Hosting Thanksgiving for the First Time: A Quick Guide

November 20, 2023

by SLC Top 10 Editorial

Thanksgiving, a time of gratitude and gathering, can be a daunting occasion to host, especially for the first-timers. Fret not! This comprehensive guide will walk you through hosting your first Thanksgiving dinner, ensuring it’s as enjoyable and memorable as the feast itself.

Begin with a Plan

  • Start Early: The key to a stress-free Thanksgiving is planning ahead. Begin by setting a date and time, and sending out invitations. Decide whether it’s going to be a formal dinner or a casual get-together.
  • Create a Guest List: Knowing the number of guests is crucial for planning the meal and seating arrangements. Be mindful of any dietary restrictions or allergies.
  • Menu Planning: Traditional Thanksgiving dishes are a must, but feel free to add your personal touch. Balance the menu with a mix of meat, vegetarian dishes, sides, and desserts.
  • Budgeting: Set a realistic budget for food, decorations, and other essentials. This will guide your decisions and help keep costs under control.

Shopping and Preparation

  • Grocery Shopping: Make a detailed shopping list based on your menu. To avoid the last-minute rush, shop for non-perishables and frozen items a week in advance.
  • Prepare Ahead: Many dishes can be prepared a day or two before. Pies, casseroles, and certain side dishes can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen.
  • Turkey Time: If you’re serving turkey, remember it takes time to thaw. Allow 24 hours of thawing for every four pounds of turkey in the refrigerator.

Setting the Scene

  • Decor: Set the mood with simple yet festive decorations. Use autumnal colors, candles, and natural elements like pine cones and pumpkins.
  • Table Setting: Whether you’re going for a formal dinner or a casual buffet, make sure your table is ready. Arrange seating comfortably and consider place cards for a personal touch.
  • Music and Lighting: Create a welcoming atmosphere with soft background music and warm lighting.

On the Day

  • Cooking Schedule: Create a timeline for the day. Start with dishes that take the longest and leave the last hour for reheating and final touches.
  • Appetizers: Have some light appetizers ready for your guests as they arrive. This will keep them occupied and give you time to finish up in the kitchen.
  • Ask for Help: Don’t hesitate to delegate tasks or accept help from guests. It can be setting the table or carving the turkey.

The Main Event

  • Serving the Meal: You can serve the meal family-style, buffet, or plated, depending on your preference and space.
  • Accommodating Guests: Make sure everyone is comfortable. Be attentive to their needs, especially if you have guests with special dietary requirements.
  • Enjoy the Moment: Remember to take a moment to enjoy the feast and the company of your loved ones.

Post-Dinner Activities

  • Dessert and Coffee: Serve dessert and coffee in a relaxed setting, allowing guests to unwind and continue their conversations.
  • Games and Entertainment: Plan some light activities or games to keep the festive spirit going.
  • Cleanup: Don’t shy away from accepting help with the cleanup. It’s a great time to chat and wind down after the meal.

Reflect and Be Thankful

  • Sharing Gratitude: Encourage your guests to share something they’re thankful for. This can be a heartwarming and meaningful addition to your dinner.
  • Relax and Reflect: After the guests have left, take some time to relax and reflect on the success of your first Thanksgiving dinner.


Hosting Thanksgiving for the first time is a significant milestone. With thoughtful planning, preparation, and a touch of creativity, you can host a Thanksgiving dinner that’s both delightful and stress-free. Remember, it’s all about celebrating gratitude and making memories with your loved ones.


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