Thanksgiving: to host or not to host
Guest post by Karen Guzman
I grew up in a house regularly filled with guests, whether for a meal or for a semester. So, when I joined InterVarsity staff and moved into my own place, it was natural to host students for meals, movie nights, parties, etc. Later, I began working with graduate students who tended to be on campus year ‘round. Work commitments and/or being from out of state or overseas make for infrequent visits to family. Working with international students, I discovered that many come to the states for school and return home without ever having seen the inside of an American home. Thanksgiving, particularly, became a focal point of ministry as I welcomed students into my home for a traditional American celebration.
In those early years, I cooked two turkeys and prepared two meals, hosting my family at noon and then pushing them out the door by 4:00 pm so we could clean up and be ready for a houseful of students and meal number two at 5:00 pm. Years later living in Georgia, it became an all-day affair. We’d go late into the night pulling out desserts and leftovers as we worked on jigsaw puzzles or taught the students how to play Pit. (Both are great options for folks who may not be proficient in English.) I used to tell the American students if I discovered they or their lab mates spent Thanksgiving in the lab, then they would be in trouble!
In recent years, my work has taken me away from a local campus and we have begun hosting the international interns from my husband’s office. We continue to enjoy the conversations and laughter. We love providing a warm and welcoming space offering a feel of “family” to those whose families are so far away. More than once we have received tearful thanks from guests whose experience in our home took a bit of the sting out of not being with their own families.
Sharing a meal is a universal gesture of hospitality and holidays are a great time to include others. They are, after all, the occasions filled with our favorite food and traditions (my stuffing is a classic family recipe made with white bread, not cornbread, by the way). They provide an easy door into interactions about food, family, culture, and values. They also offer a natural way to talk about our relationship with God, whether it’s in expressing our gratitude at Thanksgiving or celebrating the birth or resurrection of Jesus at Christmas and Easter.
Opening one’s home to others at Thanksgiving (or other holidays) takes a bit of forethought and planning, but needn’t be left to those who have gifts of hospitality. Inviting others to bring foods from their countries can remove some of the food preparation burden. The focus should be on hospitality — welcoming the guest — as opposed to entertaining and calling attention to the host. Rather than being concerned about protecting “family time,” including folks in our holiday celebrations has enriched our experiences.
Inviting others to join us at our family table is a tangible way we’ve found to demonstrate the love and kindness of our hospitable God who has lavishly welcomed us in Christ.
Karen Hice Guzmán serves as InterVarsity’s Director of Women in the Academy and Professions. She loves to use her gifts of hospitality and teaching to create a welcome place for people to connect with God and each other. Currently, she is bringing together women in graduate school and beyond to encourage, support, and mentor one another to live fully into the call of God on their lives as they navigate the challenges of academia and the professional world. Karen lives in Marietta, Georgia. She and her husband have three adult sons. She loves dark chocolate, good coffee, and British TV.