One of my good friends is hosting Thanksgiving dinner at her house for the first time this year. Since I took over Thanksgiving about five years ago, I thought I'd throw some of my life-lessons at her. Just as an aside, I tried to give it back last year, but it turns out I'm too much of a control freak to let certain things go.
We do Thanksgiving at my parents house on Cape Cod on the "three-season" room in the middle of a pine forest. I like to think it's pretty much what it was like for the Pilgrims. You know, running water, deep fried turkey, heat...
Contributions: If I were you, to make sure that you're going to have what you want, I'd send out an email or get in touch with people sooner rather than later to see what they're planning on bringing. If you make a turkey and mashed potatoes and believe that the good of the world will provide you with contributing guests, well you might end up eating turkey and mashed potatoes.
In Advance: I would probably work on making things in advance. Cranberry sauce could be made this weekend and either tossed in the freezer or fridge. You can make things like mashed potatoes and stuffing the day before. Just make sure you don't actually stuff the turkey the day before, if you planning on stuffing it, I have been told that will give all your guests salmonella poisoning and they probably won't ever want to come back (which, depending on your guest...). If you're making something that involved squash or sweet potatoes, you can always roast them in advance then mix them up on the day of. Both of those things come out of their skins better when they're hot, but it's murder on your doigts. Green veggies obviously don't take a lot of time if you're just steaming them.
Make a Plan: My biggest suggestion is to figure out all your recipes and your shopping list as early as possible. I like to put all my recipes into one document. Then I can print out a few copies and have everything together. I pull out all the ingredients and group them into categories in another document for the shopping list. When you're making your list, make sure you take into consideration if you're doubling or whatever (obviously). Then, do your shopping. This weekend is probably going to be crazy for shopping, so if you can do it some evening, that would work. Obviously, you only want to buy the stuff you can keep for a week :-)
Turkeys: As far as turkeys go, I think we usually get fresh frozen, or whatever those are. You'll pay a lot more for fresh and I don't know that there's a difference. I never like the turkey much on Thanksgiving anyway, it's all about the sides for me. If you're responsible for carving the turkey, read up on it first, there's definitely a right and wrong way to carve a turkey.
Oven Space: The big thing about the day of isn't usually not having enough time to do things in, it's oven space. I cook my turkey on the grill to open up the oven. I highly suggest two ovens. If you don't have two ovens, make yourself a schedule. They laugh at me when I pull out the schedule, but it helps keep me on track. That's another thing about people bringing things; find out if what they're brining is going to need oven time and how much. Then you can work it into your schedule. See, organization makes sense - it's tricky to get everything hot at once!
Oh, and if you're going to grill the turkey, do it in a tin foil roasting pan. It works really well, and there's a much better chance of NOT lighting the grill on fire like I did the first year.
Appetizers: Also- don't worry about Appetizers too much. People are going to eat too much anyway. If you throw some cheese and crackers their way before the main event, they're bound to be happy.
You Are the General in Your Army: Another thing, too many cooks in the kitchen sucks. Make sure if you're having help that you want it and that people have specific jobs and put Rob (or your significant other of choice) on duty to keep everyone out of the kitchen if you want them out. You guys should have a signal or something. Mine is swearing under my breath. That usually does it.
Don't Go Overboard: My last piece of advice it not to take on too much. The year we had 24 people and decided to make turkey Mr. and Mrs. Mallards and rock cornish hen versions of Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Oack, Pack and Quack was a good example of this. It was fun, and it was even tasty once we put the baby turkeys in the microwave to finish cooking...
Pictures from T-day '07