With Thanksgiving being just a little over one week away, the holiday season is officially in full swing! I grew up having a small Thanksgiving with only my parents and my sister gathered around the table. My mom would pull out her beautiful dinnerware (not fine china because we couldn't afford it) and we would have a wonderful meal that she worked hard to prepare for us. Our little three-bedroom home would fill with delicious aromas from all of the fresh sage and poultry seasonings. My mom wasn't a baker, so Grater's bakery in Cincinnati would be our special place for our desserts. My mom was always so happy and proud of her Thanksgiving dinners, and we were extremely appreciative of all of her hard work.
Sadly, in 2010 my mother passed away. It was a devastating blow to our family. That year, my husband and I went back to Cincinnati to have a small Thanksgiving with my dad and sister but things just weren't the same. That first Thanksgiving without my mother seemed disorganized and cobbled together. My mother's magnificent aura had left the house and things just felt empty without her warm presence. There were no aromas, no laughter, no smiles, and literally no appetite. It was depressing. Heartache hung over the house like a giant weight on our chest. I knew there had to be a better way to honor my mother and those precious memories I had of our family Thanksgivings.
On our flight back home, my husband suggested that we start a new tradition and host the next Thanksgiving at our home. At first I was excited about the idea, a Taylor Thanksgiving! But as we moved closer and closer to the next holiday season, I became increasingly overwhelmed at the thought of preparing and delivering a meal for our family that would evoke the same delicious and loving memories that my mother created year after year. I had A LOT to live up to!
You should know by now that I like to pull out all the stops for my events and hosting a holiday dinner was no exception. For that first Thanksgiving, we invited my brother and sister-in-law and her side of the family, my sister and dad (of course!), our three children, and a few other guests that would amount to almost 30 people (wow!). I had no idea how I was going to handle a Thanksgiving dinner for a gathering of this size, so I decided to start with something I knew I could conquer: the decorations. My husband wanted the tables arranged in such a way that everyone could be seated together, which meant that I needed enough linens and decorations to cover six long tables, and enough dinnerware for 30 people.
So, what were my secrets to success for hosting my first Thanksgiving dinner?
1. Create a budget and stick to it: Don't be afraid to try a few different stores.
Shopping for 30 guests on a budget is no easy task, so I hit up all my favorite discount shops for the decor: the Christmas Tree Shop, Amazon, Target, TJ Maxx, Ross, Dollar Tree, and Pier One's clearance rack (to name a few). The Christmas Tree Store, Amazon, Target, and the Dollar Tree are great for buying in bulk, while TJ Maxx, Ross, and Pier One are the perfect stores to find serving ware and unique decorations.
2. Make it a family event: Everyone can pitch in!
That first Thanksgiving was terrific. My husband smoked turkeys and beef briskets, while my cousin and sister brought a honey-baked ham and mashed potatoes. I made my mother's famous mac n' cheese, mixed greens, green beans, and stuffing. My sister-in-law made a pan of her mouth-watering sweet potato fluff, a dish that is so crazy yummy and addictive it belongs to the dessert table. Finally, for dessert, my other sister-in-law brought her homemade pound cake.
3. Keep your sanity: Focus on what's important.
That first dinner was a huge success (in spite of a small stuffing disaster). The tables were lovely, the family was together, and as I looked around I knew that I had honored my mother's memory. Eight years later, the tradition continues with our family and friends. I have become a regular holiday shopper at the Christmas Tree Store, and my Thanksgiving tables continue to evolve year after year. My husband and I have created our own wonderful Thanksgiving dinner memories, and each year we share those special moments with more of our family and friends.
So tell me, how do you do things at your Thanksgiving table?