As I write this, my wife is at home hosting a birthday tea. A friend of hers has turned another year older and my family had her in to celebrate. This ritual has taken place for a number of years in a row now. Year after year, celebrating around the table in our dining room, drinking tea, laughing and getting older.
My wife and I have always been intentional about practicing this kind of hospitality. Even in those first cramped apartments, we found room to sit around the table with friends. At least once in those early years, we had to extend the table with foldable trays to accommodate all the guests. Nevertheless, this practice has been rewarding.
Here are three reasons we value entertaining in our home and why you ought to too.
1. Opening your home helps you develop I broad set of associations
The range of people who have sat around that table is wide: Africans, Asians, Europeans, Amish and atheist, long-time friends and passing acquaintances. You don’t assemble such a record by accident. We have been very intentional about inviting to our table people who for some reason seem interesting to us, or who seem to have a need we can meet.
Some of our guests have been at our home for more than a meal. We have hosted people for extended stays. Some we knew before they arrived. Some were strangers when they came. Our habit of hospitality helped prepare us for these experiences. Opening our home over the years, built in us the attitudes necessary to bring into our home people who would be with us for a while. The result is a fairly extensive network of friends whose wealth of experience and perspective continues to enrich us.
2. Opening your home is a form of low-cost fun.
Ultimately, we entertain because we enjoy it. We enjoy the chance to sit down with others and to get to know them. We enjoy offering them the comfort and pleasure of a meal.
It helps if you are able to make conversation. Understanding how to connect with others is a necessary skill if talk around the table is going to be animated rather than awkward. Fortunately, this isn’t hard. Just asking a few questions usually gets the ball rolling. If you have a hard time making conversation, don’t think that’s an excuse not to have people over. People who make good hosts aren’t good hosts because they know how to make conversation. They know how to make conversation because they have practice being good hosts. If talking to others in these contexts is hard for you, the best thing you can do is get started.
Entertaining at home also has the benefit of not costing much. I suppose you could dish out to your guests cuts of meat so expensive that the cost of the meal would exceed what you’d spend on a night out, but that’s not necessary. A simple shared meal at home is almost always going to cost you less than a dinner out with friends. This is especially true if you add in the cost of other entertainments like movie tickets. Overall, staying at home for a shared meal is both more rewarding and thriftier than a night out.
3. Opening your home builds community
Every time you invite someone to your table, you strengthen the invisible bonds that define the place where you live. Offering the hospitality of a meal to others cuts against the grain of all our cultural tendencies toward individualism and isolation. When you call others to your table, you are calling them into something deeper than a meal. You are calling them into relationship that, as food nourishes the body, nourishes the soul.
Because entertaining at home stands in opposition to what’s worst in our culture, you’ll find people have little experience being guests. Often, people are surprised by even the simplest meals. They are even more surprised by the invitation. For people living in an atomized culture, the invitation to share a meal can come as a shock, if a pleasant one. Once they overcome their surprise, they’ll sense a new bond between the two of you born of being present in another’s home.
Don’t expect to have the invitation returned. In the years we have been having people in, only a few have returned the favor. This is not a problem for us, but we have wondered why. I think it is just that inviting others into our homes is rare, people are nervous about being judged, and they are too frazzled to prepare. Don’t worry about the lack of reciprocation, just send out you invitations and reap the rewards that come back to you.
Entertaining at home, no matter how simply done, is one way of compensating for the deficiencies of our alienating and frenetic culture. It is also something you can do. The culture is not so overpowering you can’t carve out some small haven for yourself and others within the walls of your home. All you have to do is be willing to open your door.
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