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Holiday & Seasonal

How to Host Your First Thanksgiving

Hosting your first Thanksgiving is a big deal but doesn't need to be overly stressful. Use our guide to help set you up for success and make hosting seem effortless.

By Sarena Macias

Hosting your first Thanksgiving dinner, or any major holiday gathering, can of course feel a bit intimidating at first. You may have many questions running through your mind, such as:

  • How many people will attend?
  • What will you serve?
  • Will everyone get along?
  • What will you wear?!

There’s what can feel like an endless list of things to do when hosting Thanksgiving for the first time. But, fear not! Celebration Wishes is here to make this season of giving thanks one full of extra gratitude and grace with our handy guide for how to host Thanksgiving for the first time.

To start, we’ll give you a quick snapshot of 7 things you’re going to need to game plan before gathering your loved one’s for dinner, or the big Turkey Bowl.

  1. Confirm Your Guest List
  2. Ask for Help
  3. Determine Your Dining Style
  4. Set Your Menu
  5. Plan Decor & Entertainment
  6. Pick Your Shopping Days
  7. Prep in Advance

Step 1: Confirm Your Guest List

First off, let’s figure out who’s getting invited to your first Thanksgiving dinner? Will friends be involved? Or will this be a family only affair? Maybe you’re still in school and can’t afford to make it home to celebrate with your immediate family, so it will be a group of you and your closest classmates.

Whatever your unique circumstances are, you’ll want to have a good idea of the amount of people you expect ahead of time so that you don’t end up short or having left overs until January.


Pro Tip: When hosting Thanksgiving for the first time, it may be a good idea to keep the guest list to a smaller number to help ease any stresses leading up to the day. Consider it a test run for the many Thanksgivings to come.

Step 2: Ask for Help

There’s nothing wrong with asking for a little help! Everyone knows how busy things can get with the holiday season and asking for support from your loved ones is a great opportunity to feel even more connected to your people.

Whether that be by getting a bit of help with prepping side dishes, having a designated bartender for the night of, or even setting up a “clean up crew” for the aftermath, you’ll be glad to have extra helping hands when it gets going.

Pro Tip: Think about all of the good memories that will come with hosting thanksgiving for the first time knowing that you got to do it with people that you trust and love.

Step 3: Determine Your Dining Style

Regardless of who you’re celebrating with, one thing that’s important to decide early in your planning process is your dining style when hosting Thanksgiving for the first time. While tradition may tell you otherwise, it’s completely up to you how you want this big “first” to go. So how’s it gonna be this year?

  • Potluck: This is how I typically celebrate Thanksgiving with my loved ones! And a great option to help relieve some of the demands for you as the host. When sending your invites, kindly ask guests to attend with a side dish, dessert, or other item of their choice! Just make sure to take note of who’s bringing what so that you don’t end up with too much stuffing on Turkey Day.
  • Buffet Style: If you decide to host a larger crowd, serving dinner buffet style is a nice alternative to serving guests individually. Set up chafing dishes, your preferred ceramic dishes, or whatever else you’ve got to make dinner smooth and easy if you decide to take this route.
  • Catered Thanksgiving Dinner: Another very feasible option if you want to have some (or all) items prepared for you in advance.

person holding pumpkin pie over table decorated for thanksgiving
Photo Credit: Unsplash

Step 4: Set Your Menu

Undoubtedly, the guest list will play a factor in determining the amount of food you need, but some of the traditional Thanksgiving dishes you’ll want to include can be:

  • Thanksgiving Turkey
  • Gravy
  • Stuffing
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Candied Yams
  • Green Beans
  • Cranberry Sauce
  • Dinner Rolls

Some additional things to consider are, will you serve any appetizers before the main course? What about any kinds of desserts? Maybe this is an item that someone on your guest list will bring? Do any guests have food or allergy needs that you have to be aware of and prepared for?

Step 5: Plan Decor & Entertainment

If you want to make the evening feel even more elevated, add in a few extra touches that will enhance the environment for guests and engage all of their senses for this special occasion.

Since there will be so many delicious smells floating around with the cooking going on, consider having unscented candles at the table so they don’t overpower the smell of the feast. Save any sweet or seasonal candle scents for after dinner.

If you’re in the mood to add extra table decor but don’t want to break the bank, your local craft store is going to be a goldmine for affordable fall Thanksgiving decorations. Pick one or two colors then make selections that will fit with the color family you’re going with.

We must remember entertainment and games for the night! If you’re in need of games for after dinner, we’ve got you covered with 20 Easy Games to Play at Your Next Family Gathering.

people sitting at thanksgiving table laughing together
Photo Credit: Unsplash

Step 6: Pick Your Shopping Days

One thing you definitely don’t want to be doing when hosting Thanksgiving for the first time is shopping for your Turkey the day before dinner! Please do yourself a favor and buy your large items cough, cough the turkey, or ham, or vegan chick’n… ahead of time.

Take your dining style and menu into consideration when picking your shopping days and take into account any items you can buy weeks or even months in advance, like canned or frozen items.

If you’re anything like me and prefer visiting the grocery store when there are smaller crowds present, be sure to plan trips on weekdays when grocery stores tend to be free of weekend rushes.

Pro-Tip: If you need us to remind you, make a list. This may seem almost too simple to make its own step, but trust us here. Walking into any store around the holidays it’s easy to aimlessly grab items you think you might need or accidentally grab too little of something you need more of. It’s always a good idea to walk in knowing exactly what you need, to avoid any over spending or missed items.

Step 7: Prep in Advance

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a few items or sides prepared in advance when hosting Thanksgiving for the first time!

We’d highly suggest having a few side dishes prepared before the big day to ease the amount of cooking that needs to be done when Thanksgiving day rolls around. Some dishes that would be great to have prepared in advance, or ready to go, in the oven day of can be sides like:

  • Stuffing
  • Mac and cheese
  • Baked casseroles
  • Gravy

Pro-Tip: It would also be a good idea to pre-chop or slice any fruits, veggies, and herbs that you’ll be using on Thanksgiving one or two days in advance to save you some extra prep time.

It’s Giving Thanks

While hosting your first Thanksgiving dinner can be exciting and nerve-racking all at once, you’ve got to leave a little room for the unexpected to happen the day of. After all, that’s part of the fun.

If you haven’t already, be sure to create an account with Celebration Wishes to help keep track of the planning and hosting your first Thanksgiving!

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