Your To-Do List for Getting Ready for the Holidays

6 years ago

I have been doing the "Thanksgiving thing" since college.  It started my freshman year.  I was part of a group of very close friends who did everything together.  We were going home to our own families for the holiday, so decided to have a Thanksgiving before we left, so we could have our own holiday together.  I, along with my friend Karen, made the Thanksgiving meal:  a real turkey (at least 12 pounds because we had leftovers) , real stuffing (not stove top), real mashed potatoes (I have no clue how we mashed them?), veggies, rolls, and even pumpkin pie.  I am still in awe of the fact that we made such an elaborate dinner (for 14 people no less) on two burners and a very small oven (I think the turkey took up the whole oven.). As a matter of fact, if I recall correctly, each dorm floor had an oven, and we commandeered at least one other floor oven too!  After that, it became a yearly tradition for our group-such wonderful memories!  I'd give anything to have them all back together with me, sharing Thanksgiving again. 


I think the reason I was able to pull off this endeavor, was because I had such a great teacher-my Mom.  She made Thanksgiving dinner every year, and I was her kitchen assistant.  Each Thanksgiving morning, we chopped and mixed and stuffed, all while watching the Macy's Day parade.  I guess by the time I got to college, I had been doing it so much, it was old hat for me.  Thank you Mom! 



Holidays can be stressful, especially for Type A perfectionists like me-which makes it no fun for my family.  I have tried to curb my stress by being better prepared, and letting the little things go.   Since I am now an old pro at Thanksgiving, there are a few things that I have learned over the years, to minimize the stress.  Whether you are doing Thanksgiving for the first time, or you are an old pro yourself, these are good tips to remember (some are serious, some are tongue-in-cheek).  If you have any suggestions of your own, please post them in the comments area below!


Kitchen/Cooking Tips:

Getting my kitchen ready for cooking is my #1 stress factor.  If I forget to buy something, or neglect to take care of something in advance, I tend to obsess, so being prepared is key for me.

  • Do your grocery shopping several days in advance, so if you forget something, you have time to run back.
  • Make a list before you go grocery shopping, so you do not forget unique items that you would not normally purchase. 
  • Don't forget staples such as butter, milk, cream, flour, eggs, etc. 
  • You will have a lot more dishes-make sure you have fresh kitchen towels available for drying.
  • Make certain you are stocked up on dish and dishwasher detergent.  There is nothing worse than having no dish soap when you make your kids do the dishes. 
  • If someone asks to help, let them.  You cannot do it all yourself.  (I know.  Who the hell am I to talk--I don't let anyone in my kitchen!)
  • For goodness sake, wear comfy shoes while working in the kitchen.  If you don't, by the end of the day, your feet and legs will be so tired, you can barely stand.  I wear my handy-dandy bright yellow Crocs, given to me by Doll Face.
  • Cleaning a turkey is a dirty job.  Make sure you start with a very clean sink.  Have bleach spray available to clean out your sink before, and after cleaning the turkey.  Salmonella is not your friend.
  • Remember to take the giblet bags out of the turkey before cooking. 
  • If you burn the turkey, do not throw it out the back door. Just slice it-it will be okay.
  • Make what you can in advance.  One of the recipes I will share this week is make-ahead gravy. 
  • Make certain that the turkey is completely thawed.  Under-cooked turkey is gross! (This one I will admit to--it has happened to me, and I have been at others houses where they served rare/raw turkey.  Blech!)  Check it the night before.  If it is still partially frozen, soak it in a salt brine for a few hours, and then refrigerate.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher and/or baking soda available for kitchen disasters. 
  • Over salt the veggies?  Throw a piece of potato in the water and it will absorb some of the salt. 
  • Keep baggies and aluminum foil handy for leftovers.


General Tips:

Just because you are doing the cooking/entertaining, does not mean you cannot have fun.  Make time to enjoy yourself and your company. 


  • If you are having company, wash tablecloths and other linens several days in advance.
  • After washing the linens (if you do not use your dining room table as junk holder), place the table cloth directly from the dryer to the table so it does not get wrinkled.
  • Polish silverware a week before the big day.  There is nothing more embarrassing than black spots on the silver as you set the table. (Well, maybe your skirt in your pantyhose would be more embarrassing... I would not know!)
  • Forget about dressing up!  Everyone will be so much more comfortable casual.  Not sweatpants casual, but nice jeans casual.  This eliminates the skirt in the panty hose problem as well. 
  • If you are missing or do not have enough utensils/serving plates etc, make sure to stock up ahead of time.
  • If you have a large crowd coming, make certain you have extra chairs and/or tables available.
  • Make time to wash a movie or play games with your family/guests during the day. Sometimes dinner can just wait. 
  • Even if it is just your immediate family, make it special and eat in the dining room. 
  • Start some family traditions.  My son and I watch the Macy's parade every Thanksgiving morning, just like I did with my mom. 
  • If you are alone for the holidays, invite someone new over.  There is nothing like a big ol' turkey and pumpkin pie, to form friendships and bond people together.


Overnight Guest Tips:

When guests come to my house, I like to create the atmosphere of a bed and breakfast-they have their own space, but still have family time with us.  Creating a private space, no matter how big or small, for your guests to make themselves at home is important.


  • Make certain you have fresh clean towels and sheets available.  Wash them in advance so you are not scrambling at the last-minute. 
  • Make a basket of trial size toiletries to put in the guest bath.  Items such as an extra toothbrush, razor, and hair spray will come in handy for your guests if they forget something. 
  • Keep a water-glass and pitcher in the guest bath or bedroom. 
  • Place a few recent magazines and/or best seller books on the nightstand. 
  • Have a bit of closet space available for guests to hang clothing.
  • Make certain you have an extra hair dryer available for guest use. 
  • Place a small vase of fresh flowers in the guest room. 
  • Try to find out dietary restrictions/likes and dislikes before your guests arrive, so you know how to accommodate. 
  • Set the coffee pot on automatic timer, and have some bagels/muffins ready, so that your guests can help themselves in the morning. 
  • Make sure to take a break from everyone now and then.  Having company can sometimes be stressful, and you may need alittle alone time to recharge your mental batteries.  Even a private trip to the coffee shop, while listening to Guns and Roses, (on top volume while you scream) can help.  (Again, not that I would know...)
  • Have crayons, games, and DVD's  available for little ones, even if you no longer have little ones at home.  Kids bore easily, and having things on hand will keep both their parents and your sanity.  And the kids will love that you remembered them. 


Decorating/Entertaining Tips:

Decorating/Entertaining does not have to be extravagant, and in fact, most guests appreciate the small gestures. 

  • Have both red and white wines available for guests, as well as a few varieties of beer.  
  • A glass or two is fine, but do not drink an entire bottle of wine before cooking, as dinner will never get done.   And you will be napping under that gorgeous table you set.  Not cool!
  • Have a few quick appetizers available to keep the vultures guests at bay, while you prepare dinner.  It can be as simple as cheese and crackers, or pepper jelly over cream cheese, with crackers. Carrots and celery sticks are a healthy option.
  • Find out any dietary restrictions in advance, so there are no surprises.   There is nothing worse than a nut allergy reaction to ruin a good time.   
  • For a quick centerpiece, take a pretty round vase or bowl, fill with a bag of fresh cranberries, and place some white roses or carnations (cut low) on top.  Very pretty! 
  • Candles are pretty on the table, but impractical when you have little ones.  Use flameless candles. 
  • Have peanuts and small candies scattered around the room in dishes.   
  • Unless you have a large group, place cards on the table are a nice touch, but unnecessary.  Let people seat themselves. 
  • Don't relegate the kids to a small table in the kitchen-they want to be part of the group.  Have a small card table at the end of the large table, and place both adults and kids at it.  If you do not have space in your dining room, sit outside or in your living/family room.   
  • Have a group after-dinner game, while you are still at the table, but before dishes. This way, people can still pick at their plate without feeling rushed to get the dishes done.   
  • Go for a group walk after dinner.  You can work off that third second helping of sweet potatoes, and enjoy a crisp fall day together.  
  • If there is a disaster, do not panic.  It will be okay.  Your guests are there for you, not your food.  Okay, fine...maybe they are there for the food, but they are there for you too.  Mishaps make for great conversation when you get together next year!  If you cannot laugh at yourself, you will just cry, and no one wants a blubbering idiot on Thanksgiving day.  I do not recall if we had any disasters that first Thanksgiving at college--all I remember is the wonderful memories we had together. 
  • That reminds me--above all, remember why you are all together.  Be thankful for what you have and count your blessings.  Amen.


My last post:  Thank You From the Bottom of My Heart

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