After two years now of discord and disconnect, many of us long for the warm connection that the holiday tradition of gathering together offers. Today, what if we spent more time thinking about how and why we gather, rather than what the gathering will look like?
Successful, fun gatherings require an invisible structure and a planned purpose to hold the event together. Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering, shares, “We often rely too much on routine and convention when we should focus on distinctiveness and the people involved.” Whether we are gathered around our dining room table, the holiday tree, or a business conference-room table, true connection requires intentional planning. When we take a deeper look at why we want to gather, our efforts may create a more meaningful experience. The question becomes, “Can we let go of some of our holiday traditions to be open and willing to prioritize a new way of gathering?” If so, what feels like the greatest need right now? If we aim to create memorable connections at our holiday gatherings, we need tap a creative side and be very specific as to why and how we want to gather. Here are some ideas to start thinking in more distinct and purposeful ways about why and how we might gather this year:
If your goal is to celebrate current good health after a tumultuous few years of uncertainty, try organizing a family 5K run and raise money for a local nonprofit. Or opt to make the holiday dinner heart healthy this year. Ask guests to bring vegetarian or vegan dishes to a pot luck meal.
If your goal is to be playful and celebratory in remembrance of family milestones—such as graduations and birthdays—that may have been missed over the last few years, adopt a game for the gathering. Ask guests to come prepared with a fun story to share. Assign each guest a number as they arrive. Roll dice every hour on the hour, and when their number comes up, the guest has the floor to tell a story with uninterrupted time and captive audience.
If your goal is to share gratitude for teachers, firefighters, doctors and nurses, collect letter-writing materials or poster-making art supplies, then dedicate some time to writing “thank-you” letters or painting a colorful poster. Share gratitude for frontline workers with these special deliveries.
If your goal is to celebrate and recall favorite memories, facilitate storytelling with Story Sticks. Wrap a stick or driftwood with yarn or twine, and decorate it with beads and feathers. Around the dinner table, pass the Story Stick around the table and allow each person to share a short story, an inspirational quote, or a favorite holiday memory.
If your goal is to create a collaborative holiday event, let everyone participate by dropping slips of paper into a Santa hat that describe the various jobs that need to be done to be ready for an evening meal. (Think: Peeling potatoes, setting or decorating the table, making a salad, organizing the drinks, selecting music.) Plan ahead by anticipating the arrival times of family and guests, and assign completion times to avoid a kitchen jam. Upon arrival, ask each guest to choose a task from the hat.
How we gather, and why we gather, matters. If we continue only to replicate the stories of our past traditions, we might overlook and miss the opportunity to create something new and more relevant for our current times. By investing some focus on how and why we gather our family and friends together this holiday season, the reward is watching a new style of celebration uniquely unfold.