How to host Thanksgiving

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By David Hammond

Thanksgiving is our big dinner party of the year. Hosting between 25-30 people poses logistics challenges that, over the years, we've figured out how to handle.


Thanksgiving requires coordination among multiple families, and email is an excellent way to send out announcements and follow up. We prefer not to use web-based invitation/social planning tools like E-vite because they feel a little impersonal, and email has the advantage of connecting multiple families with one blast.

Traditionally, every family brings something to the feast, so using "reply all" to the initial email invitation lets everyone know what everyone else is contributing.

Because email can be archived, everyone can always check back to confirm times and other party information.

Pre-party preparations

Preparation minimizes party day chaos. Though we don't hire servers, I understand why this practice is trending. It's hard to enjoy friends and family when you're making and serving food and drinks — so let someone else do it. We save on servers by spending upfront time preparing as much as possible, and that preparation is important because guests feel more welcome when you're not huffing and puffing while they just stand around.

Of course, before guests arrive, we clean up (it seems impolite to subject friends to a messy home). We rearrange our regular living space so furniture doesn't get in our way. We move some furniture to the basement to maximize usable space and make the space more welcoming.

Party day

We always get up early on game day to make sure everything is ready to run smoothly by party time.

Antipasto, a tray of olives and other appetizers, is a fine Italian tradition that pacifies appetites before the main event. This platter of nibbles is also a subtle way to honor the Italian explorer who accidentally "discovered" America. Thanksgiving is meat-centric, so we go heavy on veggie appetizers.

During the event, I definitely don't want to run around filling wine glasses, so I make sure guests know where to fetch their drinks. I put beer and wine outside, letting Mother Nature be my cooler. Close to the beverages we position a bottle opener on a string tied to a brick, so the opener is always going to be where it's needed.

Norman Rockwell's image of everyone gathered around the table as the turkey is carved may be symbolically significant, but it's operationally challenging. When people sit down, they're ready to eat and probably don't want to sit patiently and drool discreetly for 10-15 minutes of carving.

We finish cooking the turkey as most guests are arriving. The bird is set out for display, and I deputize a guest to start cutting it up 10 minutes or so before dinner. We always use an electric knife because it helps slice thinner, more eater-friendly pieces.

We're not tyrants about passing food in only one agreed-upon direction, though clockwise is traditional; we pretty much let everyone pass food any way they want. This laissez-faire approach can be chaotic, and I sometimes don't get to taste everything, but this loose system just seems easier and more hospitable.


After everyone has eaten, we go to the living room and the musically inclined entertain us. We have guitars, tambourines and other instruments, so anyone can play along. Everyone is invited to perform. However if, like me, you've proven you have no musical talent, there's always room for another enthusiastic audience member.

This homemade talent show has proven a beautiful way to bring everyone together one more time before we close the evening.


My Holiday Home

This story is part of My Holiday Home, a special section packed with local ideas to help ready our homes for the holidays. Click here to view the entire My Holiday Home special section.

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