Thanksgiving: Exploring the Holiday as a Whole

From the history to the holiday table, we share everything we know about Thanksgiving
Shutterstock A complete guide to everything you ever wanted to know about the holiday.

Here at The Daily Meal, our thoughts turned to turkey and all its trimmings as far back as early January. To us, Thanksgiving is the mecca of all food holidays, a wonderful blend of honorable traditions and awe-inspiring dishes that is meant to be shared with the ones we love.

With Thanksgiving finally here, we thought it was time to give you the holy grail of Thanksgiving guides. While we do have plenty of tips from top experts to help you improve your dishes, we're here to help you take care of more than just the bird. We’ve strived to be your guide throughout the season to help you achieve the most perfect holiday you could ever imagine.  [slideshow:

The best part about having followed us as we made our way to the big day is that no matter what your concern is, we have had you covered. If you’re worried about what to serve on the side, we can give you everything from time-tested stuffing recipes to creative ideas for butternut squash. From easy table setups to elaborate, unique centerpieces, we know just what to suggest to help you wow your guests. And even if you’d rather experience the magic of the holiday by having someone else cook for you, we can help with that, too.

In this guide we will take you from start to finish to help you make the most out of our favorite food-centric holiday. Follow us from our first Thanksgiving coverage to our final bite of our leftover sandwich to help you survive and prosper this Thanksgiving.

First, Some History (How to Sound Smart at the Dinner Table)
There is no doubt that Thanksgiving is part of the very fabric of our nation, and there are even Thanksgiving traditions all around the world. But to really get a grasp of what this holiday means, we have to examine our traditions in action. [slideshow: The Daily Meal has done this in several ways: We’ve examined some of the White House traditions to better understand how our founding fathers celebrated this truly patriotic holiday, and we’ve shared what Thanksgiving was like for those who defend our freedoms through a detailed history of our military’s Thanksgivings. While we look forward to showing you how to have a truly successful holiday, we hope you take a moment to truly understand some of the history behind this delicious day. 

Travel
Now that you understand some of the importance behind this great holiday it is time to start celebrating. For some of you, Thanksgiving is synonymous with travel, whether you head back to your family table or take off on a trip around the world. [slideshow:There are plenty of ways to bring your favorite parts of the world to your home table, but if you are looking for a guide to escape, we have everything you need to know. From identifying the best spots to celebrate Thanksgiving to how to celebrate this holiday abroad, we’ve got a guide for you to follow so you can have a holiday you are truly thankful for

Celebrating Thanksgiving at Restaurants
If you know that you aren’t quite up for a huge holiday trip, but definitely aren’t ready to hunker down in the kitchen for hours, we can still help. The fact is, sometimes treating yourself and your family to a night out can be better than hosting this epic holiday at home. And if you are wondering where to go and what to do, don’t stress — we’ve got a guide for that, too. From exploring the culinary prowess of fine restaurants across the country to retreating to the comforts of a familiar chain restaurant, we can tell you where to dine for a Thanksgiving as good as mom’s.

General Tips
Choosing to celebrate the holiday at home? Don't fret — we have an unbelievable amount of tips and tricks to help you survive the holiday. There are lots of questions that arise when planning a feast of these proportions, from where you start to how to serve the actual meal. We successfully address all of these concerns, beginning with the basics like how to manage a holiday budget.[slideshow:We can help you have an easy and elegant holiday that will impress and please every guest in attendance. We can even show you have to upgrade your holiday to help you surpass your Thanksgivings past. And if you don’t want to take our word for it, we won't be offended. We have compiled tips from some of the most prominent names in food, from Emeril Lagasse’s tips and traditions to  Geoffrey Zakarian’s three tips for a successful holiday to Anne Burrell’s perfect Thanksgiving bite. No matter what your woes are, we can help you create the best Thanksgiving experience your guests have ever seen.

Setting the Scene
The first step to a successful holiday is setting the tone of your table. You first have to decide what kind of ambiance you want. Are you looking for a classic experience or a slightly untraditional one? To perfectly set the table to your style, we’ve come up with a few ideas to help you make the holiday your own no matter what vibe you choose. To capture a look that perfectly suits your home and guests, we rounded up a few suggestions to get you started. [slideshow: Selecting table linens and holiday dishware will allow you to lay down the foundation work of a fabulous table spread. Once your gear is in order, it is up to you to arrange and set the table appropriately. Once this is done, you’ll finish the look off with an inspiring centerpiece that guests will marvel at as they taste your masterfully served feast.

Special Diet
With your table set, it is finally time to plan out your menu. But pulling off a perfect Thanksgiving feast is not as simple as stuffing a turkey and letting it roast for a few hours. You have to not only think about your turkey’s trimmings, but your guests' palates as well. With the many dietary restrictions out there, you may have to prepare a menu you wouldn't cook on a regular day. [slideshow: After all, what if cousin Frank’s kid is allergic to something, or aunt Martha’s on a strict gluten-free diet? But if you aren’t quite sure what a Paleo diet menu entails or how to host a perfectly vegetarian celebration, don’t stress, we can help you get inspired. Heck, we can even show you how to make this typically gluttonous holiday a healthier one with a few simple guidelines.

Thanksgiving Alternatives
If tradition doesn’t tickle your fancy, there are plenty of ways to celebrate the holiday with your own flare. Perhaps you aren’t a fan of turkey — that shouldn’t stop you from having a great feast! Just simply use some of the alternatives we thought up. If you’d like to give your holiday a little ethnic flare, you can try cooking a traditional Thanksgiving dinner enhanced by a few unique multicultural touches.[slideshow:And even if you wanted to throw a quirky Thanksgiving dinner menu à la a fast-food joint, we have all of the suggestions for you to do it. While this holiday surely is one with a great history, that doesn’t mean you can’t make it your own — even if that simply means adding bacon to everything. It's your holiday and you can eat what you like.

Tools
With a menu in mind, you are almost ready to begin cooking your decadent meal. However, you won’t get very far without the proper equipment! If you are cooking a turkey, you have to first decide upon your method (don’t worry, we’ll show you a few of them!). Once that is chosen, you can figure out what type of tools you need. For instance, roasting a turkey will not be successful if you don’t have the appropriate-sized roasting pan, and know the difference between some of the styles out there. [slideshow: For those attempting to deep-fry, you absolutely need a quality fryer to attain that crispy skin and tender inside. And to make sure everything is coming along smoothly, you need a few assistant tools like a meat thermometer, so you know exactly where dinner stands throughout the cooking process. These seemingly simple investments can make a huge difference in the success of your dinner, so be sure to stock up before the big day arrives!

Emergency Aid
We should warn you before we begin, though, that no matter how closely you follow our expert advice, there is the chance that something could go wrong. After all, even famous chefs have horrible mishaps on the day of! Don’t worry — we can help you weather any storm. [slideshow:We’ll first start off by forewarning you of all of the "fails" that could happen along the way — not to scare you, but to empower you so you know what to do when these tricky situations arise. And should even the more rigorous planning fail, we have all of the tools and tips you need to still pull off a super successful holiday meal.

Turkey Tips
We’ve put it off long enough — it is finally time to talk Thanksgiving turkey. Let us start you off right at the beginning: buying a turkey. Our guide will help you determine where, when, and what kind is perfect for your dinner party. Now that you have the big bird, we can move onto deciding the best methodology for your table. Believe it or not, there are so many different ways to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey successfully. We can show you everything from how to properly brine a turkey to how to cook a simple turkey breast for a small table. [slideshow: With guides on how to fry your turkey or even make a uniquely delicious beer-can turkey, we promise we have a method that will please any palate. And once the bird is ready (we'll also show you  how to determine that), we can show you the best ways to carve and serve your delicious main dish.

The Sides
While the turkey tends to steal the show, it is the holiday sides that really make the meal. This is where you can get creative in your own kitchen and bring a wide variety of flavor to your table.[slideshow:While we can of course help give you a little inspiration with recipes like cherry pie gumbo, we aren’t afraid of trussing up traditional sides. We can show you how to make staples like cranberry sauce and stuffing, and how to make it like moms or create a signature dish all your own that will become a new Thanksgiving favorite.

The Desserts
Thanksgiving dinner inarguably is nothing without a few delicious desserts to cap off the evening.[slideshow:The classic pies you can serve have a delicious tradition all of their own, and we can show you how to make them so tasty that your family will likely force-feed themselves just to get one more bite. And if you aren't a pie type of person? Don’t stress! We have some elegant options for your table that will perfectly complement the holiday — whether you spend all day slaving away in the kitchen or need a quick fix if you lost track of time! 

Toasting
Now it is finally time to sit down and enjoy you meal with your guests. Kick off your meal with a toast that will honor the dinner you made and keep the spirit of the season alive. And if you aren’t a natural-born speaker, don’t sweat it — we have enough ideas to get you through a small toast.[slideshow:After you gauge your audience, we can give you tips and quotes to help you say the exact right thing. Whether it is a heartfelt prayer or a funny holiday icebreaker, we know exactly how to help you set the mood for your meal.

The Drinks
Speaking of toasting, you very well can’t raise your glass if there is nothing inside it! When it comes to thanksgiving libations, we definitely have every type of drinker covered. If you are more interested in drinking classic wine, we have plenty of tips, pairing tricks, and even bottle suggestions to help you perfectly complement your meal and appeal to every type of wine critic.

If you happen to prefer a cocktail, get the party really started with some of our delicious dinner shot ideas. For the true holiday libation fan, we even found some delicious drinks that completely capture the holiday spirit (pun totally intended) with Thanksgiving-flavored drinks! We even thought of ways to keep the kids safely involved with jelly shots that will please both the young and the old.[slideshow:

And if you and your kin are no-frills kind of drinkers, we still have you covered. We found some of the best beers worth bringing to your Thanksgiving table. Whether you have a penchant for seasonal pumpkin brews or simply want to knock a few back during the game, we know exactly what type of beer is perfect for you!

Etiquette
And where are our manners? We forgot to tell you, we have a way to help you get through the actual dinner, too! Follow our guides and you can survive anything from in-laws to first Thanksgiving dates.[slideshow:Of course, we touch on how to be the perfect host as well as how to be the perfect guest to make sure you are prepared for any social situation. Before your dinner even begins, we can give you guides on what to chat about and what to avoid to make sure that your climate never turns too frigid.

Keeping Entertained
Whether you are hosting a large group of adults or catering to the kids, there are ways to keep everyone involved and entertained. After all, sequestering kids at the kiddie table only works for a short amount of time.[slideshow:When the day finally arrives, you will be ready and armed with fun activities to keep the kids and adults engaged. And when dinner finally settles down, you’ll even have fun games that will get a laugh out of everyone, so long as you follow our guide,

Parades
Speaking of fun family-friendly entertainment, there is hardly anything more iconic than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. For 85 years, we’ve either made the trip to New York City to experience the parade live or turned in on our TVs so we could experience it from the comfort of our couch. [slideshow: We’ve dug up some of the most memorable photos and interesting facts about this fun Thanksgiving celebration so you can watch and later wow your company with tons of tidbits and fun facts about everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving celebration.

Thanksgiving Entertainment
The turkey and pie have officially been consumed. The football game is finished. The kids are in their pajamas, and the whirring of the dishwasher is almost like a lullaby. Before your guests slip into a food coma, keep the spirit alive by settling into some fun, final Thanksgiving entertainment[slideshow:This is the time to curl up on the couch and watch your favorite Thanksgiving specials for a good laugh. You can even pop in a DVD of your favorite Thanksgiving flick and relieve your favorite actors' insane or heartwarming moments as a perfect end to your holiday. 

The Day After
Now that the family has left and the table is clear, it is finally time for some of the best parts of Thanksgiving dinner: the leftovers. Saddle up in your sweatpants and make the ultimate Thanksgiving Day sandwich to seal the calorie-laden holiday. But don’t get too comfortable. After all, it is Black Friday and you know what that means... Christmas time!

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