Just as we’re tackling the busiest days of the year, we draw this series to a close. I’m painfully aware of just how easy it is to be throwing our energies into entertainment rather than hospitality. The expectation surrounding the BIG DAY seems so inflated and it’s around now that we may feel a bit ‘bah humbug’ about the whole thing. That’s me until I’ve finished my to-do list. Then bring on the sherry! The day itself will come will all its own traditions, excitement and hard work – there’s not much getting away from it, there’s a lot about Christmas Day that is pure entertainment. Pouring brandy on the Christmas pudding and setting it alight? Entertainment. Radio Times and highlighter pen? Entertainment. So however you’re preparing, I hope you manage to experience the joy along the way.
For me, there are have been two moments of unexpected joy this week. One was getting an unexpected gorgeous present and then a heartfelt text message from the friend who gave it. The second was watching my kids, even the oldest one, spend 2 hours icing gingerbread last night and having a great time together (not always easy on a weekday with one now at high school). Again, this was a bit impromptu and unexpected. Yes, Christmas Day will be amazing but big deal! It is meant to be amazing. ‘The Christmas Day show’ is on annual repeat. What I love about the festive season is the impulsive, ‘unexpected amazing’: the little blessings that come out of nowhere. I hope you have a few of those over the next few days.
To finish off, I’ve got a few tips about hospitality throughout the year. Those unexpected moments of amazing times can often come out of nowhere, but they usually do need a little engineering. The good news is, you don’t have to host to be hospitable! Jesus visited others in their homes and shared stories, ate with them, relaxed and chatted with people. As our book, Unlocking the Door explains, sharing food together is usually where the best conversations take place.
We went through a season of fairly regularly inviting people for barbeques, lunch, New Year’s Eve parties and so on. But we’ve got out of the habit of it a bit and I think one reason for this is that the kids are getting older. It’s now harder to have little kids in the house as there’s more ‘big kid’ stuff that they might mess up. Here are some ways to get around this:
- Involve the kids in the suggestions of who to invite. Be welcoming towards their new friends. It doesn’t always have to be families from church, their school friends need to experience your hospitality too.
- On a practical note, don’t be too quick to get rid of the little kid stuff. Keep a toddler stairgate so you can put it up at the bottom of the stairs as a gentle reminder for guests to stay downstairs to play! Keep a bag of Duplo, Lego and baby toys in the loft so you have something to get out when younger children are over to play. Your own kids will enjoy re-discovering their old favourites too.
- Always be talking about ways to be hospitable. Discuss the things they find hard about opening up their homes and their spaces and work out boundaries and activities they are happy with before the visitors arrive.
- Make it clear what you’re inviting people to. Give a start and an end time, so your own kids know they’ll have time to finish their homework in the evening, or whatever. You can now get garlands saying ‘Please leave by 9’! What do you wish people knew about when to leave your house? Word the invitation so they know how long you want them to stay.
So why not spend a bit of time planning some simple ways to be more hospitable in 2019? Remember, after the glitz of Christmas, it’s all about everyday, ordinary hospitality. And that’s pretty inevitable near the end of January when you haven’t been paid for 5 weeks and you’re on beans on toast every other night! Why not invite an American friend for beans on toast in January? They’ll see it as such a quaint British novelty!
Next week, look out for an amazing story about The Little Withington Angels – one mum’s radically ordinary experiences which led to extraordinary community-building.
Until then, Keeeeep Christmassing! (*cue Strictly theme tune*)