Hosting a vintage Thanksgiving

Frances Brundage illustration

1913 Thanksgiving postcard

Hard to believe the holiday season is upon us, but with the cooling temperatures and the trees sporting hints of gold, I know the calendar isn’t lying.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays – great food and great company, the Macy’s parade, and reflecting upon the blessings of the year seem to combine perfectly in the chilly air. Since we’ve moved to Texas, we typically host our friends who also have family in far-away places. I love this new custom and try my best to create an environment of togetherness and joy each year. As you begin your holiday planning, I’d like to share with you my top tips for hosting a vintage Thanksgiving. There are so many aspects to a retro-inspired party that help make that comforting environment I always strive for. I’d love to hear how you create a vintage Thanksgiving celebration, so please add your thoughts into the comments…

From the Library of Congress

Saying grace, in 1942

Start a tradition

I am a sucker for traditions (probably why I love vintage!) and Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to create more memory-making moments. Traditions are different for every person, but here are a couple of my favorite ideas.

Giving thanks

Have your guests write down what they’re thankful for this year and keep these notes in a memory jar or pin them to a fabric-wrapped wreath. You can display the jar or wreath each year and rediscover all the different thoughts. This is a fun way to help everyone focus on the true meaning of the holiday season.

A Thanksgiving menu from 1918

You can make each year’s menu into a graphic, used as a divider between the annual recipes

Let great food be your guide

Whether it’s a signature drink or a special pie, let a unique treat be the star of the Thanksgiving show. While sticking with the classics is fun (roast turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin pie), don’t be afraid to ask your guests to either bring or suggest a favorite recipe to try each year. Compile these different recipes into a scrap book (or pdf file for sharing) and add to it each Thanksgiving. With food as your narrative, you help engage your friends and family. I really believe food is how we keep certain memories alive and incorporating a recipe swap is a great way to include even more special moments.

Set the tone

Retro celebrations typically involve a lot more protocols than our modern festivities. (We’ve gotten so casual as a society!) Getting back to these basics will definitely put you on the path toward vintage success.

Old fashioned invites

Don’t send a text or email this year. Create a special invitation, incorporating retro fonts and illustrations. Mail these out to your friends – they’ll feel extra special knowing you took this time out of your day. Go one step further by sending out a thank you after Thanksgiving. (This is also a perfect opportunity to do the recipe swap tradition I mentioned earlier.)

From Good Housekeeping, 1958

Centerpiece display ideas


When it comes to planning a vintage event, decorations are meant to be simple but you still want to plan out the aesthetic. You can make place settings and get your linens in order, but the focal point is always the centerpiece. One of my favorites is to find an interesting container (a great excuse to squeeze in some extra thrifting misions) and fill it with Fall vegetables.

During this time of year, we are not only thankful for the health and happiness of the people we care about, but for the opportunity to enjoy a wonderful meal. Put that food on display – you’ll find the colors and textures are quite beautiful and deserve to be appreciated. As Good Housekeeping suggests, select some nice gourds, corn, root veggies, and even some herbs to balance the arrangement. The herbs will lend a great aroma as well.

Board games

After you’ve enjoyed your meal, clear off your table and break out the board games. Old-fashioned games are the perfect way to keep everyone together, sharing a laugh. No cell phones, emails, or television madness to get in the way – just the nice sound of dice being rolled and cards being shuffled. I’ve already got a great list of vintage board games compiled here, so it will be easy to stick with the retro theme.


Soldiers enjoying Thanksgiving

Use your resources wisely

Nothing is more vintage than not letting things go to waste. Make your grandma proud with these helpful tips, taken from Good Housekeeping’s Cook Books from 1958.

What to do with leftover bits of pastry

Have to make a lot of pies and, as a consequence, lots of pie crusts? There’s always that little bit of crust that rebels. For those stragglers that won’t be confined to the pie plate, we’ve got a tasty solution for you!

From the 1958 Good Housekeeping's Party Pie Book

Get ready to maximize your treat-making capabilities

Press the leftover pieces together and roll it flat (you want it to be thin, around 1/8″ in thickness). In a small bowl, melt some butter and mix in some brown sugar. Make enough of this mixture so you can spread it evenly across the entire surface of your pastry. Sprinkle chopped nuts or cinnamon/sugar on top. Roll this up like a jelly roll, then slice it into roughly 1/4″ thick discs. You can bake this in a preheated 400 degrees Fahrenheit oven for about 8 minutes, or until golden brown. These make a great snack to chew on while you wait for your pies to bake!

What to do with veggie liquid

You boil veggies for all your sides, but don’t pour that liquid out. Combine it with some tomato juice and refrigerate. You can use this to dilute canned soups or add it to sauces and gravies. This tip is courtesy of Good Housekeeping’s Book of Vegetables, published in 1958.

Cause A Frockus would like to thank Good Housekeeping and the people who post their images without restriction.

For our readers: what are your vintage holiday plans?

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