Thanksgiving Party Ideas
Thanksgiving is all about the food, so your decorations should be all about the table. Fortunately, there are several festive ways to decorate for the big meal.
Our ideas are simple enough to achieve on any budget and flexible enough to personalize to your own taste:
Elegant Thanksgiving decorations
- Choose a tablecloth and runner in soft, coordinated colors like cream and gold. Finish the look with cloth napkins, gold napkin rings and a menu card at each place setting describing each delicious dish.
- Lush flower arrangements and candles in rich fall tones add a punch of color and style.
- Set each place with the silverware you need for each course in the order it will be used, going from the outside in.
Informal Thanksgiving decorations
- Go eclectic! There's no need to bother with identical items, especially if you're hosting an orphans' Thanksgiving or a large mix of relatives.
- Keep your mixing and matching from looking messy by sticking with specific styles or color schemes (such as modern glassware, all-white plates or floral napkins).
- Votive candles down the center of your table add color and flair—choose unscented candles so they don't compete with the fragrance of your food.
Artistic Thanksgiving decorations
- For a funky and practical touch, fill clear vases with cranberries; they'll brighten up your floral arrangement and hold flower stems in place.
- Go traditional by putting a small, colorful gourd by each person's glass or creating a runner of colorful leaves (real or fake) down the center of your table.
- Ears of Indian corn in rich oranges and browns dress up doors and mantels with charming New England style.
You can burn the biscuits, leave lumps in the mashed potatoes or dry out the stuffing, but you absolutely have to serve good bird.
Reading turkey labels
Not sure what kind of turkey to buy? We break down the most popular turkey types to help you find the right bird for you.
- Fresh: Turkeys marked "fresh" have been stored at 26 degrees or above. They need no thawing and are ready to cook. Pick them up only one or two days before cooking to ensure food safety.
- Frozen: Frozen turkeys are stored at 0 degrees or below. You can buy them weeks in advance, but they need several days of thawing in the refrigerator before cooking. The general guideline is one day of thawing for every 4 pounds.
- Natural: These turkeys have not been injected with artificial moistening or flavoring agents. As a result, they may be drier and blander than other turkeys.
- Basted/self-basting: These turkeys have been injected with moistening or flavoring agents. The label will usually list the ingredients that were injected into the turkey.
- Free-range: When alive, these turkeys were allowed to roam outside their coop.
- Organic: This label ensures that the turkeys are free of antibiotics and, when alive, were fed grain that did not contain chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
- Kosher: These turkeys have been brined in water and salt and processed in accordance with kosher law.
Getting the right kitchen tools
A lot of shopping, a little preparation, and you'll be ready to take on that turkey.
Here's what you need to cook a juicy, tasty turkey:
- Roasting pan large enough for your bird
- Adjustable, nonstick roasting rack
- Instant-read turkey thermometer
- Oven thermometer
- Oven mitts
- Transparent bulb baster
- Fat separator
- Kitchen twine
- Carving set
- Large cutting board or platter
Deciding how much turkey to buy
Q: When should I buy my turkey?
A: Order your bird about two weeks before Thanksgiving to ensure that the store doesn't run out. However, if you are purchasing a fresh turkey, you'll want to pick it up one or two days before cooking it, to ensure food safety.
Q: How big a turkey should I get?
A: The general rule of thumb is 1 pound per person. But since Thanksgiving is all about the leftovers, we suggest about 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person.
Q: What do I do with all that leftover turkey?
A: Make the best sandwiches you'll have all year. Plus, turkey is great in soups, salads and chili. Also try these simple recipes:
You don't want to keep guests waiting for their Thanksgiving feast, so save time by including them in the final preparations.
Here are a few easy ways guests can help during crunch time:
Putting side dishes into bowls
Making the Thanksgiving meal is only half the battle. The next step is finding bowls and platters to put it all on.
You'll save tons of time by deciding in advance what dish you want to put in each serving piece.
Then, rope in guests to transfer items from cooking pots to platters. Before guests enter your kitchen, set out your bowls along with the serving utensils you want to use for each dish.
That way you can just point and yell, "Mashed potatoes!" and guests can spring into action.
Setting the table
Lay your tablecloth on the table before guests arrive. Then stack the plates, glasses, silverware and napkins you want to use in piles on the table. This makes it easy for guests to set the table for you.
If you're particular about how each place should be set, set the first one so the guests who are helping you can use it as a guide.
If you want to get really fancy — and you have artistic and very patient friends who like you very much — print out instructions for folding napkins into fancy shapes. Shells and flowers are classics. Bonus points if you choose a turkey pattern.
Greeting guests at the door
Give yourself a break from door duty by asking a guest to greet fellow guests as they arrive. There's always at least one guest who loves to be the center of attention. Let them live up to their role by asking them to greet guests at the door.
Not sure who to choose? Pick someone who knows many of your guests and isn't shy about meeting new people.
As the official greeter, they can welcome guests, take coats and make any necessary introductions. If you're planning a big party and many guests will be bringing coats, ask a second person to assist.
Having guests bring a dish this year? Here's how to take the luck out of planning your potluck:
- Make the turkey in-house. Birds don't travel well, and they take a long time to cook, so it's safest for the host to make the turkey or to have the guest prep the bird in the host's kitchen.
- Request that guests bring room-temperature or cold dishes. This way, they can handle sitting around on a buffet table (in case other guests, or the turkey, aren't ready to eat when they arrive). Plus, this way, you aren't shocked by late-arrival dishes that need to compete with your bird for coveted oven time.
- Specify on the Evite invitation if you want guests to bring their own serving bowls and tools. Also, if some guests don't cook, ask them to bring flowers, candles, extra cups and plates, wine or non-alcoholic beverages, even extra oven timers if multiple dishes are sharing oven space.
- Ask your guests to include any food allergies when they reply to your Evite invitation. That way everyone who's bringing a dish will be aware of any dietary restrictions.
- If room permits, set up your beverage station and dessert table away from the dinner buffet. This prevents traffic jams around the food and helps the overall party flow.
Raise a glass a festival cocktails that pairs beautifully with the traditional tastes of the Thanksgiving meal.
Cranberry Kir Royale
- frozen cranberry juice cocktail concentrate, thawed
- chilled Champagne
Pour a splash of cranberry juice into chilled champagne glasses. Top with Champagne and serve.