I’m in charge of the main dishes, since my house has the most room for tables (curse you, open floor plan!). This means I’ll be getting the turkey Tuesday or Wednesday, since I’m going with fresh rather than frozen this year. This is my routine:
Clean out the refrigerator Monday
Shop for groceries Tuesday
Collect family members’ extra tables, chairs, and serving dishes Tuesday evening
Set up tables and check the linens and silverware Wednesday morning
Bake pies and bread Wednesday afternoon
Prepare bread crumbs for stuffing Wednesday evening
Make iced tea and lemonade
Brine the turkey Wednesday night
Make stuffing first thing Thursday morning
Drain, dry, and stuff the turkey and get it into the oven between 8:30 and 10 a.m. (depending on size)
Set the table(s) and put out serving utensils
Peel potatoes and set them to boil
Put extra stuffing in oven to bake
Put the butter and salt and pepper on the table(s)
Family starts arriving at 1:00, so as they get here, I take whatever they’re bringing and put it in the appropriate place - pies and other desserts on the kitchen table, vegetable dishes, cranberry sauce, breads, and salads on the dining table(s), and wine bottles discreetly in a place where they’re readily accessible but the teetotalling side of the family isn’t as likely notice them and be offended.
Just at this moment, it’s time to take the turkey out of the oven to let it sit before carving, spoon the stuffing out into bowls, mash the potatoes, and make the gravy. All at once. Chaos ensues, I enlist my brother to take over the gravy, one child to get people things to drink, the other child to mash potatoes, and various well-meaning relatives to do whatever will get them out of the kitchen. When the gravy looks done, I get Mr. Legend to round everyone up and get them seated, and I carve the turkey in the kitchen (we discovered years ago that the drama of presenting a pristine, Rockwellian bird to the assembled table is not worth the mess of actually carving it over the tablecloth and carpet). I dish up the potatoes, gravy, and stuffing, dispatch children to the tables with those, and then bring the platter(s) of meat out. Ideally, at almost exactly 1:30, I join the family at table, we’re all thankful, and we stuff ourselves silly. Then, when people start slowing down, I clear the dishes with the help of a cousin or two, people begin to mill about again, the aforementioned cousins help scrape plates, wash silverware and load the dishwasher, and it’s time for pie. After pie, we divvy up leftovers, everyone goes home, and I run the dishwasher twice before collapsing.
And Friday morning, it’s time to wash all the linens, polish and store the silver, pack up the borrowed dishes, and ship those and the tables and chairs back to their owners. I’m tired already, and I haven’t even started the frantic Monday housecleaning that is the necessary preparation for all of this.
Actually, this year will be a breeze, because the extended family isn’t going to make it. I’ll be cooking for seven, which is not even twice the number for a regular meal, so it should take about half the effort of a normal Thanksgiving. And the people who are coming have all seen my house in its natural state, so although I’ll still clean well, I won’t feel quite so frantic about it.