Kickoff! 10 Essentials for a Real Good Thanksgiving

Kickoff! 10 Essentials for a Real Good Thanksgiving

Maxwell Ryan
Nov 2, 2014
A great photo of a Brooklyn Kinfolk dinner from this post.
(Image credit: Kinfolk)

When I worked with clients, every single one said that a top wish was to entertain more at home. Few of them did, they said, because they didn't feel confident. We'd like to help you solve this problem. With Thanksgiving around the corner, you know we're going to speak to experts, load you up with inspiration and show you how to cook a turkey. Today let's get started!

10 Things To Remember About Thanksgiving

White pumpkins, a table runner and muted colors keep this modest. It's going to be all about the food.
(Image credit: Shelterness)

1. Modest is Perfect

Thanksgiving is the most modest of holidays (and one of the few shared by all) and doesn't want to be decorator fancy. It wants to be about gratefulness for plentiful food at harvest time and survival after a long year in the New World. With this in mind, focus on the food and keep your decor seasonal, simple and harvest based. This is not about glitter and bling, people!

Our table in 2012. From this post.
(Image credit: Store Profile)

2. Leaves, Branches & Berries

Every table I've ever decorated has been done with what I've found outside on the day. The raw and authentic shapes and colors in leaves, branches and berries (and flowers, sometimes, when down south) are stunning and simple reminders of this special time of year.

This was our table in Costa Rica in 2009. From this post.
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)
A small, swanky Thanksgiving with full daylight from this post.
(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

3. Eat Early - When The Sun's Still Up

I am a big fan of skipping lunch on Thanksgiving day and having an early supper. It shifts the momentum of the day, makes it a much more relaxed meal and allows the foodl to settle long before bedtime. As a rule of thumb, I recommend sitting down before sunset (4:30pm is sunset this year), so invite folks for 3pm and sit down before 4pm, and you're golden. For those that like to take a walk after the meal, start 30-60 min earlier!

(Image credit: Cambria Bold)

4. Sit Close & Have a Long Table

For most dinner parties I worry about having too many people around a table or being too tight in my home. Not so Thanksgiving. Invite the people you love, take in strays and don't worry that everyone is sitting shoulder to shoulder. If you can get everyone at a long table and get them close to one another it will be intimate, cozy and great.

Guests milling about in the living room before the meal, from this post.
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)

5. Move Between Courses

With a long meal like this you really have the luxury of taking your time and creating natural breaks between courses. This stimulates conversation and digestion. Start with drinks on the sofa, then sit at the table and then retire to the kitchen or living room again for or before dessert. Go for a walk before dessert even and let the kids run around. Don't rush it!

A delicious overhead view from this post.
(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

6. Passing: Many Sides, Little Dishes

Thanksgiving is a meal of side dishes and there's a huge advantage to this. If you serve family style, have people bring their favorite dishes and then get some crazy passing going around your table you will have MORE fun. The complication and multiplicity of this type of collaborative meal is what Thanksgiving is all about, and the passing of dishes engenders new levels of communication and social bonding.

(Image credit: Real Simple)

7. Enjoy Dark Colors

Personally, I'm a big fan of diving into the deep colors of Autumn when decorating the table or the room and think that only Thanksgiving - of all holidays - gives full license for this. Dark colors are warm and cozy, so add to your leaves, branches and berries with dark napkins, tablecloths, flowers, candles, plates or dishes.

8. Read Something Aloud

Beyond giving a toast and because this is not a religious holiday, a birthday or an specific historical person involved, I love to center the meal around reading one thing aloud. Of course you can say grace, but reading something aloud that puts the meal in context and brings up the images associated with the real historical time in which it grew out of is a nice way of bringing everyone together. There are many poems about Thanksgiving, and if you want a really nicely written history, this one from The Writer's Almanac is one of my favorites:

"Today is Thanksgiving Day. In the fall of 1621, the Plymouth colonists had barely survived the previous winter and had lost about half their population. The Wampanoag people and their chief, Massasoit, were friendly toward the Pilgrims and helped teach them how to live on different land with new food sources. A man known as Squanto, a Patuxet living with the Wampanoag tribe, knew English because he had been a slave in England. He taught the settlers how to plant corn, beans, and squash and how to catch eel and shellfish. The Pilgrims built seven houses, a meeting place, and storehouses full of food, so they invited the Wampanoag Indians to feast with them. Harvest festivals were nothing new; both the English and the Wampanoag had similar traditions in their culture.

At the first Thanksgiving, they didn't eat mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, and they probably didn't even eat turkey. The only two foods that are actually named in the primary accounts are wild fowl and venison. The meal was mostly meat and seafood, but probably included squash, cabbage, corn, and onions, and spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper.

Unlike our modern Thanksgiving, this event wasn't just one day. Many of the Wampanoag had to walk two days to get to the Plymouth settlement. There were about 50 English people and 90 Wampanoag, and since there wasn't enough room in the seven houses for the guests, they went ahead and built themselves temporary shelters. In between eating, they played games and sports, danced, and sang.

Thanksgiving has been celebrated as a national holiday on different dates, but on October 3, 1863, in the wake of victory at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln decided to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation declaring the fourth Thursday in November national Thanksgiving Day. In 1941, Congress made it official."

(Image credit: Oneill)

9. Make Something

In keeping with the modest tone and family centered feeling of the holiday, making something for the table or the guests is a great idea. Anything is good, and you can simply carve out gourds to place votive candles in them or make place cards. Here is a list of a whole bunch of good DIY's. I also love the little one I found in the picture above: carve out some apples and serve a good strong drink or mulled cider in them!

(Image credit: Country Living)

10. Kid's Table

If you're doing Thanksgiving with kids, give them their own table. I know that I said to seat everyone together, but I think young and old alike always appreciate their own space to have the meal at their own pace. I also think that children appreciate being a little independent at Thanksgiving and helping one another instead of having their parents wait on them. A Kid's table is an opportunity to have some fun and even have your kids help you set it up. When they run off to play, you won't have to collapse your seating at the main table to get closer to one another.

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