The Power of the Dinner Invite

Thanksgiving week is upon us! With gloriously warm temperatures, it does not seem the holiday is this Thursday. But here it is, and with it the dinner invites, planning and celebration. But not everyone has someplace to go.

Last week in my “Hello, Range” meetings I was introduced to Iron Range newcomers in a couple of different communities. One was from the twin cities, and their family had moved up to Virginia in the summer. Another was from L.A. and had only been on the Range for a couple of months.

Each had different reasons they moved to the Iron Range. Both enjoyed the safety and pace of life up North. But one thing has been missing: an invite from an Iron Ranger into their home for dinner.

Growing up, we were very traditional. Our holiday celebrations alternated between my parents’ families in Minnesota or Michigan. The gatherings were attended by my immediate family and my biological aunties, uncles, and first cousins.

But when I married, I saw a different model. The first Christmas I spent with my in-laws, my mother-in-law prepared one of her notorious holiday brunches. The house was overflowing with tables and linens, centerpieces and decorations. As I milled between tables, I looked at place cards to see where I would sit during the festivities– and I saw unfamiliar names.

“Who’s this?” I asked, pointing at a place card, thinking I somehow missed meeting an in-law.

“Oh, that’s Dave’s co-worker,” waved off my mother-in-law, as if having my brother-in-law’s work partner at a holiday was normal.

“And this?” I asked, holding up another place card.

“Oh, that’s Johnnie’s friend,” said my mother-in-law.

It’s funny how the simplest things can open up new worlds. I realized these unknown folks weren’t with their families (like I assumed everyone was). They were joining ours. Did they have no place to go? Did they prefer ours? Did it matter? They were joining us, and that was okay!

A few of years ago at a Northstar Lean In event, the women’s group had a discussion about welcoming. Many shared  concerns of folks not feeling welcome. The group wanted to plan something, create something to make folks feel welcomed.

I shared the story of my in-laws’ inclusive holiday practices and a few examples of my own forays into inviting students into our family.

While there is definitely value in welcome baskets, coffees and walking dates, there is nothing like the personal invite into someone’s home to feel included. As the recipient, we get to connect with a local more deeply. As a host, we reap the rewards of new perspectives, culture, and connection.

What I like about the Thanksgiving holiday is the premise: on this day we gather with family and friends, break bread, and practice gratitude. If you have a neighbor or co-worker new the Iron Range, perhaps you can check in. If Thanksgiving dinner is too much to consider, perhaps a coffee and pie date on the long weekend?

We are hosting a mishmash of family and friends this holiday. It will be a potluck without frills or structure. But I am grateful to be able to host, thankful people want to attend. I hope you are enjoying your holiday!

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