A Thanksgiving Timeline for the Big Day

A Thanksgiving tablescape with an alarm clock.

Thanksgiving sneaks up before you know it. As the holiday requiring the most preparation, it's essential to create a plan for hosting the big day in your home. With the many tasks needed to get ready, this list will help you throw a marvelous gathering that your guests will remember for years to come.

Setting up Guest Rooms

Guest rooms can be prepared early since they stay clean and aren’t used frequently. Prepare these spaces a week or two ahead of time.

  • Make the beds with clean sheets and extra blankets. At this time of year, the weather can be unpredictable and you want your guests to be warm and cozy.
  • Clear a little space in the guest room closet for guests to hang items such as jackets, dresses, or sweaters. Even if you don't plan on having guests spending the night, this space might need to be used unexpectedly. Best to be prepared.
  • Dust any furniture including dressers, nightstands, desks, and tables.
  • Vacuum.

Preparing the Bar

Drinks can be purchased and stored several weeks ahead of time. A wide drink selection can be one of the most enjoyable parts of the holiday, since drinks are consumed all day long. Have a wide variety of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks for everyone to enjoy.

Suggested beverages:

Suggested beverages:

  • Apple cider
  • Hot teas
  • Coffee
  • Soft drinks and sparkling water
  • Alcoholic drinks such as wine, beer, and whiskey (can be mixed with cider)

Depending on the amount of people you are expecting, you may want to use plastic cups. Make sure to provide some markers so guests can write their names on the cups. Provide mugs for hot beverages, as well as cream and sugar.

Grocery Shopping

Shop for essential groceries at least a week ahead of time to avoid the chance of the store running out of what you need (not to mention avoiding the crowds). By doing this, you also leave yourself a few days to discover what you may have forgotten. However, purchase fruits and vegetables 3-5 days before Thanksgiving to ensure that they are ripe and don’t spoil before the holiday.

Here are some suggested items to buy a week ahead of time if you’re hosting a tr

Here are some suggested items to buy a week ahead of time if you’re hosting a traditional Thanksgiving:

  • A turkey (1 ½ to 2 pounds per person, depending on how much you like leftovers)
  • Chicken broth
  • Potatoes
  • Cranberries
  • Rolls (pre-made or ready-to-bake)
  • Herbs and spices
  • Eggs
  • Baking items (sugar, flour, vanilla, etc)
  • Stuffing/bread crumbs
  • Green beans or other frozen veggies


After completing the previous tasks, cleaning can begin and be completed through the day before Thanksgiving. Be careful not to start cleaning too far ahead of time, as floors, bathrooms, and common areas get dirty quickly and you may have to clean again before the holiday.

A week before Thanksgiving:

  • Dust furniture, chandeliers, lamps, knick-knacks, pictures, and ceiling fans
  • Straighten common areas and store items not in use such as books, tools, and technology

3 days before Thanksgiving:

  • Wipe down or vacuum chairs, couches, and furniture
  • Wash any dusty dishes that will be used for the holiday, such as special china in cabinets, gravy boats, drink pitchers, or serving trays that have been stored for extensive amounts of time

The day before Thanksgiving:

  • Clean all bathrooms, including mirrors, toilets, counters, and floors
  • Vacuum, sweep, and mop all floors
  • Sweep or shovel entrances and porches


Begin decorating several days before the holiday. After cleaning, hang up decorations, set up extra tables and chairs, and set out festive items on tables if you so desire.

Suggestions for decorations:

Suggestions for decorations:

  • Pumpkins (large and small, set out on various tables)
  • Fall wreaths with orange, brown, and yellow leaves
  • Small decorative turkeys (ceramic or stuffed)
  • Gourds and leaves

Preparing Food

Some menu items can be prepared ahead of time, starting the day before Thanksgiving. Prepare items that can be stored in the fridge until baking or serving time. For example:

  • Make deviled eggs
  • Layer green bean casserole (wait to add crispy onions until baking time)
  • Chop dried bread and vegetables for stuffing
  • Bake pies and desserts (reheat when serving, if needed)
  • Make cranberry sauce
  • Olives and pickles can be placed in serving dishes and covered
  • Make layered dips or appetizers for day-long snacking

Setting the Table

Set the table(s) a day or two before Thanksgiving. This way all eating utensils, plates, glasses, and tablecloths will be clean and ready to go, leaving you time to concentrate on cooking.

Set out the following items:

Set out the following items:

  • Plates
  • Wine glasses and water goblets
  • Napkins and placemats
  • Eating utensils (including forks, knives, spoons, and additional salad forks or soup spoons)


After everyone has eaten and had their fill, load all plates and silverware into the dishwasher or start an assembly line with a dish washer, rinser, and dryer. Store leftover food in Tupperware or other reusable containers in the fridge. Wipe down all counters and table surfaces, then continue the festivities.


The tasty pies, cookies, and cakes you have been saving all day can be set out an hour or two after everyone has finished eating the main meal. Don't forget the following items:

  • Pies, cookies, and cakes
  • Whipped cream
  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Clean silverware and plates
  • Serving spatulas and spoons
  • Napkins
  • Coffee (plus cream and sugar)
  • Hot tea