This year, my family has hit the Thanksgiving jackpot: we’re going to the lake with my family for Thanksgiving with my grandparents, then on Friday night we’re hosting a houseful for Friendsgiving, and on Sunday we’re having a Chinese takeout feast at my in-laws, because at that point, the thinking is that everyone will have been eating nothing but stuffing and pumpkin pie for days, and egg rolls will be a welcome change.
I love egg rolls, but I do think I could eat stuffing for a very, very long time and never tire of it. But I digress.
If you’re hosting your own version of Thanksgiving this year (whatever that might look like), here are a few thoughts:
Remember: It’s About the Gathering, Not About the Food.
This is the most important thing to keep in mind. I know Thanksgiving might be the most food-driven of all holidays, but the people are always more important than the food. The gathering is what’s significant—that’s what you remind yourself when the turkey’s taking forever or the stuffing’s dry. And it’s TRUE.
This is not the holiday to flout tradition. People become quite cranky if you don’t have, say, cranberry sauce or French fried onions on top of the green bean casserole. This is not the time to surprise people with a wild South-of-the-Border feast, or a beautiful spread of sushi. I have made this mistake, and people were not happy.
Ask For Help.
No one, and I repeat, no one, should cook a Thanksgiving meal alone. Ask each guest to bring something, and invite a few people over to help set the table, prep veggies, etc. It’s always more fun together, and people like to be included in the process. Feel free to be specific about what to bring, and give people clear tasks when they ask how they can help.
Invite People Into Meaningful Conversation.
If you’re not intentional, a whole day with family and friends can go by without a focused moment or conversation. It’s especially easy to let it pass because you’re stressed about all the food prep. Plan ahead–a question on the back of every placecard, or conversation cards scattered on the table.
If you’re hosting, take the opportunity to invite deeper connection around your table. Feel free to be quite directive about it–it feels awkward in the moment, sometimes, but I find that people are always thankful afterward. People want to connect deeply, but it often takes one person to create an environment that allows it.
Keep the Decorations Simple.
Cover the table with butcher paper or kraft paper, and then decorate it with words and pictures–and if kids can do this, all the better. Set jars filled with colored pencils all over the table, so that people can doodle and add to the decorations.
Sometimes, people get really stressed out at big holidays, feeling like they have to have some spectacular tablescape–cornucopias! Gourds! A woodland village! If that’s your jam, go for it. But if that makes you feel tremendously overwhelmed, don’t worry about it. Butcher paper, pencils–voila! Simple and fun, and a great way to get kids involved.
No Scented Candles.
Candles are lovely–the more, the better, but scented candles get all mixed up with the great food smells. There is nothing worse than candy-cane candle smell plus stuffing smell.
Don’t Go Overboard on Hors D’oeuvres.
People are serious about Thanksgiving food, and most of them are practicing some sort of complex strategy for how to consume a staggering amount of both turkey and pie. You can’t win with lots of appetizers–if you have tons, and people eat them all, then they’ll be angry with you for filling up their stomachs, stealing their pie space. But if they don’t touch them, practicing their strategy, then you’ll feel bad about all the time you spent wrapping pigs in their yummy little blankets.
Spatchcock Your Turkey.
I know. I know. It sounds illegal. But it’s a serious time-and-complexity saver. Here’s a post that explains it all, but basically, you’re cutting through the backbone so that the turkey can lay flat, allowing it to cook quickly and evenly. Jackpot! I know this doesn’t allow for the beautiful presentation of the whole bird, but I think it’s worth it, for the crispy skin and the even cooking. And all the extremely obvious jokes.
Double the Mashed Potatoes.
Supply Leftover Containers.
This is a serious sacrifice, I know, and there is a tendency to want to hoard all the delicious leftovers, but really: you can’t eat as much as you think, and it is such a lovely touch to have to-go containers at the ready, so that everyone can pack up the perfect leftover meal.
What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving tips, tricks and recipes?
What advice would you give to someone who’s hosting Thanksgiving, possibly for the first time?
An earlier version of this article was posted on shaunaniequist.com
Shauna Niequist is the author of Savor (Zondervan, March 2015), Bread & Wine, Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet, and is an enthusiastic hostess, home cook, and passionate gatherer of people. You can connect with her online at ShaunaNiequest.com.