Thanksgiving is one holiday where family traditions hold strong, so far be it from me to tell you to change it up! There's obviously no right or wrong way to celebrate this wonderful day so long as it feels genuine to you. The best part about Thanksgiving is that it has intention infused right into the holiday: Give thanks and eat! So long as you can do it surrounded by people whom you love and who love you, there's not much more you need to do to make the day meaningful. But it's also fun to take this mega-holiday and really go for it with food, décor, and of course, gratitude.
Even though our menu is almost always the same—yam-stuffed oranges! Grandma's broccoli surprise! pies for days!—the décor is a very different story. I like to turn the fancy factor way up when it comes to setting the table. Since it's one of the few times a year I'll host a super-sophisticated sit-down dinner, I love the excuse to pull out all the over-the-top stops. I establish a chic theme, build a formal table concept from the linens to the chargers to the dishes and glasses, use just about every piece of silverware I own (and in some cases pieces I don't, but more on that in a bit), make sure the lighting in the room feels cozy and intimate, and use everything in my tablescape toolbox, such as flowers, candles, and elements from nature, to make the room feel elevated but welcoming and warm. The rest of the evening is hardly what you could call formal; you can't get our family together—all twenty-plus of us, not including any strays we invite—without someone or everyone breaking into song and dance or something else ridiculous and silly. There will be wine spilled on the table, pie smashed into the rug, and generally a big glorious mess—but at least we started out with a gorgeous spread!
Thanksgiving do's and don'ts:
Do go back to the Drawing Board. Ask yourself what colors you want to showcase, what you want your theme to be. Feeling super-traditional? Go for golds, oranges, and browns. Want to change it up? Do what I did one year and channel an enchanted English garden. Get creative with your inspiration, which could even be a pretty leaf that you found on a walk. Then use those decisions to inform everything else. This is one party where you shouldn’t be shy about going all out. Just keep coming back to the vibe you want as a touchstone so things don’t start feeling scattered.
Do use any heirloom or hand-me-down linens, dishes, silverware, or serving pieces to summon the spirit of those who can’t be with you on this special day.
Do decide where you're going to put all the food. Setting up buffet-style means more room for tablescape flourishes, versus accommodating a serious spread. And definitely give the desserts their own festive moment on a sideboard or table, adding interest by varying height with things like cake pedestals and platters or plates set on top of overturned (and matching) bowls.
Do think of all the pretty touches, such as cloth napkins, napkin rings (one of my favorite ways to add a little extra sumthin' to a table), carafes for water and any other beverages, salt and pepper cellars, and sweet bowls and dishes for condiments, especially butter bells (I love a butter bell!).
Do keep table decorations low so you can see everyone’s face.
Do set an extra place or two at the table, just in case. If your house is like mine, you never know who's going to show up.
Don't feel like you need to do everything yourself, even if you're like me and will probably try to anyway. Make life a little easier—and so much more enjoyable—by asking a few trusty sidekicks to come early to help prep. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that some of the most fun and special moments happen when everyone’s together in the kitchen. And definitely let people bring things if they ask!
Don't think that formal = no fun. Make getting dinner on the table a group effort. Give everyone a job—including the kids—from rolling out dough to lighting the candles, then crank up the Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra and keep the wine flowing. Major bonus points if there's singing or dancing by the time you sit down.
Don't forget what it's all about. Ask everyone to share what they're thankful for. Even though everyone's been daydreaming about the mashed potatoes, and the turkey has made the house smell amazing, this is what today is for. Hit the pause button on all the tumult, invite everyone to settle in, and say a few words of gratitude of your own: Thank people for coming, give a special mention to anyone who contributed to the meal or the evening in some way, and share what makes today so meaningful to you. Your sincerity will help set the tone for everyone else. Then hold the space while your guests take turns sharing thanks of their own. After that, time to eat!
Do It Easy: When It Pays to Rent
Bringing in things like plates, glassware, and silverware is lower maintenance than you'd think. Most rental companies offer a range of options when it comes to price, and it means you 1) don’t need to buy extra place settings to accommodate a crowd; 2) won't need to spend a ton of time cleaning up after dinner (since most companies just ask that everything be rinsed); and 3) can change it up from year to year when it comes to style.
From PRETTY FUN: Creating and Celebrating a Lifetime of Tradition by Kate Hudson. Copyright © 2017 by Kate Hudson. Reprinted by permission of Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.