One of the quirkiest Thanksgiving holidays I attended happened in the early 80s. I had recently moved with my two sons from Las Vegas to La Jolla, California.
My sons usually spent that holiday with me, but they couldn’t resist a Thanksgiving ski holiday with their father. Luckily, I was performing in a dinner theater that would have precluded me from making my finest Thanksgiving dinner for the boys.
Because I had no family for the holiday, I was invited to dine with a member of the mafia, one that I knew from my ex-husband when I lived in Las Vegas. I knew his wife from exercise class, and she invited me to Thanksgiving dinner.
The dining room table was beautifully laid out with fresh flowers in crystal vases, English Spode china, and Baccarat champagne and wine glasses. It was the first time I had experienced the lovely taste of Cristal champagne ($3500 a bottle).
The mafia don sat at the head of the table, decked out in blue silk pajamas. I didn’t know any of the guests, but I suspected the men were connected to the Vegas mob and had homes in classy San Diego zip codes.
Several waiters served each of the four courses with aplomb. We all made for strange bedfellows, but we got along because we understood the need for conviviality among strangers.
As I left dinner early to go to the theater, I knew I would never forget Thanksgiving with the mobster and his wife. I was grateful for that evening because I learned the art of experiencing holidays with a table full of quirky strangers.
This Christmas, I was again the proverbial orphan without my children or grandchildren. Over several decades, I grew used to celebrating various holidays in singular fashion. I asked a friend if I could attend her Christmas celebration.
She wasn’t with her children (they were with their father), and she graciously invited me to her boyfriend’s Christmas brunch. It was a mixed picture of his blended family, three daughters from his first marriage and his ex-wife, and her friends, one from work and myself.
As I entered the house, the family was opening presents. Everyone was delighted with their gifts, including the boyfriend’s ex-wife and his present girlfriend.
What could have been uncomfortable dynamics with divorced parents sharing adult children, as well as new mates and odd strangers, turned into laughter and smiles. I had no idea what my friend was thinking as she seamlessly integrated her emotions into the festivities.
With any celebration that includes blended families, there can be awkward moments, misinterpretations, false responses, and political opinions that set off argumentative dialogues and angry responses.
But the holiday celebration with my friend was intentional and focused on encouraging good cheer. And no one checked their social media. The icing on the cake for this breezy holiday brunch was that Washington and the political landscape was not mentioned.
Imagine a holiday table, whether serving eggs benedict for brunch or stuffed turkey for dinner, with a disparate group of people who don’t know each other well and have no previous history.
I have experienced this situation personally with a significant other and odd dates, and I’ve always marveled at people’s ability to make conversation that sets a tone and style for the celebration, which creates civility, friendliness, and joy.
The following are 4 magical tips to make holiday celebrations memorable:
It’s ubiquitous. It’s ridiculous. And it’s rude. We see it every day of our lives. People on phones, pads, and computers zoning out in the middle of social discourse. Mental and emotional connections are dislodged. The limbic brain is in full gear.
That pain/pleasure center takes full advantage of everything that makes you human. Everyone at the table, in the living room, or outside patio who say nothing to the offender is a co-enabler in the plot to negatively affect the joy of celebrating.
If you see the offense, remind the offender in the nicest possible way that it’s disruptive and rude to disappear into the pit of social media at a holiday celebration.
Walking into a gathering and encountering a roomful of strangers can be intimidating. Every head turns as you enter. You rarely get used to that moment of awkwardness.
The first step is to try to remember names and the relationship status of the guests. Then you relax, sit down, and catch up on what is going on in the group. Someone will offer you a drink, make small talk, and let you fend for yourself.
It’s important to listen to bits and pieces of conversation, and with that strategy, you can make assessments about the energy in the room. Accept every person for who they are, where they come from, and what story they have to tell. Put your opinions away until you walk out the door.
With every new guest that arrives, there is an energy adjustment in the room. The group dynamics change subtly. Smiles and warm greetings create a sense of ease during the holidays. You converse more, listen intently, and help others to prepare and serve food.
If people are outside, bring a tray of goodies to guests and exchange pleasantries with strangers. Try to learn one thing about the person you are talking to and remember it for later conversations. Watch where the energy clusters and join in the festivities by being available and present.
Be yourself when you are invited as a single during holidays. Everyone will appreciate your authenticity. Your challenge is to engage with others by listening and encouraging and not worrying about what you left at the door.
You will be liked by everyone as long as you feel good about yourself. Don’t worry if you are not the star, or if your clothes are appropriate, or if you brought the right gift.
If you feel awkward at the beginning of a party, bring food to prepare in the kitchen. The kitchen is usually the hub of laughter and story-telling. When you leave, everyone will remember your kindness and joy.
If you dread the holidays because you are alone, or you might be invited by people you don’t know well, or you just irrationally dislike celebrations due to negative past experiences, start fresh with a new attitude.
Happiness and joy are a result of positive energy, positive thoughts, and the ability to grow and change with each experience. Your life is full of challenges and surprises. You never know what lies behind each door you pass through during the holidays.
How did your holidays go? Who did you celebrate with? What will you remember from your experience? Please share your best holiday tips!
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