An illustration of a table with food and dinner plates set for dinner

“Your presence is requested…” 

These are common words of invitation found on formal dinner invitations sent through the mail. The dictionary defines a guest as “a person who is invited to visit a home of or take part in a gathering organized by another.” This year the holiday season is unique. More than ever, it is important to cultivate presence. 

Here are a few tips how to be a gracious guest: 

Arrive with a thankful heart.

Whether you’re staying with family in your childhood home or with new people you’ve never met, practice thankfulness as you arrive. Try lowering expectations of others and focus on being present over perfect. Gathering is about enjoying each other’s company, not the mess or imperfections. At the end of the day, take inventory and make a list of the things and people you’re thankful for. 

Be a hospitable guest.

Hospitality is a universal language and can be radically ordinary. Even if you’re not the host or are traveling far from home, it’s still possible to be hospitable. Practice reverse hospitality as a guest by asking how you can help lighten the load of the host and what you can bring to the table. Be thoughtful and mindful of everyone, not just the hostess. Engage in conversation and ask questions. Hospitality is one of the highest forms of art. 

Cultivate meaningful conversations.

During the holidays, it is often said, “Don’t bring up politics around the dinner table.” However, perhaps there’s a way to deconstruct this fear and the avoidance of conflict and cultivate meaningful conversations that help us better understand and respect one another.

Try framing questions with a healthy curiosity and desire to draw closer to others such as: What are you passionate about? What’s your vision for your community? What has brought you hope this year? Perhaps there will be some beautiful discoveries and a new depth to your relationships.  

Offer to contribute a dish to the menu.

Food is inherently relational, nourishing and necessary to human existence. It is a material that transcends cultural boundaries. Nourishment is the epicenter of hospitality. If you have any dietary needs or restrictions, then let your host know ahead of time. Offer to bring a dish or ingredients that everyone can enjoy.

Find extravagance in simplicity.

Whether it’s a simple handwritten note, flowers or a small gift, think of a way to express your gratitude. Affirm and honor those who have opened their door and their hearts. Elegance and extravagance can be found in small things. Our world is desperately in need of beauty and simplicity. 

This journey of belonging and home relates to us all on a personal, local and global level. May you be curious, hospitable, generous and present this holiday season!

*A Note for COVID-19: Traveling for the holidays will look different this year. If you’re planning on staying in someone else’s home, then check in beforehand with the host to see what their comfort level and protocol is for guests. It’s good to know before arrival how they’re handling things and can help prevent potential relational conflict and stress. Some friends might not be comfortable hosting overnight guests but OK for smaller dinner parties, for example. We are all figuring this out together, and this year will require extra grace.

How are you spending the holidays? How can you be a gracious and accommodating guest?

Image via Kate Wong, Darling Issue No. 20

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