It’s holiday time! The season brings with it a multitude of feelings: excitement, nostalgia, joy, gratitude, and, of course, stress. And no wonder: if you’re tasked with holiday entertaining, there’s an unavoidable amount of pressure involved. Whether it’s your first time hosting Thanksgiving dinner or your 10th, the event can be riddled with specific expectations and emotional ties (not to mention an endless list of to-dos) that can leave any hostess dazed and confused.
But holiday festivities are meant to be enjoyed by everyone—including you. Whether you’ve happily volunteered or been unwillingly designated to host the big meal, you can make it meaningful and festive for all, and actually relax and have fun, too! Here’s how:
Our time-honored family traditions provide meaning to holiday celebrations. They remind us who we are, what we believe, and why we surround ourselves with those we do, and they take us back to a time when the holidays were full of wonder and excitement. But as we build and shape our adult lives, we have to decide what works best for us—not for our parents and grandparents.
Keep the Past Alive
Continue traditions that have brought past holidays to life. When you think of Thanksgiving, what taste, scent, or activity comes to mind? Whether it’s taking turns sharing what you’re most grateful for or sinking your teeth into Mom’s homemade pumpkin pie, decide what the essence of Thanksgiving is for you—and build your plans around that.
Embrace the New
If you’re hosting with friends or your significant other, ask what traditions are important to them and find a way to make them work with yours. If your best friend likes to gather everyone around the turkey for a group photo before dinner, carve out five minutes to make it happen. You’ll enjoy looking back on the day, and may even decide to make the tradition one of your own! If you’re newly married or have recently started a family, this is a good time to create the traditions that will be yours together for years to come.
Thanksgiving is a time to be close with family and friends, so think about what will make your guests welcome and a part of the day. If your mother-in-law has a famous gravy recipe, ask her to make it—she will feel appreciated and more at home.
Trim the Fat
At the same time, while it’s nice to take everyone into account, you definitely don’t have to incorporate every whim of every person in attendance. If you’ve always dreaded that (not-so) friendly game of flag football, now’s your chance to throw in the towel.
Once you’ve decided which elements and traditions will be part of your Thanksgiving dinner, it’s time to get organized. Whether you consider yourself a master planner or you tend to fly by the seat of your pants, engaging in some basic planning strategies will help you relax day-of and ensure that your celebration goes off without a hitch.
Decide what you really want to make yourself and what dishes you can ask others to bring. Not only will this help you cut down on time and money, but it will help your guests feel welcome. Almost everyone likes to bring something, and sharing a dish that’s special to them will give them a taste of home.
Prepare a Timeline (Not a To-Do List)
Think through the day and how you want it go. Designating times for each of your to-dos will ensure you’re not forgetting anything, but more importantly, it’ll eliminate last-minute scrambling. Depending on how many guests and dishes you will have, you may even want to make an oven schedule (I’m serious—it works).
Make Shopping Lists
In addition to your food shopping list, make note of the other things you will need for each element of the day—decorations, drinks, music, and dinnerware. You’ll likely need many things from several different stores, so it’s helpful to make separate lists of what you need at each place, along with what you can borrow.
Cut veggies, brine your turkey, even make and refrigerate or freeze entire dishes ahead of time. There will be a lot going on day-of, and anything you can make beforehand will save time and space in your kitchen on its busiest day of the year!
Once the day has arrived, the table has been set, and the turkey is roasting to perfection in the oven, try to let go a little. Feel confident that you’ve planned well and allow yourself to relax and partake in the festivities. Even if everything doesn’t go exactly as you anticipated, people will be forgiving. After all, it is Thanksgiving—and it’s time to be grateful for all that you have.