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Your Official Thanksgiving Timeline to Get Ready for the Big Day

Whether you have months to plan or only days, this schedule will help to ease your culinary and celebratory confusion.

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The first week of November

Reach out to family and friends to establish a headcount. Once you’ve got an idea of your guest list, pre-order your bird. You’ll want about a pound per person. Next, decide on the rest of your menu and prepare two grocery lists—one for nonperishable items to purchase now and one for perishable items to purchase a few days before Thanksgiving Day. To kick off your Thanksgiving timeline, check out this menu for the best Thanksgiving ever.

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Two weeks before Thanksgiving

Before things get hectic, set aside a few minutes in your Thanksgiving timeline to consider your party’s décor. You’ll want to create a festive autumn atmosphere through warm colors and elegant decorations. Pull out the tablecloths, napkins, and dishes you plan to use and make sure everything is clean and in working order. And don’t miss these 16 tips to maintain your sanity during the holiday.

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One week before Thanksgiving

Consider brainstorming fun activities for your youngest guests. Custom place mats that feature each child’s name and a coloring activity are a great option (although they do require advance planning). A puzzle or board game station is another idea. Here are more Thanksgiving activities for kids you can try.

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The weekend before

It’s cleanup time! Get the entire family involved in giving the house a scrub. Your Saturday-morning chores will never yield such sparkling results. You’re making progress on your Thanksgiving timeline! Try renting these helpful items for a stress-free Thanksgiving. 

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Four days ahead

Buy remaining grocery items and pick up the fresh turkey if you ordered one. If you bought a frozen turkey, take it out of the freezer to thaw. You’ll need 24 hours for every four pounds of turkey. Finally, check in with guests to ensure you’re aware of any last minute cancellations or plus-ones. To save some time in your Thanksgiving timeline, check out these 23 mouthwatering Thanksgiving side dishes.

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iStock/Vitalina Rybakova

The day before

Set the dinner table and a self-serve bar, and assemble your centerpiece and decorations. Prepare as much of your menu as possible—think dips, glazes, dough, stuffing, gravy, desserts, and casserole (assemble the casserole, but don’t bake it until Thanksgiving Day). This is how to fix common Thanksgiving food mistakes.

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iStock/Sergiy Serdyuk

Thanksgiving Day morning

Preheat the oven and get your turkey started. A large bird can take up to four hours to cook. While the turkey is in the oven, prepare any remaining side dishes. You’ll also want to make sure the dishwasher is empty, so any dirty dishes and cookware can go straight in.

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iStock/Natalia Van Doninck

Just before guests arrive

Your house smells delicious, the table looks great, and most the food is either prepared, cooking, or ready to be heated as soon as the turkey’s out of the oven—congrats! You’re in the final stretch of your Thanksgiving timeline. Pour a glass of wine and arrange your appetizers. Hosts, make sure to do these 11 little things before guests arrive.

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iStock/Andrea Skjold

While the turkey rests

Once your bird is out of the oven, begin to heat or reheat your side dishes. Tip: Consider this process while you plan your meal and look for recipes that use the same oven temperature. That way, they can all cook at the same time.

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After dinner

You reached the finish line! Serve your desserts and breathe a sigh of relief. Next, read up on these common Thanksgiving Day mistakes and how to avoid them so that you’re ready for whatever the day throws at you.

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