I recently chatted with my friend Reba about traditions, and a look of horror crept over her face as she rehashed her first Thanksgiving holiday with her now husband. While dating, they were at the grocery store shopping for items for the meal. He approached her with three cans and a couple of boxes and said, “Okay, let’s go check out.” Her genius reply stopped him in his tracks, “Um, Thanksgiving does NOT come out of a box.” Yes, Reba, this is one notion I can get behind for almost any occasion. Although, boxed stuffing has proven to be pretty delicious in a pinch! I digress. It’s the thoughtful intention that goes into planning a gathering that is something to be shared and celebrated.
Traditions vary by family and chosen families. In ours, we have done everything from starting with cramped cocktail hours filled with cousins and friends and neighbors that lovingly loiter into post-turkey Irish coffees by a roaring fire. There have been last-minute Friendsgiving weekend trips requiring zero cooking or preparation. And, I’ve spent the holiday quietly with a small group of immediate family catered entirely by Whole Foods. But, as with any tradition, no matter the number of people or where the food comes from, we all strive to make this annual meal memorable.
A Planning Guide for an Easy and Elevated Holiday
Here are five easy and elevated ways to help with planning so you can focus on gratitude for who is gathering at your table this year.
1. A Make-Ahead List
One or two weeks ahead, sit down with some wine or tea, relax, and enjoy planning your menu. Surf Pinterest boards, flip through your favorite culinary mags, and begin to curate your grocery list. The good news is many dishes can be made ahead of the holiday. Cranberry sauce, salad dressings, a delicious platter of stuffing – these can all be done in advance without losing any great flavors or taste. Create a list of everything you can make a day or two before the holiday, and order your turkey ahead. Make Instacart your best friend that week for any last-minute items to avoid crowded stores. The more prepared you are, the calmer you will be – which means your guests will be happier too.
2. Setting The Table
One of my favorite parts of hosting a dinner is decorating the table. I try to subscribe to the rule of setting my table the night before (at the very least!) If you can avoid using your dining table a few nights before the holiday, why not use that time to design the tabletop? Handwritten place cards are a great way to personalize and elevate each guest’s dining experience. Draping fresh greenery and tealights along the length of your table as an organic table ‘runner’ surrounded by fresh fruits like pomegranates, apples, pumpkins, and pears will deliver an abundant and uplifting visual mood to your table.
One year I placed mini wishbones sourced on Etsy on every guest napkin. At the end of the meal, we took turns sharing our wish and breaking a wishbone for luck.
3. A Signature Cocktail
Wild Turkey Whiskey Sours, Hot Cider Toddy, or a Maple Bourbon Old Fashioned are all fun, themed libation ideas to welcome guests in the giving season. Make the pre-dinner cocktail hour easy by pre-batching a signature cocktail and pouring it into a large glass pitcher or decanter. Set the pitcher on your bar or counter next to a glass bowl filled with ice and freshly cut garnishes, and let the guests serve themselves. Stock your bar catered to your guest profile, try to remember who around your table loves a crisp, cold Sancerre, and have a bottle of that full-bodied Barolo at the ready for your favorite Aunt.
4. Break The Rules
When it comes to the important stuff – showing up for family and friends when they invite you over, practicing gratitude for each other, or just sharing kind words and giving thanks – tradition is the way. But, some years, why not go a little off the path? Serving turkey sliders or a tray of hollowed butternut squashes filled with cranberry stuffing are fun twists on classic dishes. A fall-themed pizza bar, pumpkin pasta, sweet potato fries, or just an “appetizer-only” party are fool-proof crowd-pleasers and can make breaking tradition festive and fun.
5. Be Grateful
The best way to elevate a gathering is to elevate your vibration. Serve, speak, connect, drink, and eat with gratitude. If you are sitting around a table with great food and people you love, you are considered one of the lucky ones.
We wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving full of health, joy, and Timeless tradition.