Lean into the nostalgia. Every Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law pulls out a felt turkey head and doily tail made by my brother-in-law when he was a kid. It attaches to a pineapple and, there you go, a full turkey. We can’t have the meal without it. Most families have some, or many, treasured holiday keepsakes, whether it’s a youthful drawing or painted ceramic. Maybe this is the year to pull them out, if you haven’t in a long time. Another option is to set out all the family photo albums so everyone can look at them, especially if you’re seeing people for the first time in a while. Or project an online album onto your TV. Portraits set out of loved ones you’ve lost can be meaningful, too.
Set the mood. Many of us haven’t eaten inside restaurants in a very long time, but one thing a lot of them do well is ambiance. So decide how you want to set the mood. Turn on a specially curated playlist for when everyone is mingling or cooking. More of a visual person? I’m not going to tell you not to turn on the yule log loop on your TV if that’s your thing this time of year. Chances are your house will already be filled with amazing scents. If not and you’re someone who uses incense or a diffuser, give it a go. Or simmer some whole spices and/or thin slices of orange in water (or wine for a mulled beverage) for instant enticing aroma. Just don’t get distracted and let the pot boil dry!
Set the table. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Still, even a few small touches on the table can add instant flair and character. Those heirloom candlesticks you never use? Now’s the time, even if you don’t actually light the candles. If you happen to have rings, tuck your cloth napkins into them for an instant upgrade. Votive candle holders — feel free to mix and match — can be scattered around the table. This is also a fine time to delegate. Anyone who’s not able or interested in cooking can be in charge of flowers. A few bowls with clementines or apples? Attractive and functional. Decorative gourds? You know ’tis the season! Anything you can manage will make the table feel special.
Give each person a place setting. Name cards are very black-tie wedding, but there are a lot of fun ways to assign seats for larger groups. Give the kids something to do and enlist them to draw and decorate hand turkeys for each guest. Are there Seckel pears at your farmers market? One of my favorite little fruits would be a dainty and practical way to mark each seat with a little name tag tied around the stems. Of course, bigger pears or apples would work great as well.