Ever wanted to make family dinners more meaningful?
(Rebecca on the blog today as Sheila is flying home from out west.)
And I’ve got to say, if you want meaningful conversations, you should meet my Nana.
My Nana (Sheila’s mother) loves to get people to talk.
And not small-talk or chit-chat–I mean actually talk. Like about what makes you feel true joy in your soul, or what disappointments have shaped who you are as a person. I don’t think anyone can sit down for more than an hour with my Nana and not learn something about themselves.
Last Christmas for the Gregoire side (my dad’s side of the family) we passed a basket with questions my Nana had written on little slips of paper. Nana lives with Mom and Dad, so she joined us for Dad’s side, even though she’s not on Dad’s side. And she really did transform our family traditions.
My cousins were confused and a bit hesitant at first, but it was really fun! It gave us easy conversation, we learned more about each other, and it presented natural opportunities to share funny stories from the past year.
Once we were done, the cousins who were least excited at the beginning started passing around the basket again for a second round.
As a result, we left that Christmas dinner feeling much more connected as a group. Family events are often one of the only times we gather with extended relatives in a year, but we so rarely actually talk about how we’re really doing, what’s actually going on, beyond the brief “how’s work, how are the kids” conversations.
But first, there are a few general principles that can make having real conversations as a family easier:
First, serve the food at the table instead of buffet-style in the kitchen.
This means that during the meal, everyone is sitting around the table together. You don’t have people getting up in the middle to refill their plate, you don’t have a line of people trying to get at the mashed potatoes. People all arrive at the table at the same time and leave at the same time, which makes conversation much easier.
Second, more tables with fewer people can be better than one table with everyone.
If you’ve got so many people that having a conversation with everyone at once is difficult, consider splitting up the tables. In our family, last year we had a “grown ups” table (even though everyone in our family is over 18 now except for the newest addition) and the “cousins” table, where aunt Carrie indignantly snuck into anyway, because there was no way she was going to miss out on all the fun. We’ll likely switch it up year after year so we all have a chance to sit with each other, but it made conversation so much easier since you were only talking with 6-10 other people instead of the entire family at once.
Third, it’s best to introduce the questions after everyone has served themselves but while they are still eating.
Trying to start a great conversation amidst the “pass the peas” and “where is the stuffing” often just leads to frustration. Wait for people to have their food, and then get started on the conversation! Plus, then it’s easier to ensure that only one person talks at a time since everyone else is busy eating.
Fourth, do the questions in one of two ways
Either have everyone answer the same one or two questions (you can choose them below) or put a bunch of different questions in a basket and pass the basket around. If you’re going to use the basket, here’s a handy tip: Give everyone one “out”. If they pick a question they just don’t want to answer, they’re allowed to draw another one.
Now, on to the conversation starters!
10 Conversation Starters for Families during the Holidays
1. Share something you’re proud of from this last year
This isn’t just about the obvious victories, too–not just the promotions, the successes, or the awards. Maybe this year you finally read that book you’ve had on the back burner for forever. Maybe you spent more time with family than you did last year. Maybe you finally got that dog of yours to come back when called. No pressure to think of your most impressive accomplishment–just what you’re proud of. Let’s celebrate the little victories, too!
2. Share something you’re disappointed with in the past year
This one sounds like a bit of a downer, but it was actually one of the best questions we had, because people really opened up! And you often learn more when you share disappointments about what people are actually feeling.
3. Share something you want to achieve in the coming year
And then make plans to keep each other accountable or encourage each other in the journey! Are there a few of you who want to become more active? Create a group text where you can plan times to do an active outing together once a month and keep each other on track in between!
4. Share something new that you learned this year
I know what my husband Connor’s answer would be! He’s so proud that he figured out how to fix a sink so that we didn’t have to call a plumber!
5. When was the last time you laughed so hard your sides hurt, and when was he last time you cried?
This is similar to the high-low questions but much more story-based. You may be surprised by what you hear–often it’s the people we least expect who have the funniest, most side-splitting stories!
6. Ask everyone to come with a book/movie/TV show recommendation
Why do they like that book so much? What makes that movie so important to them? And as a bonus, now you’ll have a list of books, movies, or TV shows to watch so that when you’re bored on a week night you’ll have lots of entertainment options that will give you something to discuss with the other members of your family–even the ones who are sometimes more difficult to connect with. If you’ve read your incredibly introverted uncle’s favorite book, that can lead to some great conversation!
7. Play “would you rather”
Would Uncle Randy rather live in a castle but never see another person for his entire life, or in a small apartment with 30 other people? Would Grandma rather live in the arctic where it’s too cold or in a desert where it’s too hot? This is an easy game for family members who aren’t as chatty since the options are presented before them and all they have to do is pick!
8. Discuss where you saw God move this last year, or where you need prayer this year
Often we don’t ever take time to really sit down and ask ourselves where we saw God moving and so we assume that we didn’t see Him at all. But actually thinking about it and looking back can bring the perspective needed to see where He was moving all along. If your family is religious, this can be a great way to challenge each other to look for signs of God’s presence and provision over the last year and ask for some prayer for the year ahead.
9. Tell a story about someone you admire
Whether it’s a public figure, a friend, or even a character in a book, each person explains why they chose that person and what about them makes them so admirable. You can learn a lot about your family members by learning who they look up to!
If your family is comfortable with it, change this so that each person says something they admire about the person to their right, with a specific example. It can be an amazing way to encourage each other and bless the members of your family.
10. Share your high-lows for the year
Everyone around the table shares what the high- and low-points of this year were. It may sound a bit like a downer to talk about low points, but it can be quite nice to share when we are hurting and family support can be a huge benefit during struggles, too. By doing this, we learn to celebrate with each other’s victories and also help carry each other’s burdens–and that’s a perfect picture of family.
BONUS: Ask everyone to bring a photo of themselves at the same age
And share a memory from that year. Everyone brings a photo at a specific age (say age 9) and you’ll hear about the horrific camp counselors your aunt had that summer, about how your grandfather joined a band even though no one could play any real instruments, and how your little sister fell into her friend’s pool fully clothed and was too embarrassed to go back for 8 months.
What are some of your suggestions for getting families to talk around the dinner table this Thanksgiving or Christmas? Share them in the comments below!