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7 Secrets for Hosting a Warm, Meaningful Thanksgiving This Year

Here's how Marc Eliot, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of swoop, a high-end event production company, makes his holiday memorable, beyond even the perfect bird and tasty pies.

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Add a “thankful tree” 

Remembering why we’re gathered for this festive meal begins with a tree branch taken from a tree with fall leaves. Each guest has a small pencil and a slip of paper at their seat that is looped with a ribbon. Ask everyone to write what they’re thankful for, and place the papers in a small vessel that is then passed around the table. The “thanksgivings” are then hung one by one on the branches of the tree, to be shared before dessert. It’s a joy, and often very funny, to read everyone’s thoughts and musings. In case your guests need inspiration, these gratitude quotes will remind you to be thankful every day.

Are you hosting Thanksgiving this year? Download our FREE Thanksgiving guide with recipes, jokes, stories and more.

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Let everyone know who’s who

Non-traditional seating cards are festive and fun. Consider turkey-shaped cookies with guests’ names, or chocolate turkeys with name collars. Check out these ideas for gorgeous DIY place cards you’ll want on your Thanksgiving table. If you have several new guests joining you this year, create tent cards with double-sided printing, so people can see the names of those sitting across the table. 

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Arrange table seating to promote mingling 

If you are hosting a large gathering, it’s important to create a sense of community and intimacy with guests. Try a horseshoe-shaped dinner table if space allows, so that every guest has a great sight line with ample space to play musical chairs. It’s fun to switch up dinner companions during an extended meal! Here are more tips for hosting a perfect Thanksgiving.

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Invite guests to bring a favorite dish

Thanksgiving dinner should feel personal, and many people have a favorite or traditional recipe they love. Encourage guests to bring a dish or two if they like, whether it’s Campbell’s String Bean and Onion casserole or a less typical dish such as stuffing fried rice. A potluck meal is a wonderful opportunity for everyone to try new things, and feel “at home.” Use these tips to throw a successful potluck Thanksgiving.

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Let the season speak for itself

It’s important that the décor does not include, or overwhelm the food, so low lush, fall-themed arrangements, with seasonal blooms and produce including gourds, berries, and foliage are ideal—and add lots of candlelight. If time allows, consider creating smaller, more condensed versions of the table arrangement, so each guest has something beautiful (in addition to leftovers) to take home. Here are more brilliant ideas for how to decorate your home for fall.

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Scent the holiday

Memories and traditions are informed by scents that we know and love, and there will be plenty of delicious, familiar aromas emanating from the kitchen for Thanksgiving! To create an overall sense of delicious ambiance for the gathering, early in the day scent your environment with some homemade mulling spices on the stovetop. In a small saucepan heat 3 to 4 inches of water until simmering, add 2 whole cinnamon sticks, a few whole cloves, a pinch of allspice, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a vanilla bean. Be sure to check the water level throughout the day and replenish as needed. Check out these other ideas for homemade air fresheners

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Set up a pre-game station

If you’re hosting the holiday, chances are you may have some extra houseguests. And since you’re busy enough just prepping the main meal, plan to set up a simple “help yourself” spread to keep people from being underfoot in the kitchen in search of a snack. Guest favorites include a bagel bar with pre-sliced bagels and spreads such as cream cheese, butter, and fresh fruit including apples and tangerines, along with your family’s favorite chips, nuts, and beverages. The food should be enough to curb guests’ hunger but not spoil their appetite for the holiday meal. And consider a DIY bar with refreshing drinks that taste like fall. For an easy clean-up, set out disposable plates, cups, napkins, and utensils, so you don’t spend more time in the kitchen than with your guests.