Thanksgiving planning: How to host a memorable Thanksgiving

A Thanksgiving invitation featuring animals at a dinner table.

Get ready to host a turkey-tastic Thanksgiving party

The turkey may be the star of the show, but anyone who’s ever hosted a Thanksgiving dinner before can attest: there are *so* many things beyond the bird to consider when planning a Thanksgiving party.

From apps and desserts to activities and decor, it can be hard to keep track of everything on your plate. That’s why we’re here with a comprehensive guide to Thanksgiving party planning. And for all things Friendsgiving, make sure to check out our Friendsgiving checklist to learn how to throw the ultimate fall feast for your friends.


In order to make sure you know what to expect by the time Thanksgiving Day rolls around, it’s important to send out invitations far in advance so you can get an accurate headcount for your gathering.

When it comes to holidays, it’s always best to send out your invitations 4–6 weeks in advance to allow your guests plenty of time to plan and make any travel arrangements.

Once you’ve got an understanding of how big your feast is going to be, the rest is gravy! 

Questions to consider while planning ahead for Thanksgiving:

  1. How many guests will you be hosting?
  2. How many tables will you need?
  3. How many place settings will you need?
  4. Will you need a kids’ table? If so, check out our kidsgiving blog for more kid-friendly tips.
  5. How many drinks will you need to serve?
  6. How many servings of food should you prepare?

When it comes to entertaining, remember: it’s always best to overshoot and send guests home with leftovers than to have a house full of hungry people. 

Here’s a breakdown to help you figure out how much turkey you’ll need based on the size of your gathering:

4 people: 5 lbs

6 people: 8 lbs
8 people: 10 lbs

10 people: 13 lbs

12 people: 15 lbs

15 people: 20 lbs

20 people: 25 lbs

25 people: 32 lbs

You’ll also want to gather any helpful cooking gadgets and seasonal decorations in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Nothing is worse than realizing halfway through the cooking process that you forgot to purchase a crucial tool, so we’ve put together a list of typical supplies you might need on Turkey Day. As for decor, it’s always good to shop in advance. The more things you can check off of your list before the week of Thanksgiving, the less stressed you’ll be as the holiday approaches!

Cooking supplies that might come in handy:

Roasting pan

Meat thermometer

Oven thermometer

Cooking twine

Brining bag

Turkey baster

Pie dishes

Sheet pans

Cooling racks


Rolling pin

Food scale

Food processor

Potato masher

Go grocery shopping

When it comes to grocery shopping, make sure you’re considering every component of your meal. You’ll want to make one master list of every ingredient you will need for every dish, then start making trips to grocery stores to gather your goods.

Start by listing out each dish you plan on making. Consider any appetizers, side dishes, main dishes, desserts and beverages you plan to make and write down every necessary ingredient.

It is best to start your shopping as early as possible, buying non-perishables far in advance so you only have to worry about purchasing perishable goods the week of Thanksgiving.

It’s super important to make sure you have the right ingredients for the dishes you plan to make, but here is a list of common items you’ll likely need when cooking for Thanksgiving:


  • Need we explain?


  • Use for baked goods, gravy and more!

Sugar (white and brown)

  • For desserts, cranberry sauce and candied yams


  • A must!

Autumnal herbs (sage, thyme, etc.)

  • Give those dishes some fresh, fall flavor!


  • They aren’t gonna mash themselves!


  • Use for cranberry sauce or in a fun, experimental cocktail!

Set up decorations

Gather your decorations ahead of time to take the stress out of decorating your space. Stick with an autumnal color palette and use a variety of textures. Try setting the table with earth-toned tableware, placing autumnal plants around the house and hanging decorative garlands wherever you can.

Decor ideas to spruce up your space:

White pumpkin and eucalyptus garland

Fall wreath

Decorative fabric pumpkins

Burlap “Thankful” banner

Green variegated placemats

Orange plaid linen napkins

Pumpkin tablecloth

Fall harvest table runner

Ceramic serving bowls

Glass hurricane candle holders

Eucalyptus branches

Rattan vase

Gratitude and appreciation

Don’t worry, no one’s expecting a full-on speech from the host, but it can be a nice gesture to prepare a few words of gratitude to share before your meal. Offer your guests a moment to reflect by reading an inspiring quote or sharing your own feelings of gratitude with the group.

Then, invite your guests to share what they’re thankful for, too! No need to make everyone share, but definitely open up the floor for anyone who does want to share a few words.

Figure out activities

Keep your guests entertained by planning some fun, festive games and activities! Thanksgiving is a great time for some bonding with family and friends and nothing brings people together like some healthy competition.

Here are some of our favorite games and activities:

Apple toss

  • Place baskets of various sizes at different distances. Try to throw apples into the baskets. Farther baskets and smaller baskets are worth more points.

Pumpkin checkers

  • Just like typical checkers, except with miniature faux pumpkins as your game pieces!

Thanksgiving bingo

  • Make your own board or buy a pre-made one like this one from Etsy.

Hand turkey drawing

  • A classic Thanksgiving craft, have guests trace the outline of their hand, then use crayons or colored pencils to decorate it as a turkey!

Sack race

  • Nostalgic backyard games are a Thanksgiving must.

Three-legged race

  • See above.

Day of the party

On Thanksgiving day, you’re going to want to get as early of a start as you can to ensure everything is ready by the time guests begin arriving. Multi-tasking is going to be your best friend: start your cooking, get as much as you can into the oven and then start decorating your space while you wait for the food to cook.

And, of course, don’t put on your Thanksgiving party outfit until the last possible minute! Between the cranberry sauce, pie fillings and turkey drippings, messes and stains are practically a given, so spare yourself the extra stress by putting on clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.

Thanksgiving day planning checklist:

Prep and cook food

Decorate house

Set up activities

Set table(s)

Set the scene

Hang your decorations, arrange your florals and prep any centerpieces. Make sure ingredients for cocktails and drinks are ready to go—setting up a self-serve drink station is a great way to make guests feel extra comfortable in your space and take one more task off your plate during the party.

Lastly, put on a nice dinner party playlist to give the atmosphere that extra oomph and light any candles. 

Prepare the food

It’s a feast, after all, so cooking is perhaps the most important part of your day of preparations. Make a cooking schedule ahead of time to guide you throughout the day. You don’t need to plan every minute of your day, but having a sense of what time to start each dish, when to put things in the oven and how long each dish takes to cook will help you stay organized and have everything ready by the time your guests arrive.

Other helpful tips:

Clean as you go

  • The cleaner your kitchen is, the less stressed you’ll be!

Make use of Crock-Pots and slow cookers

  • Seriously, slow cookers are a Thanksgiving host’s best friend. Work smarter, not harder!

Check your turkey’s temperature as it cooks

  • No one wants a burnt bird, so use of that meat thermometer!

Don’t panic

  • You’ve got this!

Set the table

The final piece of any pre-party prep is setting the table. Lay out your decorative table cloth, arrange any centerpieces, set each place and, for an extra fancy touch, add place cards so guests know where to go. If you’re expecting lots of kiddos, consider setting up a kids’ table with kid-friendly activities like coloring books and crayons at the ready. Find more tips for creating the ultimate kidsgiving table here.

Hang up any wall decorations and any other adornments to create a cozy Thanksgiving atmosphere. Consider placing candles, pumpkins and wreaths around your house to really lean into that fall harvest energy.

When the food is ready, decide which dishes you’ll want to place on the table. You likely won’t be able to fit everything, so prioritize the most impressive dishes and the crowd-pleasers. Then, set up a separate table with any remaining food.

Enjoy the day

Take a big sigh and give yourself a pat on the back—you’re ready to relax and enjoy the day!

Freshen up, change into your party clothes and get ready to greet your guests. Take a last-minute peak at your RSVPs to remind yourself who to expect and brace yourself for any unexpected plus-ones. 

Have a good time, eat lots of food and remember to take plenty of pictures to capture all the memories! Facilitate any games or activities you planned and express your feelings of gratitude to remind guests what the day’s all about.

After the party

The fun doesn’t have to end when the party does! Thanksgiving’s all about gratitude, so let your guests know how thankful you are for all of them with a thank you card after your event.

Send out thank you cards

Sending out thank you cards after your gathering is a great way to express your gratitude for those who came out to your gathering and to thank anyone who was particularly helpful throughout the planning process and/or at the party.

Evite offers plenty of autumnal thank you cards, perfect for sending after a Thanksgiving gathering. Our cards are easy to customize, with plenty of personalization options like our editable backgrounds or envelope liners and decorative stickers and stamps.

Once you’ve designed the perfect card, you can quickly add recipients by using the same guest list you used for your invitation. Then, write a message for everyone or individualize your messages for each recipient.

Sending your cards is super easy; with Evite, you’re able to decide whether you’ll want to text or email your cards. Once they’re off, check to see when your card’s been viewed and see any emoji reactions your guests send back.

Browse Thank You Cards

Plan an unforgettable Thanksgiving celebration 

The tur-key to a successful Thanksgiving is planning ahead, so make sure to prep all of your stuffing well in advance! That means finding the perfect invitation with Evite.

Browse our collection of Thanksgiving designs, including our photo templates if you’re looking for something extra special, and choose your favorite one. Then, customize it by adjusting your text, changing the background and envelope liner, and adding fun stamps and stickers. 

Once it’s ready, add your guests and send your invitations via email, text or shareable link. Check your RSVPs in real-time to always ensure you’ve got an accurate headcount and message guests privately or as a group with any important info.

Our autumnal thank you cards are perfect to send to guests post-Thanksgiving to spread even more gratitude. You can add recipients with ease by importing the same guest list you used on your invitation. Send via email or text and see recipients react with fun emojis!

If you’re planning plenty of parties this holiday season or hoping to send lots of holiday cards, consider signing up for Evite Pro. This subscription service allows you to send an unlimited number of greeting cards and Premium invitations so you can celebrate all of life’s most awesome moments!

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