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Dread the Holidays? Feasting Together Might Actually Help

Dread the Holidays? Feasting Together Might Actually Help

Start, she said, with a question about intention: “What does this family, company or group of friends need this year on this occasion of getting together?” That answer will become a touchstone and reveal how the event should be structured. Then ask some of your invitees how they want the gathering to feel or be about, and then keep going. “If they say: ‘What do you mean? It’s a tradition,’ then ask: ‘Why is this a tradition? And is it one we want to keep?’” If traditions need tweaking (not all do), you’ve now created the optimal conditions for change.

These open-ended questions foster engagement where there might have been stagnation; inclusivity instead of routine. “So, for example, if the purpose this year is generosity, invite everybody,” Ms. Parker said. “Bring somebody who doesn’t have a place to celebrate into your Thanksgiving this year. And then meaningfully connect them in the room.”

That connection is what Ms. Parker calls an “opening” and is where she suggests we spend a “disproportionate amount” of thought. “If you’re the host, how do you create meaning in those first few moments?” she said. “You go stand by the door and give your guests a hug. You get them a drink. But, at some point, ding your glass and let everybody know: ‘Hey, you belong here. It’s not an accident that you’re here.’”

Ms. Parker is a group facilitator with a background in conflict resolution; she understands that coming together isn’t always easy — especially when it involves those we love. “Families are diverse, complex and ever-changing, and as with every other group, needs aren’t static,” she said. “They change over time.”

It’s important to understand what the family needs most this year, taking into account recent events and losses. “If it’s the first year after Grandpa passed away, do we want to still do the same tradition?” she said. “Or, if it’s been a really tough year for a number of people in the family, maybe the deepest need is just to be together and have joy and ban politics. Or, if by not talking about certain things, we’ve created larger distance in the family, the deepest need might be to have meaningful conversations.”

Those moments of connection aren’t limited to the table. They might happen while cooking or on a run to the grocery store — a perfect time, Ms. Parker said, to connect people who don’t always get to spend time together. “Each of these acts and activities are an excuse to think about how we begin to stitch or restitch the family or group of friends or whomever together.”

Alice Julier, a sociologist and author of “Eating Together: Food, Friendship, and Inequality,” explains that connecting across the table can help us shift our perceptions about the world around us. “Family meals are where people get bonded together and learn the rules of life,” she said.

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