The gift of hospitality

By Caitlin Kelly

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A shared meal is a gift

How often — ever? — do you welcome guests into your home?

In some cultures, it’s normal to ask even people you don’t know very well in for a drink or a meal or to spend the night. In others, people can take years before they decide to open the door to you.

As the holiday season starts in the U.S. with Thanksgiving, thousands of people will be visiting friends and family, settling into unfamiliar beds, padding down the hallway to a new bathroom and wondering how best to behave.

I love having people come for dinner and our sofa is well-worn from the many visits we’ve had, sometimes for a week or more, from family and out-of-town friends. (We live and work in a one-bedroom apartment. I’d kill for a proper guest room!)

I love the intimacy of spending time in someone’s home and they in mine. You get to see their family photos (or lack of same), their choices of art and design, their books. Every fridge’s contents is a revelation. (You’ll always find maple syrup, eggs and half-and-half in ours.)

I love the ease of a morning spent in pajamas reading the paper or sitting by the evening fire at my Dad’s house, settling in. There’s no rush to get out of a crowded, noisy cafe or restaurant, no bill, no harried waiter or busboy.

In a few days together, you’ve got time. Time to drop and return to a deeper or more difficult conversation or to discuss things you never get to in all those quick meetings — who they first loved or what they studied in college or why they love Mozart so much.

One of the members of our jazz dance class recently had us over for a post-class hot tub session (bliss!) and lunch.

It was the most fun I’d had in a long time. Seven of us squished into the hot tub, the first time I’d seen any of us not in our workout clothes. Lunch became a hilarious and occasionally R-rated conversation that revealed all sorts of new things about one another.

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Cooking at the house we rented last year in Ireland

It was, I later realized, a true gift.

It takes time, energy, planning and an open heart to welcome people into your home. (Tidying it up can feel like too much of a chore.)

If you’ve got multiple small children, it can simply feel impossible.

But what a pleasure to sit in someone’s home, to see their taste, to enjoy their cooking and conversation.

Now that we all live so virtually most of the time, being in someone else’s space feels more important to me than ever.

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Quiche is a quick, easy and affordable way to feed a few people…

We’ll be driving five hours from New York to suburban D.C. to visit friends there for Thanksgiving. Dear friends, they’ve welcomed us into their home many times before, so we know their enormous dog will be at the door, soon shedding blond fur all over our New York uniform of black clothing. We know their fridge will be full and that it’s OK to raid it.

I look forward to helping my friend prepare the meal for all her family.

And — talk about unlikely! — I recently expressed a vague wish to learn to play the cello. I don’t even know how to read music and the only instrument I played in earlier life was the guitar.

My friend has a cello she’s going to let me try when we’re at her house. What a moment that’s likely to be. (Dog runs away in terror.)

Who will you welcome into your home this season?

Are you looking forward to it, dreading it — or avoiding it altogether?

11 thoughts on “The gift of hospitality

  1. Hey, I’m going to D.C. for Thanksgiving too! I love having visors. It’s been a little difficult recently because I’ve been renovating for months (slowly, as I’m alone) but it’s coming along. My dream is to be able to entertain (like I used to in L.A.), and have more visitors – like you! πŸ™‚

  2. steve

    We always have a large family dinner on Thanksgiving every year, usually about 25 counting children. Seems like the only time you see all the family is funerals and the occasional wedding. I love to entertain guests in my home and do my best to to be a good host. My offer still stands to you if you’re ever in Southeast PA and want to experience paradise drop me an email. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! Steve

    1. Yay! I’ve been wondering where you were….:-) Long time, no comment.

      We would still love to meet you one of these days.

      Have a terrific Thanksgiving, Steve. So glad to see you back here again,

  3. We’re going to my in-laws in Arizona for Thanksgiving, and I’m really looking forward to a relaxing week. (I’ll also be meeting up with a Gaelic teacher from the Isle of Skye who now lives there – such a small world!)

    I love having visitors, and since we have a guest room, we’re really lucky that family and friends from the UK can visit and stay with us – it would be prohibitively expensive for most of them otherwise. We still haven’t had a dinner party since we moved in though… we’ll get round to it eventually πŸ™‚

    Hope you and Jose have a lovely Thanksgiving in D.C.!

  4. i love it too, caitlin. i am happy to squeeze everyone into my little cottage and just spend time together, sharing the space, talking, laughing and catching up. have a great thanksgiving and trip.

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