Autumn has come again. As the leaves change and the weather cools, the evenings increasingly lend themselves to relaxing nights with family, sipping hot apple cider and enjoying the warmth of each other’s company. Thanksgiving is just around the corner; Christmas, just a stretch further. The holiday season is almost upon us, bringing with it the promise of joyful family gatherings and the delight of shared traditions to come. But sometimes, these would-be celebrations can bring out a less kind, less joyful side in all of us.
Not all that long ago, my husband and I were out with a few friends and enjoying a day out on the golf course when the conversation turned to the upcoming holidays. All too suddenly, the high spirits of the conversation fell as those in our group began to worry about the seemingly inevitable tensions that arise when family members gather to celebrate the season. Hearing their concerns, my heart broke; to me, Thanksgiving and Christmas should never be times of stress and strife among family members, or used as opportunities to ruminate about a relative’s shortcomings. Rather, these holidays should be times of openness and acceptance, moments when we wish happiness upon one another and celebrate the blessings we already possess. Gathering around a table for a cursory meal is not enough to bring out the familial warmth inherent in the holidays; rather, creating a joyful gathering requires effort and more than a little creativity.
Small talk and mulled cider is all well and good, but why not think outside the box and establish a new family tradition beyond generic – and sometimes tense – conversation? A few years ago, our family picked up the idea pass a bowl of heavy cream and a whisk around the table while the hosts cleared dishes; as the bowl traveled, each guest would whip the cream a little more until perfect peaks formed. The practice helps dispel negativity and burn off excess energy between courses – and every guest appreciates a hearty dollop of whipped cream on his or her pumpkin pie afterwards! Parents and adult relatives may choose to arrive with appetizers and take a portion of the cooking-related stress off of the hosts, expressing their appreciation for the gathering. Those families with a few young children may also consider asking the kids to make an ornament or drawing to bring to the festivities for all to appreciate, inspiring the children with a little holiday spirit before the holiday itself. Philanthropically-spirited families might opt to give their time at a soup kitchen, or simply offer their time and energies in random acts of kindness to those in need. It only takes a little effort and creativity to instill kindness and thoughtfulness into holiday celebrations.
At this time of year, I always return to the importance of etiquette and the quiet artfulness of table manners. As Emily Post once said: “The real test of table manners is to never offend the sensibilities of others.” At Thanksgiving or Christmas time, families don’t need the flashiest decorations or most intricate dessert – they simply need to practice a holiday culture of kindness and steer clear of negativity at and beyond the table. Leave politics, feuds, and unkind words at the door, be considerate of other’s feelings, and remember to sit with thoughtfulness at the table! Your holiday will surely be more joyful and peaceful for your efforts.