s no denying it; everyone loves food!

Shop Around the Clock

Shopping for your Thanksgiving gathering is an obvious step, but one that’s often poorly planned. Many people do all their party shopping at once, but this isn’t the best option. If time allows, start far in advance of your party date and dedicate a modest amount of time on specific days to pick off your errands. This allows you to focus on one aspect of your gathering at a time instead of the helter-skelter affair shopping quickly becomes when you’re buying everything at once.

Choose a dedicated day and spend a few minutes shopping for any extra cutlery, dishes, glassware or food containers you discovered you needed. If you want a new fall-themed tablecloth or need an extra carving fork and knife, get these at the same time to keep your shopping organized. Don’t forget children’s Thanksgiving table settings, spill-proof cups, and holiday to-go containers.

Choose another day and focus on your party decorations. This way, you’ll avoid picking up pieces at different times only to discover they don’t match the chosen color or theme. Whether you’re shopping for holiday wreaths, Thanksgiving themed wall hangings, pumpkin baskets, or a giant cornucopia centerpiece, it’s easy to coordinate the different pieces when you’re shopping for them all at once.

Obviously, food shopping comes last, as you want edibles to stay fresh for your party. Read through every recipe you’ll be using and make a list of the items you still need to purchase. Go through your cupboards thoroughly to determine what you already have. Many seasonings and spices last for several years, and you may have some that you forgot about, so take inventory before you buy unnecessary items. Remember that edibles such as fruit, custards, and pies are best when bought the day before your party, but don’t leave anything else for the last minute.

People dancing at thanksgiving party

People dancing at a Thanksgiving party

Don’t Build a Bash to Have it Crash

Although the primary activity at your Thanksgiving gathering is…well…eating, you don’t want the event to fizzle after the last bite of pie has been consumed. All your hard work and dedication to make a grand bash shouldn’t go up in smoke once the food is gone. Never overlook planning some type of activities, even if they’re nothing extraordinary. Of course, given the season, you can schedule your party for a game day, but it’s always wise to have alternative things to do for those who desire something beyond the typical football-dominated hours.

Thanksgiving Karaoke

Everyone who throws parties has a Singing Machine somewhere. Get yours out of its mothballs and set up your own karaoke event in your family room or at your home bar.
If your guests are particularly fond of such activity, don’t be afraid to get some extra holiday party favors and give prizes as you go along. Don’t forget to jokingly reserve a prize for the worst rendition of a song.

Two Truths and a Lie

This game is easy: each guest writes two truths and a lie about himself or herself and the papers are folded up and thrown into a pumpkin shaped cookie jar or other decorative holiday bowl. The host then pulls them out at random and reads them to the others. Guests must identify which pieces go with each person, and ultimately, what the lie is!

Don’t Forget the Classics

Don’t forget those universal classics, like win, lose, or draw, and charades. If your group is not the party animal type, Trivia is a failsafe choice to keep the fun going. Decades of Trivia is a terrific option in this category. Mad Libs have also made a spectacular comeback recently. An oh-so-easy game to initiate, Mad Libs are surprisingly amusing and entertaining. 

Final Tips

It’s not as difficult as it may seem to throw a successful Thanksgiving gathering. Simply use your intuition when deciding on a menu, activities, and even the type of party you create. Make sure you invite at least one or two “life of the party” types, as such individuals prove invaluable if things start to lag. Try to plan out a loosely followed schedule for your event to ensure it doesn’t end too soon or continue to the next morning!

By being both organized and creative, you can plan a Thanksgiving gathering that’s guaranteed to outshine any other party on the block. 

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