How to Practice Hospitality This Thanksgiving
We tend to look at the holiday season through rose-colored glasses. We picture Thanksgiving dinner tables piled high with food and surrounded by smiling family and friends.
But, for many people, this is simply not true. Thanksgiving is actually the start of the loneliest time of the year.
According to Oxford University Press, “… social isolation among older adults is a sweeping social problem whose impact extends beyond the family-centric weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.”
In addition to senior adults who are isolated in nursing homes, there are many other groups of people who spend Thanksgiving alone, including singles and divorcees.
Factors such as distance, money, work, and familial issues lead to thousands of people spending Thanksgiving alone.
A study by Cigna found, “Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).”
Loneliness in America is an epidemic.
As Jesus followers, Thanksgiving presents us with a wonderful opportunity to help someone no longer feel lonely or isolated.
Instead of feeling left out, those people with a Thanksgiving invitation will feel included.
By practicing hospitality (defined as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers”), we follow Jesus’ example.
Throughout the New Testament, we read story after story of Jesus dining with others and feeding people.
Thanksgiving makes it possible for Christians to do the same.
Perhaps this is the year for you to embrace a new Thanksgiving tradition of practicing purposeful hospitality.
Let’s look at how this is done.
Open the Table
Whether you plan to celebrate with family or by yourself, it is time to open the table.
If your family has Thanksgiving plans, invite someone else who may be spending the holiday alone.
Likewise, if you find yourself alone this Thanksgiving, don’t wait for someone else’s invitation – ask others to join you!
Rather than simply looking for friends to add to your table, consider inviting those on the margins, such as the widow, the divorcee, the college kid, or the immigrant.
These people could end up being friends, but the idea is to extend an invitation to someone who needs it.
Remember, Jesus dined with sinners and those who didn’t look or act like him (Luke 5:27-32).
We should do the same – especially at Thanksgiving.
It’s Not Just About the Food
It’s easy to think Thanksgiving is all about the food, but that’s just part of it. And, it’s not even the biggest part of it.
Thanksgiving is a holiday giving us an opportunity to show humility and gratitude.
By opening your doors and welcoming others to your table, you get to express thankfulness for the ability to do so.
When you choose to practice purposeful hospitality at Thanksgiving, it means going out of your way to treat guests, visitors, and strangers with kindness.
It means making your guests feel valued and seen.
It does not mean making yourself or your home look Thanksgiving Pinterest-perfect, nor is this an exercise for showing off.
True hospitality is just the opposite.
As Shauna Niequist says, “The heart of hospitality is when people leave your home, they should feel better about themselves, not better about you.”
Be Mary, Not Martha
Speaking of hospitality, look at the story of Mary and Martha from the gospels.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:38-42
Take a minute and imagine this was Thanksgiving.
As Martha is busy preparing the Thanksgiving feast, Mary is chatting with Jesus.
You can probably imagine Martha’s frustration.
There is food to be cooked, table settings to be sat out, and decorations that need to be placed.
And her sister is not helping.
But, look at how Jesus responds when Martha complains: “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
This speaks to the heart of hospitality.
Too often, we mistake hospitality as doing all the cooking and cleaning perfectly, but truly being hospitable means making people feel welcomed and loved.
By prioritizing your guests over Thanksgiving preparation, you practice true hospitality.
“The Jesus way of hospitality means
you value being present more than being perfect.”
– Shauna Niequest
Listen and Share
With this in mind, make the space around your Thanksgiving table safe for people to listen, share, and grow.
Invite your guests to share what they are thankful for.
Consider sharing how Jesus impacted your life and welcoming others to share theirs.
Allow guests to ask hard questions.
Wonderful things can happen when we gather together to break bread and share our hearts.
Do Something with the Leftovers
Lastly, don’t let your hospitality end when the meal is over. Think about ways you can continue practicing hospitality.
For example, send leftovers home with your guests who live alone. Take your leftovers to a lonely neighbor who didn’t feel comfortable coming. And, extend another invitation to share a future meal.
I’ve heard stories about families who always invite others to join them at Thanksgiving.
It is a wonderful tradition and one that may start a chain effect.
Because of your purposeful hospitality, one of your guests may start their own Thanksgiving tradition.
“Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” – 2 Corinthians 4:13-15