As the holiday season shifts into high gear, here’s a plea for a different kind of moderation: let’s all hear it (softly please) for moderate hosting. Moderate hosting means fighting the urge to measure your success as a host by the amount of food, alcohol, and sociability your guests consume. It means not pressing the matter when a guest turns down an alcoholic drink, or a second helping of pie, or a third pass under the mistletoe, and keeping in mind the golden rule of being a great host: always make your guests feel comfortable.
Years ago I facilitated a therapy group for women addressing their alcohol addiction. Participants committed to abstain from alcohol for the eight-week duration of the program. Although alcohol abuse is not an issue for me, I decided to support the women’s commitment by also refraining from alcohol use for the length of the group. That turned out to be more challenging than I’d anticipated. I thought having an alcohol-free life for eight weeks would be straightforward; if I chose not to seek out alcohol, alcohol wouldn’t seek me out. Instead I found abstaining from alcohol also required active—and often persistent—turning down of alcoholic offerings made by active, persistent, and no doubt well-intentioned hosts.
Similarly, the abundance of food we’re surrounded by during the holidays won’t have the same meanings for everyone. Many of the men and women I work with struggle to establish normal relationships with food, one free from fear, panic, self-loathing, and loss of control. For these people, taking the underlying stress of the holiday season, combining it with omnipresent desserts, breads, and carbo-feasts, and stirring in a host who says, “these are my specialty, you have to try one,” is a recipe for disaster.
A word on behalf of the introverted among us. I grew up in a Greek household, where family seemed to include anyone who knows someone who knew your mother’s second cousin, and the party didn’t start until someone broke plates. As a painfully shy kid, family holiday gatherings, with their obligatory New Year’s hug and three kisses with relatives I hadn’t seen in a year, felt more like trials to endure than celebrations to enjoy.
Here are my tips for being the host or hostess with the most this holiday season:
- Have plenty of festive and attractive non-alcoholic drink options available.
- Don’t question, cajole, implore, or otherwise stress out a guest who turns down a drink.
- Have some fruit or other light dessert options available.
- Don’t press food onto your guests or treat a refusal as a personal affront.
- Don’t pressure your guests to behave more socially than they want to; if you make a comfortable and accepting environment for your guests, they’ll find their own zone (and if that’s alone under the coats reading Twilight, at least you’ve given them the space to be themselves).
© Copyright 2008 by Lee Kotsalis-Thulin. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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