Entertaining vs hospitality: It’s not about the food

Now that December is here, I think about hosting dinner parties and family members who come from faraway places to celebrate holidays and family traditions. The thought of getting everything ready for the holidays is daunting and overwhelming. Yet, we are called to open our home and our hands with generosity and kindness. How should I respond when I am so busy with my work, my life and my responsibilities? How do I carve up enough energy to do what it takes to get through the holidays and all the obligations with grace and gratitude? I go through these mental and emotional machinations every year.  This year I am going to be better, more organized, and less stressed, stay within my budget, enjoy my company, and simplify the way I entertain. What else can I do to be better at this?   

The word “entertain” means to provide with amusement or enjoyment; to hold the attention pleasantly or agreeably; divert; amuse. The word “hospitality” means the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers; the quality of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way. 

I have never thought about the differences between hospitality and entertaining. No wonder I get stressed. My expectations of entertaining is to have everything perfect. When everything is perfect, my guests will feel comfortable. This is crazy thinking! When I go somewhere and the host or hostess is busy making everything perfect, I am feeling their stress and not feeling relaxed. I feel my presence is making them work too hard. I feel guilty for all the preparation it took to have me over.  All the busyness does not make time for visiting, talking, playing games and ensuring relationships go deeper. 

Hospitality, on the other hand, is not about perfection or appearances. It is personality driven. The host thinks about the little things that will make their guests feel special and relaxed. Hospitality says the dishes can wait, time with my guests is more important. Hospitality has an open-door policy whereas, entertaining says wait until I have everything perfect, then come over. Entertaining puts the focus on self instead of others. Hospitality may not look like a magazine cover, but it has a comfortable environment ready for anyone. Hospitality values fellowship and face time over perfection; it is other-focused. 

Growing up, my family always had an open-door policy for meals and getting together. Whatever my mother or grandmother was preparing was what everyone, including guests, were having. No one cared about the place setting or the table décor. What they cared about was simply talking, sharing, laughing, creating memories and breaking bread together.  Love was in the air. Hearts were open and people were authentic and real with one another. There was always room and food for everyone. When we focus more on our appearances and the food, rather than on service and time spent with them, we miss what is important…which is building relationships.  Relax and enjoy your guests. Practice hospitality without grumbling, open your home to joy instead of stress, feed your soul, enhance your relationships. Always remember it is not about you or the food, it is about us, together in fellowship. joneen@myrelationshipcenter.org