Thanksgiving party ideas – 11 ways to make your celebration swing

Whether it's Friendsgiving or the main event, these Thanksgiving party ideas will help you serve up a dinner to remember

thanksgiving entertaining triptych
(Image credit: Alamy / Together at the Table)

The bulk of your Thanksgiving party ideas might center around the food you serve, but throwing a memorable event is about more than just what's on the menu. From the mood lighting and the activities you plan, to your Thanksgiving decor ideas, it's the special details that create a festive ambience and make a party a success.

Of course, with all the cooking and table-setting you'll be doing, you might not have time (or energy) for something all that elaborate. Here, we've gathered fun ideas and expert advice to suit all sorts of affairs and effort levels, from a casual get together to  a Turkey Day soiree. 

Thanksgiving party ideas

A Thanksgiving party should mimic the theme of the day: it's a time to celebrate with friends and family and give thanks for what you have. Activities and details should focus on bringing people together and creating a sense of connection (even if you're bringing them together on the sofa to watch the game). 

If your overall theme is warm and inviting, it's sure to be day to remember. 

1. Make a 'cheese cake'

buffet serving table

(Image credit: Together at the Table)

While Thanksgiving table decor ideas might be at the center of your party plans, if you really want to make your hosting memorable, know that the route to your guests' hearts is through their stomachs.

Elaborate cheese boards are certainly having a moment in entertaining, but for a simpler approach to serving up camembert to a crowd, try a 'cheese cake.' 

'Since we are a family of cheese lovers, we put out a "cheesecake", rather than a traditional cheese board,' says Capucine De Wulf Gooding, author of Together at the Table, and co-founder of tableware brand Juliska. 'It looks gorgeous and works well for large parties.'

To make your own, simply stack a few wheels of cheese together on a serving tray or cake stand. Garnish the tray with berries and sprigs of fresh herbs, or place it in the center of a Thanksgiving wreath to add a decorative touch to the buffet server. 

2. Scent the scene

Thanksgiving decor ideas

(Image credit: Richard Gadsby)

Scent is one of the fastest ways to create a cozy ambience, and the best Thanksgiving decorations will combine good looks with great aromas. A simple, DIY potpourri is festive, but subtle enough that it won't compete with the turkey cooking in the oven. 

An easy recipe? In a large freezer bag, combine dehydrated orange slices, cinnamon sticks, pinecones, whole cloves or whole allspice, and a few drops of orange and clove essential oils. Shake until everything is combined, then pour into a decorative bowl and enjoy as a Thanksgiving centerpiece

'If you have room on your stove top or in your slow cooker, you can also combine the ingredients with a few cups of water (no need to dehydrate the oranges first) and let them simmer together,' suggests Homes & Gardens' Deputy Editor, Jennifer Ebert. 

3. Make a signature cocktail

fall cocktail

(Image credit: Alamy)

Serving a signature cocktail will make your guests feel like they're at a special event, but it'll also keep your job as the hostess simple. Instead of offering a full bar, serve up beer, wine, and your custom concoction. 

Mix up a large batch and pour it into a beverage server for easy pouring, or set all the ingredients out on the bar or your countertop) with instructions so guests can help themselves. 

4. Serve buffet-style

pretty table setting for spring entertaining

(Image credit: Future Future / Emma Lee / Twig Hutchinson)

Any party is only as fun as its host or hostess, so if you're prone to feeling stressed when you're cooking for a crowd, keep the even casual and invite your guests to serve themselves when the food is ready. It'll take some of the pressure off of you and invite more helping hands.

'If you’re hosting the multitudes for Thanksgiving, then a buffet is the best option. It also makes for a beautiful presentation!' says De Wulf Gooding.

5. Decorate with a plan

Blue tablecloth, orange and blue napkins

(Image credit: Jane Beiles)

When planning your Thanksgiving table settings, pick a palette for your table, suggests Kathryn Duryea, founder of dinnerware brand Year & Day

'Use complementary colors through your dishes, linens, and accessories. Then, build all the layers of your table to match the ceremony of the occasion including linens, florals, candles, place cards, menus, and favors,' she says. 

6. Create a gratitude wall

Thanksgiving gratitude paper

(Image credit: ABRAMS / Together at the Table)

Underscore the theme of the day by inviting your guests to partake in your gratitude wall, where they write down something (or a few things!) they're thankful for. To make one, cut a length from a large roll of paper or fabric. Then, put it in a large frame, or use masking tape to hang it on the wall. Ask guests to jot down a few of the things that bring them joy. 

For an interactive idea, you can also use Kraft paper instead of a tablecloth, and invite guests to write notes of gratitude by their place setting. 

7. Light the candles

pine cones used on a table place setting

(Image credit: Sarah K)

Light plays a big role for setting the mood for any party. On Thanksgiving, transition from party time to dinner by dimming the lights and lighting candles, an instant signal that it's time for food and conversation. 

For an easy Thanksgiving party idea that helps set the mood for dinner, line vintage taper holders down the center of your table, and add autumn-colored candles that match your Thanksgiving decor. 

8. Embellish the kids' table

thanksgiving table

(Image credit: Silhouette)

If you'll have kids at your Thanksgiving party, help them make their own fond memories by paying special attention to the kids' table. Making a colorful leaf garland from construction paper is an easy and inexpensive Thanksgiving craft idea that elevates the kids-only area from an afterthought to a special event. 

9. Play a game

Low textured chairs and round wooden table

(Image credit: Elicyon / Patrick Williamson)

No cozy gathering is complete without a few games. For a low-key approach, set a variety of board games out on a table and let your guests help themselves, or get everyone involved by playing a team game of checkers or Scrabble. 

For the latter, divide the party into two teams, and then let each member of the team take a turn at making one move (or adding one word) until there's a winner. This is best done if guests can make moves at their leisure throughout the night. A Thanksgiving mistake to avoid? Forcing fun – not everyone loves playing games and some guests might just need to rest up after a busy fall.

10. Serve up kid-friendly snacks

Thanksgiving themed kids food

(Image credit: Alamy)

Satisfy the picky eaters in the group with Thanksgiving themed foods that score highly on the creativity charts, but don't take a lot of added effort. 

Copy this cute idea by cutting a sandwich into a circle shape, then adding apple slices as feathers (secure them to the plate with a dot of nut butter). Finish off the illustration with legs made of pepper strips, and a sliced carrot beak, and add a bow on top.

11. Elevate the hot cocoa bar

mexican hot chocolate

(Image credit: Alamy)

Interactive treats like a hot cocoa bar turns dessert into a fun party activity. For a special occasion, skip the marshmallows in a mug and go for an elevated hot chocolate spread. 

Set out a variety of cocoa bases, like unsweetened cocoa powder, store-bought hot chocolate, and melting chocolate. Then, add a station for gourmand-approved mix-ins like chili powder (for a Mexican-style cocoa), cinnamon sticks, mint leaves or peppermint extract, and fresh whipped cream. 

How do you make Thanksgiving fun for adults?

If your crew tends to sit around on the couch until dinner's ready, offer up some fun new ideas this year to help your party guests engage. If the weather's nice, set up a cornhole board or horseshoes outdoors. You can even show the game on an outdoor projector. 

Staying in? It's the perfect excuse for a classic board game like Scrabble, Scattergories or Chess. 

Of course, having plenty of appetizers available helps, as does a bar cart or area where guests can mix themselves a pre-dinner drink. 

What can kids do when bored on Thanksgiving?

For kids, Thanksgiving means a day spent at home, which can equal boredom. Set up Thanksgiving crafts to help them stay occupied, or bring them into the kitchen by assigning easy cooking tasks they can handle. 

You can also take a cue from the adult activities, and make sure you've got fun yard games or an outdoor movie set up if the weather's nice, or kid-friendly board games and coloring pages inside.  

Kaitlin Madden
Executive Editor, Homes & Gardens

Kaitlin Madden Armon is a writer and editor covering all things home. Her work has appeared in Real Homes, Architectural Digest, Martha Stewart Living, Refinery29, Modern Luxury Interiors, Wayfair, The Design Network, and lots more. She graduated from Northeastern University with a degree in journalism and currently lives in Connecticut with her husband, three kids, and black lab.