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.

Our Favorite Things about Holiday Season in America

With Thanksgiving coming up next week, it’s safe to say: the holiday season is upon us. In the US, Thanksgiving marks the start of a month of festivities, decorations, and general merriment in the weeks and days leading up to Christmas and the New Year. Christmas might have its origins as a Christian holiday, but admittedly, the holiday has become commercialized and less about a particular religion, and more about friends and family members celebrating and exchanging gifts. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, there are plenty of things to do in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Year that give you a glimpse into American culture around the holidays. That’s why we’ve rounded up a list of our favorite things about the holiday season in the US.

Holiday lights

If you live on campus, we recommend grabbing some of your friends, renting a car (or a Zipcar) and heading out to the suburbs! There are so many neighborhoods where people drape their homes in thousands of lights and adorn their lawn with decorations befitting a winter wonderland. If you do a little internet research, it’s likely you can even find some neighborhoods in your area known for getting into the holiday spirit. Play some Christmas music while you drive by and admire people’s commitment to the holiday!

Mall Santa

Want your picture taken with Santa? Go to a local mall and meet him! Usually malls will put together a faux North Pole and allow people to pay a certain amount of money to take a photo with Santa Claus. Many malls hire a Santa specifically for the holiday season, ensuring he looks the part. Normally you’ll see little kids waiting in line for a chance to meet Santa and tell him what they want for Christmas, but this could be your opportunity to make sure you made it on the “nice list” this year.

Christmas movies

There are, of course, tons of classic American Christmas movies. You might be familiar with Elf, A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, and others. Gather some friends and have a Christmas movie marathon, coupled with some hot chocolate. There has also been a recent cultural phenomenon surrounding made-for-TV Christmas movies. These are movies made specifically for TV networks. You can find lots on Netflix, and even on the Hallmark Channel, which is known for some overly romantic (and maybe unrealistic) storylines, but that still prove fun to watch.

Holiday parties

We love any reason for a party – and the holidays are a great reason! People come together and listen to Christmas music, drink eggnog, and participate in general merriment. Some parties will feature gift-giving, while others will just focus on celebrating another holiday season and the approaching new year. In recent years, “Ugly Sweater Parties” have become extremely popular around the holidays. These ugly sweater parties require guests to wear sweaters that tend to be extremely festive and holiday-themed. They’re not ugly, so much as they are a little exaggerated in their commitment to the holiday theme. Whatever holiday party that pops up on your schedule, be sure to attend as they’re a great way to celebrate and meet new people.

Gift-giving games

We love being able to select the perfect gift for our friends and family members, but one of the other fun parts of the holidays is participating in popular gift-giving games. There’s the gift-giving game “White Elephant,” also known as “Yankee Swap” and “Dirty Santa,” in which participants pick gifts and get to swap them with others. “Secret Santa” is also a popular and more benevolent gift-giving game where members of a group assign each person a single gift recipient. That person then buys a gift for their recipient, but keeps their identity a mystery, usually revealed only after the gift has been given. These gift-giving games are a fun way to participate in gift-giving.

Christmas cookies

Every holiday throughout the year comes with its own traditional treats, Christmas is no exception. Christmas is generally associated with its cookies, and many people will have “cookie swaps” around this time of year to share their cookies with friends or family members and maximize their own treats. People will bake basic sugar cookies and then decorate them with sprinkles and frosting. This can be a fun activity to do as a group, or even just on your own – but be sure to share!

Tree-lighting ceremonies

Throughout the US, many cities and towns will host a tree-lighting or just a lights ceremony to commemorate the start of the holiday season. There might not be as much pomp and circumstance as you see in the movies, but it’s a great way to feel like a part of your community, and sometimes there can be other events planned in addition to the lighting – and usually hot chocolate and other treats.

Outdoor ice skating

With colder weather comes the perfect conditions for outdoor ice skating. Some cities and towns will transform a part of their parks into a place for ice skating by creating a rink open to the public. Bring some of your friends, rent ice skates, and don’t worry so much about falling down! Be sure to wear warm clothes, a hat, scarf, and gloves so that you can enjoy the experience of skating without getting too cold. It’ll be a fun experience for you and your friends.

Giving back to charity

Though this time of year is special for so many reasons, one of the most special reasons is that it provides us with the opportunity to reflect on what we have, and how we can help others. In between all of the parties and festivities, don’t forget to think about others who might not be as fortunate. Participate in school fundraisers or charitable events as a way to show your support for others in the community, or consider volunteering your time at a homeless shelter or other organization serving those in need. Helping others will make you feel good and is great way to cap off the holiday season and your year.