I both love and loathe the holidays. Actually, I really only loathe the feeling that I’m too busy and am swirling in a vortex of obligations. But if I break it down into reality what I’m busy with come holiday season is seeing people I love and doing fun things like gorging myself on great food, making merry with a cocktail or three, decking the halls with tidbits of beauty and light, and making memories with my children, friends, and family–not a bad thing in the bunch, right?! I do find that most people are a bit jaded about the season these days. It feels commercial and a bit formulaic and it can be hard to remember why we celebrate this time of year and take such pains to throw parties and see loved ones. Tis the time of year for gatherings and family after all. I think many a family party has been co-opted by routine and by the habits formed over a lifetime of who does what at a family celebration. Maybe in your tribe, mama does the cooking, papa reads the paper or hangs out in the garage, and kids watch TV the whole time. Or maybe you’ve got hours of charades and Pictionary to look forward to and you know your eldest brother will cheat and that your Grandma will burn the gravy We’ve all got our routines and the way that family parties lay themselves out.
I married into a great family who is anything but routine. There is lots of spontaneity in the Harbertson clan so I can’t say that one family party looks exactly the same as the next, but I can say that we all still typically play some roles in an event and it happens quite often that the adults chit chat and eat and I can go a whole evening without saying more than a few words to my nephews and nieces since they are all playing somewhere far away from the grown ups. This can bum me out since my idea of the perfect party is everyone interacting and connecting–no subgroups, no division by age or interests–at least one moment in my dream party involves everyone being together and feeling like a well,…a family.
Probably because of this, when throwing a recent family bash, I had a light bulb moment when I suddenly thought the format of the party could help shake things up a bit and the Family Show & Tell night was born. The basic premise is just like it was back in Kindergarten: ask everyone to bring something special to them to showcase to the group. Since we have a mixed age range (from 92 down to 5) I made sure to include on the invitation that this was an ALL AGES show. It was important to me that everyone participate and that the kids get the opportunity to have the floor and really be heard. I made certain to say there were no rules on what someone could bring or say, but being less open-ended may actually be a good thing in the end since it helps people narrow down what they really want to show. (I heard from several people in the family that it was anxiety producing to decide what to bring!)
I thought Show & Tell night was so much fun. It revealed just what I’d hoped, which is that even though we’re family and see each other often, there is still a lot we don’t know about each other. I found everyone’s presentations surprising. Who knew that my 6 year old nephew, Jonah, is currently obsessed with origami? He folded a beautiful paper crane for us for his turn. My niece Zoe is becoming a little horsewoman and displayed her ribbons from a recent horse show. Our lovely matriarch, Karma, showed us a scar on her forearm and a picture of an old washer (the kind with the hand rolling crank circa 1930s) and described how she almost lost an arm as a young girl when her arm got stuck in the machine and her own mother had to roll it out! My father-in-law presented a beautiful leather purse he’d handmade as a gift for his mother back in his high schoo days– an object and a talent I certainly never knew about before. And it turns out my brother in law knows how to pick locks (he proved it!) and my sister in law Lisa has a rock hard bicep thanks to a grueling cross fit exercise regimen she’s stuck to for more than a year.
Especially this time of year I think it’s easy to hit auto pilot and have a mentality of “getting through” an event or party Maybe what we all need is a good dose of show & tell: a social formula that reminds us that who we are sitting down talking to or sharing a meal with is someone full of surprises and interesting tidbits just waiting to be shown. Even if your next party can’t be a literal show & tell, maybe it’s worth imagining it figuratively and pulling out all the stops asking others about what their most special talents and secrets are even if they are 6 years old, or spending a moment to inquire of your host what the story behind a work of art or object in their home is. You never know where it can lead….