Thanksgiving – the World Series of Hospitality
MINOR LEAGUE. Thanksgiving puts it all on the line – years of drills and practice with the equipment. Endless low risk performances. Basics like peeling, chopping, mixing, boiling, sauteeing have been mastered long ago. Coordinating the timing of three-component dinners. Done. Two burners. Three burners. Four burners plus the oven. Graduated to shifting six pots on and off the four burners. Pulling prepared veggies from an overcrowded fridge in the right sequence. Realizing too late that you left two veggies uncooked – and getting over it quickly and moving on. Done. Lessons learned. Stirring when necessary. Adding components when necessary. Removing when necessary. Knowing how to avert disaster when one pan starts to burn. Done. Turning pan juices into silky gravy. All done with three feet of counter space.
And then – there’s the bird. That big presence demanding near-constant attention.
ON TO THE MAJOR LEAGUE Let’s move onto the majors. Same scene as above – but now the pressure is intensified. We need to assume that the table is beautifully set and the house is sparklingly clean. Kids are dressed and know they are to be on best behavior. And you – you – aren’t covered in squash, gravy and band-aids. No – you are dressed to entertain.
Back to the kitchen. Guests are arriving with casseroles that need heating. They want to help and to chat but they can see the stress in your smile. Everything comes off the stove and out of the oven and into serving dishes. Refrigerated items are retrieved. Water glasses filled. Wine poured. So, with a final flurry, everything is moved to the table. Someone has likely been asked to “do the honors” of carving the bird. People are gathered. The excitement and praise begin.
WORLD SERIES – THE MAIN EVENT. The meal may be the centerpiece of the holiday but the purpose is yet to be achieved. The holiday is really about the people around the table, isn’t it?
The food and ambiance are ready and there are stories waiting to be told; there is love to be expressed, tensions to survive. People will be reacquainted with one another. Even with socially-skilled participants all with generous hearts, the dynamics will be challenging. There are deep histories and memories of past tensions. Extroverts will politely dominate. This will help everyone … for a while. There will be side conversations. Introverts will try to keep abreast of concurrent discussions – because that’s what introverts do – they listen. The volume goes up as people try to hop into the conversation that appeals to them at the other end of the table. The wine kicks in. Laughter starts coming more easily – perhaps too easily. Laughing at old stories – not at the people involved (right?) Those who have returned “from away” will remember why they left. Those who stayed can feel judged. More gravy? Can I refill your water glass? Don’t worry about that spill. “I wish I had known you were vegan.”
WHAT SKILLS ARE NEEDED? As host, you are like a team coach calling in a few plays directly, but most of the action is up to the players around the table. You keep an eye on everyone, looking for signs of engagement or distress. Perhaps you offer a prompt or two, such as, “Did you tell them about the time …” or “I was so surprised to see you went to Austin. Can you tell us about it?” “Hey, everyone, I hope you notice (casseroles by guests, decorations by children, …). If you see tension, you can politely change the subject and pull someone into a different conversation. When you see someone not participating, you determine the reason. Shyness? Are they sulking? Perhaps this is just a great listener? In the business world, skills associated with human dynamics are called “soft” skills – as opposed to “hard” skills like accounting. In my world we referred to these people skills as “harder” skills.
SUCCESS: All the players have the Thanksgiving experience of abundance and generosity with one another. They feel the warmth and strength of community. That is what they will take home with them (uh – in addition to plates of leftovers).
However you congregate this year, face-to-face or digitally, reap.
Here are a couple of funny examples of holiday fun: