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Dine Without Whine - A Family 

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Entertaining vs. Hospitality

I received a book to review on this blog a few months ago that I was actually pretty excited about. It was talking about entertaining for people who didn't really like to entertain or didn't feel like they knew how. And I thought, that's for me! I'm not a detail person. I find it hard to put on a party, because when people come I get so caught up in talking to them I forget about little things like oven timers and when food has to be turned on.

So I thought: this can help organize me!

Instead it just depressed me. It was all about how to make your home beautiful, and how to do gorgeous place settings, and how to make canapes. I'm never going to make canapes.

Now maybe you have the gift of entertaining, and you find this sort of thing fun. But what I find fun is having a pile of people over, serving something easy like chicken fajitas with lots of fixings, and then eating wherever you can find a chair while you talk nonstop, and then playing board games afterwards while the kids scatter.

In fact, after reading this book, I began to think that maybe I'd never actually thrown a dinner party in my life! I've had tons of people over for dinner, but I've never thrown a dinner party! I've only ever "had people over". I had thought I had thrown dinner parties, but my table never looked anything like the tables in that book.

Please understand; I am not saying there's anything wrong with that kind of entertaining. But I just don't know if I have the time to put in that kind of work in order to have people over. The author of this book gets her kids involved, and it's a family affair, and that's wonderful. But I'm not that kind of person. I'm a lot more laid back. I like a lot of laughter, not quiet music playing in the background. I like big debates, not tame conversation. So I'm not a dinner party gal.

I worry that if we expect that anytime we have people over for dinner it has to be a big production, that we will stop inviting people over. One of the best things you can do to encourage friendships for your children (and yourself) is to have people over. Invite other families over. Talk. Instead of watching TV tonight, talk to friends! Share food. Have people bring something and contribute. Let's function more like a community.

But will we do that if we think that we must have elaborate place settings for people? Or we must plan a menu to reflect the seasons, or the fall colours, or the summer bounty? What if I just want to clear out my freezer?

I'm not saying I don't put any effort in; I guess it's just that I see a difference between hospitality and entertaining. Hospitality says, "come and share my life". Entertaining says, "I will do something out of the ordinary and extraordinary for you". Hospitality says, "I'm not really making extra effort; I just value you and so I want to include you in what we're doing because you make it better by being here." Entertaining says, "I went out of my way for you."

One isn't wrong and one right, it's just a different philosophy. I would rather just share my life, and so I don't do the whole "posh" thing. But some people are very good at posh, and it comes naturally. So by all means, go ahead!

But let's not think that in order to have people over we have to be posh. No, you don't. Do you know how rare a home cooked meal is today, even if it's just spaghetti? Anything you do is probably impressive. So don't be afraid to share, even the little you do have. Remember the five small barley loaves and two small fish? They weren't much, but they fed a ton of people and everyone had a big party. You can take the little you have and give people a memory.

I figure that what people remember is the feeling of community and the interaction. Others who focus more on entertaining may feel they remember the beauty, and the grace, and the effort. Both are fine. But that beauty and grace and effort, while lovely, is not necessary. Don't let fears that you can't entertain stop you from having people in. Just share who you are, and laugh, and talk, and play, and have fun, and people will remember, even if it's not a traditional dinner party. And if we all got back to inviting people in once a week, rather than hibernating in our own homes watching TV, we'd be a much healthier society.

Do you have people over? What's your favourite thing to make? How do you make it fun? Let me know!

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At 8:24 AM , Blogger Burkulater said…

Since we were the first ones out of all our friends to have kids, and since we had three so close in age, I've almost completely stopped having parties here because it's just too daunting! We are blessed to have my cousin and his wife over once a week after the kids are in bed, but I miss all the gatherings we used to have. I'm trying to overcome not having things because the house isn't perfect. Great post!


At 8:35 AM , Blogger Lisa said…

Thanks Sheila. I needed to hear this. Even hospitality is challenging for me. I certainly don't entertain as you describe it here. I LOVED your line about cleaning out the freezer!!

I have been thinking about having people over for cards or dinner or whatever, but always think of myself as a "Martha", and insecure about my plain house and so I thought I couldn't. You have encouraged me today!


At 8:46 AM , Blogger Norma said…

Oh Sheila...we are on the same page here. I feel really good if I have paper napkins that might be in season to place beside the crockpot on the counter!!! I bought a set of 12 place settings on sale for this reason. Paper plates are hard to handle on your lap with hot things! Our last gathering with friends we played "Things" it was so...much fun. Way better than watching a "leafs" game on a Saturday night. I agree great post!!!


At 9:02 AM , Blogger Nancy said…

We moved into our house 2 years ago, and it still is not finished. (Subfloors, primer on most of the walls, etc.) At first I didn't want anyone over until my house is finished, but then decided that if I waited until then, I would never have anyone over. I figure I have people over to have fellowship and an enjoyable time. Surely we can do that in an unfinished home. I sometimes take the time to have nice place settings, etc, but not always. A lot of my friends are more comfortable in a more relaxed setting without having to decide which fork to use first.


At 9:57 AM , Blogger Mrs.C said…

I have two different friends, who both love having dinner parties, but they are completely different. One hosts parties that are extremely elegant, but they are not that comfortable, in that I'm always afraid I'll forget some etiquette rule and make a mistake that will embarrass her. The other makes meal time very elegant and beautiful, but somehow at the same time makes everyone feel very relaxed. She laughs at her own mistakes and never makes anyone feel like they are less than her. I don't think the first tries to make people feel that way, but she is so about "formalities" it isn't much fun when you feel on edge the whole night.

I do try to make things a little more special when we have company, as a way of showing love, and I hope to goodness I never make anyone feel uncomfortable. We try to be ourselves and want our guests to be that comfortable as well.

Most of our dinner guests these days are our daughters friends. And that has been a neat transition for us, having their older friends with us at the dinner table. I'm liking this season of our lives.

It really is about investing in the lives of those you share a meal with, and not about impressing people, that should be at the heart of it all.


At 11:48 AM , Blogger Shaun and Holly said…

I grew up seeing my mom stress excessively cleaning the house, etc before guests arrived.

So early in my marriage, I wanted to avoid the stress of entertaining. husband loved having others over so I had to re-learn or re-think entertaining vs. hospitality.

Simply put, I believe that Entertaining is about ME and MY HOUSE. Where as Hospitality is about my GUEST!

I try to keep things simple (as far as food goes) and have the house clean vs. perfect. I remind myself that the most important things is for me to make our guest feel welcome and valued.

I really enjoy having people over now!


At 12:09 PM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…

You know, I think we feel so much pressure to "entertain" (which often reads "impress") that we get too intimidated to do it. And then we feel guilty because God commands us to show hospitality! And so many of us don't get that the two aren't the same thing. Once in a long while I'll host something moderately fancy, but more often than not it's a BBQ or a pot-luck.

I think we have to remind ourselves that the goal is not to impress each other, but to bless each other.

I'm so thankful to my mom, who has always been a stellar example of this to me. She has a way of making people feel welcome and loved, no matter if they're eating hot dogs on paper plates or a fancy dinner.

Great book on this topic, VERY encouraging - Open Heart, Open Home by Karen Mains. I think it was out of print for awhile, but has been reprinted. I know it can be found on Amazon quite cheaply. Love it.



At 12:11 PM , Blogger The Happy Domestic said…

Hey Sheila, great post! :) I read a magnificent book by Elizabeth R. Skoglund called Gifts from the Hearth, Your Guide to the Art of Hospitality. She makes the point that we should not be hindered from showing hospitality by expectations of perfection, and then she goes on to give examples of how we can go the extra mile in some small things to make people feel like they are very special to us. What I took from this book was that it's not about being a Martha (Stewart or otherwise), it's about being a Mary... who washed Jesus' feet with perfume and dried them with her hair: A humble offering in some ways, but it was her best. We too can show extravagant hospitality / love to people, without any hangups about perfection.
(Sorry to post such a long comment!)


At 2:11 PM , Blogger Cherish said…

The formality of our entertaining really varies but it's never super fancy. One thing I do that prevents me from stressing is avoid the idea that I must only serve tried and true dishes. I'm not a recipe follower and I don't see the point in making a recipe first before serving it to someone else. Things don't truly fail very often. Sure maybe they aren't pretty but it's not a world-ending situation if everything isn't perfect. One time we were invited over for dinner and the food was pretty umm, non-tasty. I was still able to find a compliment for it and we just enjoyed the casual chit-chatting and company.


At 3:10 PM , Blogger Berji's domain said…

We have friends over for dinner on a fairly frequent basis. It is never really fancy, but can range from a regular meal (or a little more special because of the recipe involving unique ingredients or trying a new recipe) to something entirely casual like pizza. But the point is to hang out with friends and laugh.
We aren't well-off, we don't have matching furniture or even a dining room (or dining table) to seat everyone. But if that really bothers our guests it is going to be mighty hard to laugh with them anyway. (And we have 3 small children so we & the guests have to be pretty chilled about formalities!)


At 5:18 PM , Blogger Renee said…

Good post! I have gotten out of having people over, but want to go back to it.


At 7:50 AM , Blogger Shaun and Holly said…

Me again. Just wanted to agree with "Herding Grasshoppers" re. the book :Open Heart, Open Home by Karen Mains. It is EXCELLENT and was the turning point for me to be able to have others over and enjoy it! :)

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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