When people gather for a meal and share the stories of their lives, it is scientifically proven to be good for the body, mind, and spirit. I’ve asked people about their most special days, and the responses I hear support these research findings. Ordinary, everyday meals that seem insignificant can become part of the life stories we tell, and holiday gatherings can grow into major moments that mark our human experience.
But how? How do we go about creating spaces for deep human connection around our family table? How do we serve up memories to last a lifetime at our next holiday gathering?
Look to the leaders in your life who have done or do this well – leaders whose work is about inviting, including, welcoming, and serving.
We don’t often think of the word leadership when it comes to our family meals, friend gatherings, or holiday events and festivities, but, behind every healthy conversation, fun activity, or delicious meal is a leader who planned and prepared with intention. Behind every meaningful memorable meal are people who were thoughtful about the day, the setting, the hospitality, the food, and the activities. Good gatherings involve someone stepping up to serve as host in their home, to the meal, or as a guide for a party game or activity. Just like a meeting facilitator, someone has to lead and orchestrate the events of the meal or gathering so that others can feel included and engaged. Ordinary events, then, become surprising, extraordinary, and, ultimately, an experience that we remember.
Who are leaders in your personal life – In your home? In your family? In your group of friends? Who is the one who opens their home and makes everyone feel welcome? Who is the person who says “let’s tell stories” or “let’s play a game”. Who is the person who gathers everyone together and keeps people engaged? Who prepares the food, the setting, the activities? Who shares hospitality with intention and positivity? Drop that person a note of “thanks” if they are still living. Pause to remember those who have died who were leaders in some of your life stories. And if you are that person who might be feeling even the slightest bit exhausted by your efforts, know that you are doing important work. You are leading others in memory-making and serving as a host to how we create meaning in life.
We need good leaders like you to bring food and stories together in our lives.
If we’re privileged to share good food around a table in the weeks and months to come, let’s learn from these everyday leaders and event hosts. Let’s tap into a little of their effort, creativity, courage, and playfulness to make new memories with those we love. Let’s be willing to make mistakes, knowing that our leadership can help make a major moment in someone’s life.
Resources for How to be a Leader Around Your Table
- Get the conversation going with these free, printable Sacred Stories Conversation Starters.
- Read Priya Parker’s “Art of Gathering” filled with ideas about how to lead an everyday family meal or holiday gathering with creativity and courage. Read Lisa Genova’s book “Remember” about the science of how memories are made and how we retrieve them. These two books inspired this blog post. You can also find more books we’ve read & loved here.
- Check out The Family Dinner Project website. You can find some of the research about family mealtimes, games to play around the table, thematic conversation starters, and more.
- Listen to The Storied Recipe podcast and hear how from others about the ways they are bringing food and stories together.
- Find tips from Dr. Robyn Fivush about what kinds of stories you should tell this holiday season.
- Participate in StoryCorps’ The Great Thanksgiving Listen. The Great Thanksgiving Listen encourages young people—and people of all ages—to create an oral history of our times by recording an interview with an elder, mentor, friend, or someone they admire.