There will never be a perfect time, so just start talking!
Holidays are a time for families, friends and communities to come together in a mutual celebration or reverence. Gathering is intended to be social - catching up, sharing greetings of the season, or reflecting on the past. We have loved hearing about your celebrations: Hours preparing special meals where time allows you to remember stories of the past. The attention that goes into festively decorated tables where the community gathers to be social. Lingering after a holiday to enjoy the conversation of familial company.
As we start to plan holiday gatherings again, this may be the first time in a long time we have the opportunity to have deeper conversations with the people who mean the most to us. In a previous post we discussed being more present for the traditions and rituals of holidays, and we were reminded to ask “why?” instead of just observing. But celebrations give us so much more opportunity than that - they also give us access to our families to have nostalgic conversations too.
Where, Or When, To Start A Conversation
Starting a conversation about our family’s roots sounds easy in theory, but it’s often quite difficult in-the-moment. Holidays are busy, loud, and when it gets down to it, we heard our community say it was easier to focus on the present. But really, the good intention to start the conversation is all you need, then figure out the best way to get the talking started.
What surprised us, was that the best tips from our community were completely diverse! There is definitely no one-way to set the stage for a great conversation. So, consider these:
In some families, it’s the long drive to or from a holiday destination that provides the peace and space to open up.
In others, it’s the hypnotic preparation of a staple recipe that provides that comfort to tell the difficult stories of the past.
In contrast, we heard some families start boisterously recounting stories after everyone is satiated after a nice meal.
And if that doesn't work, bring in the kids. Kids are the best at breaking the ice and getting to the good stuff!
Easy Topics To Start
Whatever your moment is, be ready to open them up with your starter question. Start small or broad, just keep it light - maybe bring in some humour or open your heart by starting to share first. Warming up the conversation before digging in was some of the best advice we heard! Some of the easier starter questions we heard were:
What was your favourite food/activity/book/friend when you were a kid?
What was your most treasured possession as a child? now?
What family traditions do you always want to remember and keep alive?
Creating Space for Stories
Obviously the idea of asking “Why” still applies here, but especially in the company of elders, sometimes it’s the gift of space that gives the storyteller the ability to expand. Listening, positive visual cues (smiles, nods or other empathetic expressions), and remaining engaged while the person tells their tale is often more encouraging that probing with more questions. Oftentimes when people pause while speaking it’s because they are accessing or trying to find the right words for an old memory. Many of us feel the need to fill the silence with a comment or question, but try to be patient and give them the chance to share what might be there for them. Allow the focus to be on one topic at a time, and by giving our full attention without interruption, you may be surprised what comes out of that generous space.
Do you have a trick for sparking meaningful conversations? We love all your suggestions - please share in the comments below!