3 Tips to Host Your First Thanksgiving (Without Losing Your Mind)

Being a first-time Thanksgiving host or hostess can really test your sanity.

Richie Frieman
5-minute read
Episode #364

Fact: As you read this, millions of Americans are franticly preparing for Thanksgiving dinner in one way or another. Whether it’s planning where you’re going to eat, what time you’re going to start, or what will be on the menu, every single person who celebrates Thanksgiving has turkey on their brain at this very moment.

However, for those of you out there tasked with hosting Thanksgiving dinner, an added level of stress is like an unwanted dollop of Uncle Howard's lumpy gravy. What’s even worse than hosting is when you’re a rookie Thanksgiving dinner host/hostess. That’s right, hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the first time could very well be the Super Bowl (or Turkey Bowl) of all hosting obligations. Yet have no fear: we’re all in this together. So before you overcook that turkey, frantically search Pinterest for the coolest table decorations, and spend hours Googling the best recipe for pumpkin pie, check out my top three Quick and Dirty Tips for How to Host Your First Thanksgiving.

Tip #1: Make it your own

The concept of hosting Thanksgiving dinner is much better than actually hosting Thanksgiving dinner. On the surface, we all have romantic ideas about what a perfect Thanksgiving dinner will include: delicious food, a warm ambiance, and holiday cheer throughout. We all listened to the archive of Clever Cookstr episodes so we'd be the grandest chefs that ever existed, and your table décor resembles the home of Domestic CEO.

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Yet sadly, my dear friends this will likely not happen. Sure, Clever Cookstr will give you all the tools you’ll need to make a killer meal, but if this is your first time out the gate hosting Thanksgiving, do not overstress about being awarded the next Top Chef. No matter how much time you spend on Pinterest hunting down the “easiest Thanksgiving DIY décor ideas,” they’re not as easy as it seems, and DIY doesn’t always get done by just yourself. Hear me out; I’m not trying to be a stick in the mud at all! In fact, I love Thanksgiving more than any other holiday. I’m just being realistic and having a proper approach towards Thanksgiving to make for a sane event.

Bottom line: don’t drive yourself nuts trying to be the image of perfection. Pace yourself, and properly focus on where your strengths are to make it your own.

The most improper move a rookie Thanksgiving host/hostess can make is trying to emulate what others (friends, family, bloggers, etc.) have done in the past. When hosting Thanksgiving, you can’t try to replicate something that isn’t in your wheelhouse. Yes, you can stretch your boundaries; just don’t go off the deep end.

With relatives and friends expecting to have a delicious meal, focus on your best skills, and call in reinforcements for the rest.

For instance, if you can’t cook a turkey, ask another guest for help and make a day of it. Have them come over, reward them with some fancy drinks along the way, and properly explain how grateful you are for their help. Same goes for sides or desserts. You won’t lose points. Instead, make sure you nail that one thing you do best, be it any of the aforementioned or just decorations. When it’s your house, it’s your rules, and as long as everyone is happy, then you’ve done your job as a proper host.

Tip #2: Plan, plan, plan

In Tip #1, I emphasized how important it is to not feel like you have to create a Thanksgiving dinner that the local news will cover for being the greatest dinner that ever existed. However, that does not mean you should take the task of hosting a Thanksgiving dinner lightly. Make it your own, be creative, go with a classic style, whatever your fancy, but the first time hosting this mega-meal of a holiday, it’s highly improper to wait until the last minute. So for those of you who may say, “Eh, no biggie. I’ve hosted dinner parties before. I can handle this,” you are doing a disservice to your guests and not taking this role seriously. Thanksgiving is not just another weekend get together, it’s a very big deal. So, how do you properly battle the beast that is Thanksgiving dinner? Plan, plan, plan… and then plan some more.

Planning Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t mean you have to be a superstar in the kitchen or the next greatest interior designer.

Now, planning Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t mean you have to be (as I said above) a superstar in the kitchen or the next greatest interior designer. A proper host/hostess always wants their guests to see that you’ve invested your all into making sure the night is perfect. To achieve this, you have to give yourself ample time to shine.

Use your time wisely, and piece by piece, knock something off your list each day.

When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, you know you’re hosting way before the big day. Rarely—if ever—is someone sprung with the undertaking of hosting Thanksgiving dinner last minute, let alone for the first time. With that, use your time wisely, and piece by piece, knock something off your list each day. Maybe it’s a couple days just shopping for table decorations, then the next task is just focusing on desserts, and so on. Whatever your method, keep to a schedule. If you map out Thanksgiving dinner with precision and adequate time, you are sure to host an amazing party, and not even break a sweat.

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Okay, let’s be real, it’s your first time so you’ll still probably be anxious, but you get my point.

Tip #3: Invest in ambiance

If you haven’t caught on by now, I’m a big fan of not stressing out over trying to be the Magical Wizard of Thanksgiving on your first attempt at hosting. I say this because I’m someone who is admittedly a terrible chef and that will not change overnight, let alone will I be granted special powers because I’m now a Thanksgiving host. Again, I’m just facing the facts about my skill set. Put it this way: if my smoke detector could talk, it would tell you a story (or a hundred) about my culinary experiences.

With that, I instead (as I said above) embrace my strengths, which in the world of hosting an event is presentation. My feeling is if I’m not going to wow people with my dishes, I can possibly win them over with how I present it to them. Creating a proper setting for your guest is the most fun part about hosting because it’s totally up to you. Food can be ruined by a bad cook, but ambiance? Come on! Just a flower and vase in the middle of a table makes you look sophisticated.

When it comes to the holidays—especially Thanksgiving—you want to go far and beyond to invest in ambiance.

That’s the beautiful thing about ambiance — you can be as creative as you like and nail it every time. One way is to create a proper playlist of comfortable music while people are mingling and getting settled. Music is a great way to calm people down and make them feel at ease, and always adds a touch of class.

Secondly, decorating: even though I poked fun with Pinterest earlier, decorating is still very open to interpretation. Whether you go rustic, classic, or playful for the kids, there are tons of ideas online that can make any normal dinner party look absolutely incredible. Best of all, if you’re like me, and know your weakness is in the culinary world, if you create a welcoming atmosphere, people will look past your flaws because they feel so comfortable thanks to your time and care.

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