Are you hosting Thanksgiving on your homestead this year? Whether it's your first time hosting or you've been at it for a while, some fresh perspective can go a long way. Seasoned hostess and farmwife Catherine S. Pond shares helpful tips for low-stress Thanksgiving entertaining, country-style.
The countryside is the perfect place to host a Thanksgiving gathering of the clan (or any time).
There is something about the waning end of autumn and that pitch-perfect time before the December holiday frenzy when you only must consider hosting logistics and what’s on the menu.
Family may arrive the day before, while local friends trickle in. If you’re lucky, with some planning, you can have a proper house party for the long weekend.
I have a dream of having a bunkhouse somewhere on the farm for overflow friends and family — and a growing group of grandchildren!
Here are ten simple entertaining tips I've gleaned from years of Thanksgiving hosting on our Kentucky farm.
1. Cook Together!
Fifteen years ago, I went from a huge cook’s kitchen in New Hampshire to a cozy kitchen in our Kentucky farmhouse. I love both for different reasons, but imagine my delight at our last Thanksgiving together in 2021 when my daughter and two daughters-in-law took over the kitchen and had me do very little except for my traditional family-favorite stuffing and cranberry relish, which I had made the day before, along with some of the baked goods— and before the kitchen is torn up the day of the main event.
2. Enjoy Games and Parades
It’s a tradition to have the annual Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving morning when the kitchen is busy in preparation.
Usually, after dinner and dessert, we will gather around the round table in our living room and play several games. Monopoly is popular, but others are, too.
3. Swap Black Friday for Friends—and Family on the Friday
Forget Black Friday! How about “Friends and Fam on the Farm” Friday?
Invite neighbors or friends to come by for leftovers later in the day — or perhaps family who had other obligations the day before. \
Keep it simple, whether that means shared potluck dishes or just desserts. Besides, your house will still be clean!
4. Get a Tree and Trim It Together
If your family is still around on Friday or Saturday, these are perfect days to get your Christmas tree. If you won’t be all together for Christmas, consider a casual trim-a-tree party before everyone departs with hot cocoa and appetizers.
In recent years, I’ve noticed that many people like to decorate the day after Thanksgiving.
I like to let things linger and mellow a bit, but I’m not against getting a tree and decorating it before December if the kids are around. Find your local tree farm and have at it!
5. Read to the Kiddos — Offer Easy Crafts
If you have young children around, it’s an excellent opportunity to share the traditions and history of Thanksgiving while dinner is prepared or before bed.
There are many beloved books in our house from several generations I have collected and tried to read each year.
There are also crafts you can organize for children, especially if you are fortunate to have a daughter-in-law who works in early childhood education!
Check out Holiday Decorating with Nature's Beauty for some nature- and holiday-based crafting ideas.
6. Organize a Skeet Shoot
Our family likes to skeet-shoot when they get together for a fun outdoor activity.
We don’t have neighbors too close by, but they don’t mind if it’s a few times a year. If other guests want to go shopping instead, shop local and find a destination you wish to support. Take in lunch while you’re at it!
7. Organize a Family Photo Shoot
The last time we gathered for Thanksgiving, our three children and their spouses surprised us with a photo shoot, and we all drove out to a location in the next county in the late afternoon “golden hour,” when the sun dappled on the colorful leaves behind us.
In Kentucky, at least, it seems autumn is now a favorite time for family photographs. The kids asked my husband and me to dress in something plaid, and we all managed to blend together in different ways. It’s a treasured photograph, and we’ve since added four grandchildren!
8. Take an After Dinner Walk — or a Hayride
At this time of year, the soybeans have been harvested, and our fields roll out like beckoning pathways.
On the farm where I grew up in New Hampshire, we always took a walk up into the pinewoods after Thanksgiving dinner. Usually, we didn’t have snow until December, and it was the perfect activity to do all together.
So were tractor-pulled hay rides!
9. Have a Bonfire or Firepit (fire conditions permitting)
There’s something about a bonfire or an outdoor fire circle that brings people together in the best of ways. No family gathering at our farm would be complete without one.
We have plenty of wood and scrap that we gather to burn during the year, and Thanksgiving weekend is a perfect time to enjoy the warmth and magic of a fire.
*Note: Pay attention to your local weather report and observe any open burn bans, which have been common in many parts of the South this year (2023). Even if you're burning in an open field away from trees, ashes can spread and start forest or field fires.
Share family stories, or just listen to the crackle. Count your blessings, whether silently or with each other. Savor these moments and watch as the smoke whirls up into the vastness of the heavens. Take comfort in each other and in the lingering afterglow of good food — and in all that really matters.
10. Forget Perfection and Focus on What Matters
As a parting word, I'd encourage you, hosts and hostesses, to focus more on connection and making memories than getting everything "Pinterest Perfect" this Thanksgiving.
Ask for help from your guests (most guests are eager to be put to work), set gentle rules and boundaries up front (especially with kiddos and/or teens running around), and take time out to enjoy the season.
Few people will remember how perfect your tablescape or turkey looked compared to their experience of connection and sense of family and belonging. The country, with its natural beauty, nostalgic qualities and stillness, offers a perfect backdrop for this.
Happy Thanksgiving from our farm to yours!
For recipes from this article, see Thanksgiving Recipes: 3 Family Dressing Favorites.