Thanksgiving is right around the corner (gasp!). As you plan your festive day, why not take a page from our event planning playbook? We’re experts at creating experiences, big and small, to celebrate life’s moments. Here are my tips to make your Thanksgiving more enjoyable, less stressful, and unforgettable.

Plan Ahead.

People think event planning is all Pinterest boards and peonies, but the reality of being a successful event designer is meticulous planning and a well-organized timeline.  I come from an enormous family, and we have a more the merrier policy around friends and guests. Our Thanksgivings are regularly over 80+ people so the invites go out in early September. For a more intimate gathering, I recommend getting your invitations out in early November and having a firm number 10-14 days before so you can confirm the size of your turkey and secure any additional rentals you might need. Extra glassware, chairs, dinnerware, serveware—even if you’re just borrowing from a friend—it’s better to know in advance! Turkeys, especially specialty or free-range birds, need to be ordered in advance these days with your butcher or local farm. Get a good timeline and checklist going early so you’re not rushing the day before.

Embrace a theme

The best events are cohesive, intentional, thoughtfully edited, and well-curated. Doesn’t your family deserve the same? It doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated to put together a beautiful Thanksgiving table or theme. Elegant taper candles all in one color, glassware filled with seasonal vegetables, a few simple fall branches in a vase—material, color, and form can make as big an impact as an expensive display.

Make it welcoming

Never underestimate the power of good ambiance and gracious hospitality to smooth over any operational wrinkles. Candle light, comfortable room temperature, an easy place for guests to store their coats, a great soundtrack—they’ll never notice that you’re running a few minutes behind on basting.

Pace yourself on your menu

I made the mistake several years ago of introducing multiple new and complicated sides that I’d never made before to my Thanksgiving dinner. Every single dish had 40 steps and all new ingredients. By the time the meal came around, I was exhausted, and my husband Andrew turned to me and said “never again.” I’ve learned to balance introducing one or two new things alongside family favorites. 

I also believe firmly that Thanksgiving should be coursed. I like to start with oysters and appetizers, something fun by the fire outside with a white burgundy. Give people a chance to stand and gather and connect. The pacing makes sure that no one feels like they’re over-eating and gives you a moment to actually enjoy the meal you’ve ostensibly sent a week preparing. 

I then move everyone to the table. In warmer years, I’ve tried to keep the table outside with blankets and heaters to enjoy the final colorful days of fall, but I’ve given in and moved the table inside. I start with a couple easy shared dishes--a light fennel and apple salad, beautiful roasted carrots, gorgeous bread and cheese. Give people a moment to sit and ease into the meal before the main course. I know people aren’t crazy about turkey, but I believe it’s because they haven’t had my husband’s. I recommend keeping the sides to things you love. It’s your holiday—there are no rules. If you love deviled eggs, make them. If you love brussel sprouts, make them. Canned cranberry? Go nuts. 

Create engaging moments for your guests

Like any good party, people love an activity. What can you do to get everyone involved? Set up a gratitude book, bring props for an impromptu photo booth, or challenge the group to generational trivia. I love to eat dessert over games—either a rowdy family card game or Scattergories. After the meal is over, and we’ve all done the dishes together. we like to change locations for pie—get everyone standing again and moving. We eat fairly early so there’s always time for a sunset walk. 



October 30, 2023 — Brenna Gilbert