Holiday Hospitality with a Purpose by Veronica Lamb
Growing up, the WHOLE extended family joined together for both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Looking back, I’d guess no less than 30 people on any given year. The spread was unbelievable! Everyone brought something, everyone was invited. I loved it. Even as an introvert, I loved it because it was inclusive and everyone came just as they were – no pretense, just good times and lots of laughs.
Moving to an island in the middle of the pacific, in my early twenties, away from family made the holidays tough. Even at the first year, I figured out a way to invite guests even if they were just acquaintances. It felt right to share our home and the holiday with others. I used the family recipes – full traditional meals, but also full of fat, and a food coma afterward was guaranteed.
Over the years, my husband and I got more involved in the community, different ministries, and our guest list grew. We loved sharing the holidays with friends that didn’t have family in the area either. Most of our guest list grew through mentoring and befriending those coming out of difficult times, such as human trafficking, homelessness, and/or addictions.
We always invited them to join us, for some, it was the first home cooked Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday meal they had ever experienced. For others, it was a chance to create enjoyable memories of a holiday rather than the disappointment and heartbreak they had experienced in the past. They approached these opportunities for new holiday memories with both great anticipation and fear – Could they actually experience a good holiday? Could it be real for them, not just something they see on TV or in the movies?
My husband and I weren’t the only ones hosting these “open house” sort of holiday meals. Actually several of our close friends were doing the same in their houses and apartments around the city, inviting others coming out of similar challenging circumstances. At the writing of this article, we’ve got over a decade of this continual holiday tradition in our circle of friends. We’ve learned a lot, and I want to share some of our lessons and encourage you to take the opportunity to welcome someone new into your holiday traditions this year.
1 – Make a Plan.
Start thinking about your holiday meals now. Even if you hate planning. Set your guest list. ALWAYS plan to cook a little extra in case you have some extra friends join you. Figure out what the essential elements of your meal will be (Turkey? Ham? Mashed potatoes and/or Stuffing? Vegetables? Dessert?) and confirm if anyone has food allergies. Find solid, highly recommended recipes for your essential dishes. Ask those with allergies to provide a dish to share or give you recipes for allergy-friendly dishes.
2 – Take Action
Buy your ingredients in advance ( the day before doesn’t count). The last thing you want is to not be able to find a key ingredient in your local stores when you’re down to the last minute. Check out the grocery stores, health food stores, even online ordering options. If you are nervous about making one of the essential dishes, try it out now. Stuffing for Tuesday dinner anyone??
3 – Set a Schedule
Look at cooking temperatures & times to determine when you need to cook each dish & how you can multi-task. The more efficiently you plan your day, the less you will be stressed on that day. Perhaps you can cook a dish or two the night before? Can you use a slow cooker for anything?
4 – Communicate
Teamwork and asking other for help is always a good way to reduce stress, but you’ve got to have clear communication. Look at delegating tasks to your family, roommates, or specific guests. Ask them to commit to a specific dish (Roasted Veggies, Fruit Pie, Appetizer, etc..). Provide the recipe (if needed) with clear instructions. If anyone needs to use your kitchen to cook or reheat items, let them know when the stove or appliances will be available based on the day’s schedule. Ask kids or roommates that aren’t good in the kitchen to contribute by cleaning up the house, setting the table or welcoming guests as they arrive.
5 – Chill Out
With all your prep done, recipes researched, schedule set, items delegated out – plan to sit down and watch the parade with your family & friends. Grab some board games to play with your guests. Rally everyone around to watch the game on TV. Plan an afternoon walk or short hike. Join the kids for some backyard football. Don’t sweat the small stuff in the kitchen, even if your gravy comes out lumpy or the turkey is a little dry – at least you got to spend the day with friends & family instead of all day in the kitchen. Enjoy making some good memories with your family & friends.
*Bonus Challenge – Can you think of someone new you can invite to your holiday dinner? A close friend, an acquaintance, or the homeless person you always see but never know what to say. If you've never reached out to others in this way, it may feel a little uncomfortable. You're right. Inviting others over may increase the chance of stress, but you’ve reduced the potential for kitchen stress by planning ahead and made yourself available to prioritize spending time with others this holiday. Why not take the opportunity to make a difference in someone's life too? I can't promise it will be perfect, but it will be beautiful.
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