Don’t you just love Thanksgiving? The holiday is, for many people, one of the most-anticipated of the year. Special family foods and gatherings, a kitchen full of laughing amateur chefs (some not tall enough to see over the counters), the scent of a roasting turkey and stuffing, multi-faith church services, football, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, sandwiches made out of leftovers – what’s not to love? But can it be made into a luxury experience? And should it be? It all depends on how you define luxury, dear reader. Our far-flung correspondents are sharing their inside tips on how to make the holiday exactly what you want it to be.
Americans love this holiday: total U.S. spending on Thanksgiving dinner food is estimated to be almost $3 billion. The National Turkey Federation reports that in a typical year, over 51 million turkeys will be consumed. Over 46 million people are expected to travel for the holiday, with the Tuesday before Thanksgiving the busiest travel day of the year.
We all know the basic origin story of Thanksgiving – in 1621 the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags joined together for a 3-day harvest celebration after a difficult year. But there are some other fun facts (or are they urban legends?) that you may not have heard. For example, we visited Istanbul last year, and our host told us that the reason the birds are called “turkeys” is because they were thought to have been imported into North America from Turkey by merchant seamen. Who cares if that’s true? It’s such a great story that it should be true. The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade featured animals from the Central Park Zoo. The Detroit Lions have played a football game every Thanksgiving since 1934, when they played the Chicago Bears. The Dallas Cowboys have also played every year, starting in 1966. George H.W. Bush was the first President to officially grant a pardon to a turkey (we’re still confused about what crime the turkey committed that requires a Presidential pardon from a death sentence, but maybe we’re missing something).
Yes, we all know that there’s a dark side to Thanksgiving, especially if you’re the host: the not-uncommon reappearance of ancient family rivalries; the near-certainty of diet-ruining overeating; the perfectly natural anxiety of hosting a meal for 20 people with 12 different dishes at your house; and the very real chance that the Lions will lose the game. Let’s put those potential bad feelings and outcomes aside, and focus on how to make this year’s celebration one that feels truly luxurious.
- Plan ahead: If you’re hosting Thanksgiving at your house (and we are), the fastest way to a good outcome is to map out your game plan, starting now. We’re avid users of The New York Times’ Cooking website – it has an interactive menu where you can play with different options to balance color, texture and nutritional value (like that actually matters on Thanksgiving!) The website Food52 has a week-by-week list of things you should do, starting at T-minus four weeks (yes, we know that means that you’re already behind – but it’s not too late to catch up!)
- Shop ahead. One of the best tips I ever received about hosting a big family Thanksgiving at my house was to break the big grocery shopping run into two trips – anything non-perishable can be bought weeks ahead of time so that you can focus on a short list of perishable items the weekend before the feast.
- Make ahead. You can make many dishes well ahead of the holiday and take some pressure off in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day. Cranberry sauce, gravy, pie crust and dinner rolls can all be made now and frozen until you need them.
- Order ahead.
- If you want a really great turkey to roast yourself, you should order one in advance from your local butcher. Trust us, you will never go back to frozen once you’ve had a never-frozen, free-range, preferably organic bird.
- If you want to serve a deep-fried turkey without burning down your house, it’s best to pre-order it. Ditto if you want a “Turducken” (a chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey, plus stuffing). Whole Foods sells them, officially making this a luxury item.
- Double ditto on the crazy-dessert front: the “PieCaken” by Craveable (a $65 mash-up of pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and apple cake with buttercream frosting) is selling briskly online. Get yours while you can.
- Meal-kit delivery companies like Chef’d and Blue Apron are offering full holiday meals, but you must order them well in advance.
- Decorate. This is the fun part!
- Outdoors. If you’re hosting, a front porch vignette of pumpkins, hay, curly kale, and late-blooming chrysanthemums are a lovely way to welcome the guests.
- Indoors. If you’re the host, you need to off-load anything you don’t enjoy doing to someone else – that’s the reward you get for agreeing to host!
- Kicking it luxury style means hiring a cleaning service or having your housekeeper do a deep clean of your house the weekend before the holiday. Hiding things in the basement and the attic is allowed (and encouraged).
- Setting the table is your chance to let your creativity run free. Choose a color palette, and then have fun – mix in tall and low elements, texture, candles, and maybe even some turkey feathers. A footed glass bowl of almost anything seasonal, even fresh oranges, will look terrific. Give your florist free reign and you might be dazzled with the results.
- You could use your heirloom china, crystal and silver – but renting china and tableware is not a bad idea, either. No dishes to wash! That’s our idea of luxury.
- We’ve started making Thanksgiving crackers a part of our tradition, as they’re the perfect way to get everyone at the table talking. They’re exactly like the Christmas crackers that originated in England – they have little paper crowns, toys, and corny jokes inside. You can find them at Williams Sonoma, and even the grumpiest relative won’t be able to resist them.
- Dinner is served. If you have a big crowd coming, definitely hire a couple of wait-staff to serve and clean up afterwards. Buffets are a lot easier than serving family-style if you’ve got more than eight people at the table. Pick a nice champagne and a couple of nice bottles of wine, and don’t forget that Thanksgiving dinner is far more elegant with a soundtrack – get your younger family members to put together a playlist for you (we’re partial to Ella Fitzgerald, but it’s your call).
- Dessert Time! For many people, the turkey and stuffing are just an excuse to get to the real stars of Thanksgiving, the desserts. Abundance is the theme of the day, and we’ve learned that having a lot of options will generate maximum happiness across all the generations around the table. It will also erase any bad memories about over-cooked turkey, lumpy potatoes, or cheap wine. If the dessert is good, it’s all good:
- Pie. In our family, it is vital to have apple pie, pumpkin pie, and sweet potato pie. Vanilla ice cream is mandatory. Ditto whipped cream.
- Cake. Believe it or not, some family members aren’t satisfied with three pie options – they also want cake. My husband’s godmother makes a legendary pound cake, which is how this whole thing got started. We also love pumpkin cheesecake. And carrot cake counts as a vegetable, right? Georgetown Cupcakes has an adorable Thanksgiving assortment of a dozen cupcakes that can be delivered straight to your door.
- Cookies. Consider them dessert, part 2. As the little ones and the older ones and the teen-aged ones are hanging out after the main feast, we have found that a plate of decorated sugar cookies will mysteriously disappear over the course of the evening, leaving only sugar dust and crumbs.
- Chocolates. Despite the penchant for fruit and nut pies on Thanksgiving, we’ve learned to keep chocolate on hand. Because, why not? Gourmet chocolatier Jacques Torres has premium chocolate turkeys and pilgrim-shaped lollipops in milk, dark and white chocolate.
- Gummy candy. If you’re truly going over the top, add some candies to your dessert buffet. Sugarfina has gorgeously-packaged pumpkin pie caramels, gingerbread cookies, and apple pie gummies. (These would also make a terrific hostess gift).
- The Day After. Many of us like shopping, sleeping, and feasting on leftovers the day after the holiday. However, we’ve noticed a new trend: some of our luxury-class friends have started hosting large day-after-Thanksgiving parties. With friends and family in town, and kids home from college, this is a great way to see everyone (and to hear everyone’s war stories from the day before).
- Thanksgiving Happenings in NYC. If you want to get away from home, New York is a fantastic place to visit for Thanksgiving weekend:
- The annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade starts at 9:00A. You can buy VIP viewing tickets online. The night before, if you have a friend who lives on Central Park West, invite yourself over to watch the balloons for the parade being inflated. Bring a nice bottle of wine, and we’re sure they’ll welcome you in.
- Several of the best restaurants in the city are open on Thanksgiving, including Eleven Madison Park, Daniel, Jean Georges, Maialino, Aureole, Cookshop, Perry Street, Le Cirque, Oceana, and Asiate. Every luxury hotel restaurant will also be serving. But book now!
- Luxury hotel options abound and you should choose depending on your plans and priorities. If you want to see the parade from your hotel, definitely reserve a room at the Mandarin Oriental at Columbus Circle. Great views, excellent new bar, gorgeous restaurant, plus it towers above a chic indoor mall – the holiday shopping doesn’t get any more convenient than that. If your primary objective is easy access to shopping on Black Friday, we recommend The Mark, in the middle of the Upper East Side and steps away from all the right stores on Madison Avenue. The Four Seasons on 57th Street is close to Prada, Fendi, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Bergdorf’s. The Pierre, St. Regis and Peninsula are, too.
- Other Thanksgiving Travel Destinations. If you’re in the mood to get away from home for the holiday, there are some great options in addition to New York City:
- U.S. Forbes has a list of the best U.S. luxury hotels for Thanksgiving, including the Grand Del Mar, San Diego and the Broadmoor, Colorado Springs. Fodor’s agrees, and adds the Ocean House in Westerly, RI; Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN; the Topping Rose Inn in the Hamptons; the Andaz Maui in Wailea; and the Four Seasons Hotel, Boston, which is only 45 minutes away from Plimoth Plantation, site of the first Thanksgiving.
- International. Lots of expats and people who are not American celebrate Thanksgiving around the world. You could join them – or you could just escape for a long weekend. Departures Magazine suggests Paradise Beach, Nevis; Reykjavik, Iceland; Amsterdam (the pilgrims stayed in Holland for 11 years before sailing the Atlantic); and Villa d’Amelia, Italy, home region of the Alba white truffle. We’d add that in the immortal words of Audrey Hepburn, Paris is always a good idea.
Wherever you land, we here at Dandelion Chandelier are in unanimous agreement: no shopping, online or in-store, on Thanksgiving Day. Period. You have the rest of your life to shop – give it a rest for one day. Of course you can watch football. That’s a whole different thing.
So what’s your favorite Thanksgiving memory? I remember the thrilling time when we went to the Thanksgiving Day parade in Detroit when I was a little kid. I remember making a merry communal meal with friends at college the year that none of us could afford to go home. I remember the first time I hosted Thanksgiving, as a newlywed using my wedding china (the turkey wasn’t quite done when we sliced into it; good thing we had a microwave). I remember the time it snowed and people had to stay at our house overnight because they couldn’t get out. That was awesome.
Most of all, I remember that during every Thanksgiving in recent memory, there has always been one moment, just a little grace note, that comes out of nowhere in the midst of the chaos of a house full of people, when I am struck by deep gratitude and happiness. A brief micro-burst of joy. And then it’s back into the fray.
Our wish for you is that kind of luxurious Thanksgiving: one that grants you at least one small moment of surprise that leaves you feeling grateful and blessed.
Now, how about a piece of that pumpkin pie? And don’t skimp on the whipped cream.