7 Tips for Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner as an International Student

On the fourth Thursday of November every year, Americans observe Thanksgiving Day, a secular national holiday centered on giving thanks. The first Thanksgiving occurred in the 1600s when the Pilgrims and America’s indigenous people (also known as Native Americans) came together for a feast to celebrate the harvest and other blessings.

Though some things have changed since that first “harvest feast,” the holiday still centers on gratitude, and celebrating with friends and family over a shared meal. Dinner is the main event on Thanksgiving, and for many Americans, their traditional Thanksgiving dinner consists of: roast turkey, turkey stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, corn, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Of course, many Americans will have other dishes and desserts to commemorate the day, and will also participate in activities such as watching football on TV or going to see a local game, or watching the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on TV (or in-person if you live in New York City).

Regardless of what’s eaten, what’s watched, or how it’s celebrated, at its core, Thanksgiving is really about coming together with friends and family and reminding ourselves how much we have to be thankful for. As long as you’re reflecting and giving thanks, you are celebrating Thanksgiving.

If you’re interested in hosting your own Thanksgiving feast, we’ve gathered seven tips to help you celebrate the holiday:

Plan out your meal as far in advance as possible…

Start by figuring out your menu at least the week before (if not earlier) and determine what supplies you’ll need. Some things to start thinking about:

  • What food and ingredients you’ll need for the recipes you want to make
  • How many dishes and utensils you’ll need for your dinner guests
  • What sort of space do you need to host all of your guests — will you require more chairs or another table?
  • What time you want to host dinner

By starting to plan out the details of Thanksgiving Day, you’ll have a better idea of what you need to prepare and host the meal, and also means you have a game plan for grocery shopping, as the stores get crowded in the week leading up to the actual day. Planning ahead also means you can give your friends or family members enough time to make arrangements or to contribute and help you prepare.

…Including purchasing non-perishable items ahead of time

In addition to planning out your meal as far in advance as possible, try to buy as many ingredients or supplies as you need in advance too. For example, many families will purchase cranberry sauce pre-made in a can, which is something you can buy early. By purchasing some items well ahead of Thanksgiving, you can ensure that some of the ingredients or supplies are in stock and readily available for purchase.

Incorporate your own culture and traditions

The original Thanksgiving brought together the Pilgrims and the Indigenous people in America – each group coming from very different cultures. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, you too can bring your own culture into this American tradition to make it distinctly yours. Consider some of your own favorite traditions or holidays and the food and rituals that accompany them. Is there something you can incorporate into your Thanksgiving meal? Maybe it’s choosing one of your favorite dishes that could pair well with some of the traditional Thanksgiving foods. Maybe it’s adding a course that represents your culture, or playing games that you typically associate with a holiday from home. It’s okay (and encouraged) to make Thanksgiving a holiday that is personal and special to you.

Accept help!

One of the best things about Thanksgiving is that it brings people together, so if you’re nervous about cooking the entire meal yourself, ask for help from the people you’ve invited. Encourage American friends to bring their favorite dish, or ask your fellow international students to contribute a dish that’s from their culture to complement the meal. You don’t need to do it all on your own, and oftentimes the meal is that much more enjoyable when you have friends and family sharing their dishes and participating in the cooking.

Create a cooking schedule

Cooking a traditional Thanksgiving meal — with the turkey, all of the side dishes and desserts — is certainly a big undertaking, and one that requires a plan. Just the turkey itself can take several hours to cook, so you’ll need to plan when and how you’ll cook your other dishes with this in mind. Many dishes can be prepared completely or partially the day before (or in some cases, even a little earlier) so that you are only finishing or re-heating those dishes on the day of Thanksgiving.

Set the table the night before

If you have the space and are able, set your table the night before the meal to save yourself some extra steps on Thanksgiving. Lay out the utensils your guests will need and any other necessary dishes, so that you can be ready to serve and eat. This will save you time, and also cut down on any commotion in the kitchen during the meal.

Focus on enjoying the deal and your meal — not perfection

This is definitely the most important tip we could give you. Like we mentioned at the beginning of the post, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks and being with your family and friends. It’s not about having the perfect table set up or the perfect meal. Don’t stress out too much about getting your mashed potatoes just right, the turkey taking a little too long, or having to fit a lot of people into a small space. What matters most are the memories you’re creating. Enjoy the work you put into your meal and be proud of yourself for bringing your friends or family together.