In the past couple of years, I finally started hosting Thanksgiving events of my very own. I took lots of notes from my mother, who can entertain a group of 50,000 and feed all of them too (I don’t think that’s that much of an exaggeration!). I also thought it was important to incorporate some of the things I like most about the Thanksgiving holiday into my own celebration as well. Let me tell you about some dishes I think are very important to serve at Thanksgiving dinner, and how I would entertain a party afterwards!
One important thing that every good host should do before the dinner is to make note of how many people will be eating and if anyone has special dietary restrictions. For example, last Thanksgiving I was on the Atkins diet, and I will be on it again this Thanksgiving, so I would make it a point to include lots of dishes that are low-carb, so nobody feels like they’re only limited to turkey while everyone enjoys sweet potatoes and various pies.
Variety is good, but don’t take on more than you can handle. My mother would always bake a ham and a turkey for Thanksgiving, but who has all that time? (Or more than one oven?) If you’d like to offer ham and turkey at your Thanksgiving dinner, consider cooking one and buying another one already cooked. Since people expect the best turkey on Thanksgiving, perhaps it would be best to cook your own turkey and buy fully-cooked Virginia ham at a store like Wal-Mart or Publix.
Invite some of your best friends to help you cook. I recommended this a while back when I let readers in on Christmas party tips, and the same still applies here: your core group of friends will do anything for you because they love you, so this is an acceptable time to ask them to help you! You take care of the big tasks, like the turkey, of course, but they can help you with side dishes. Does your friend know how to make the sweetest sweet potatoes with gooey marshmallows on top? Do you really like your other friend’s broccoli casserole? Have them cook those dishes with you. Make a whole night out of it a day or two before Thanksgiving Day so everything is prepared for the big event. Not only will your friends be a part of an event that will be memorable and delicious, they will officially be exempt from dishwashing duty after the feast!
Make sure that something “you” is served at the dinner. Everyone expects turkey, everyone expects stuffing, everyone expects gravy…bring a dish that you want to introduce to the festivities. Who knows, your dish may end up being part of a Thanksgiving tradition! My mother would serve a chocolate mousse in a large, tall serving dish. I made it “me” by keeping the dish and making an English fruit trifle instead. Who doesn’t love fruit and cake and whipped cream? Your “you” dish will surely be a hit with your friends and family.
The party afterwards is crucial, because many people just use it as an excuse to retreat to the couch and fall asleep while watching football. Keep the football in the party, just make sure the volume is very low, or even muted. Turn on some of your favorite tunes and play them at a louder volume than the television. Unlike with a Christmas party, there isn’t really a big demand for holiday-themed songs, so you can put on anything you want. Just remember songs can influence behavior…we all love Adele, but if you play an entire CD of hers at a holiday party, it will cause a lull that you may not be able to rebound from!
Keep things simple but also keep things “you.” After all, people are at your party because they like you and they want to know how you are going to present Thanksgiving to them. Play a game that encourages audience interaction. For example, Cards Against Humanity (available for purchase online) is a big hit with my friends and can entertain them for hours. Want to get everyone more energized? Pick a game like charades instead so people are on their feet and acting out their clues.
Finally, make sure that everyone has a thank you note given to them as they are leaving. Write them out in advance, be sure to address each note personally, and write to each person, telling them that you are glad they chose to be a part of your celebrations this Thanksgiving. If you like, also write one thing that you like most about each of your friends in your thank you notes. If there was any doubt that you cared about your friends before now, these notes will remove that doubt!