A 3-Step Plan for Holiday Conversations

Holiday conversation is tricky. You might dread the same questions you get asked every year. Are you dating anyone? How’s work? When are you going to _________ (fill-in-the-blank with a life goal or expectation that people have for you).

But you may also dread keeping the conversation strictly about the weather, the food, and Aunt Lisa’s knee rehabilitation exercises. With any family gathering, there are usually some topics people try to avoid, like the big elephants of politics and religion, or the little elephants that might bother some member of the family, like the passing of Grandpa, or the institution of income tax in America.

But what if there was a way to get everyone talking about things that matter? A way to help people be a little more vulnerable so that everyone grows a bit closer? With a little planning, and a little sprinkling of God’s grace, use this 3-step plan to help make it happen.

1st Step: Compile and write down some questions

These questions should prompt people to share what is important to them: accomplishments, likes and dislikes, hopes and desires, etc. One way to do this is to focus on events or feelings they’ve experienced in the past year, or goals they have for the future. You can do some general questions like: What was the highlight of your year so far? What are you looking forward to most in the next year? Or you can break up those bigger questions into smaller, more manageable questions like: What was the best book or movie that you’ve read/watched this year and why? What was the most exciting moment of this year for you? What did you accomplish that you are you most proud of this year?  (If you can’t think of many questions, this game called Vertellis is very helpful and can be reused every year. It is a compilation of many questions like the ones above that help spark meaningful conversation).

2nd Step: Find a family member or two who will be your allies

You should pick at least one of the hosts and ask for their support, as well as another family member, if possible. If you have a few people who want to help facilitate conversation and are invested in your strategy, it has a higher chance of actually happening.

3rd Step: Implement it at the next holiday gathering!

Pick a good time, maybe right after dinner or around dessert time, when people aren’t hangry or busy preparing and serving. Start by answering a question first, or inviting specific people to answer first to get everyone invested. (For example, asking upbeat Cousin Cheryl, whom everyone likes, to share first would be a good way to go).

Affirm people’s answers by emphasizing verbally and positively the things people share — Wow, that’s great that you got that raise and adopted four new kittens! Greg, did you hear that?!  And ensure that everyone present gets asked the questions, kids and teenagers alike. While some people may give a surface level answer, they might open up more later with a different question and hear others’ answers.

You may come upon some questions that are better received than others — remember those for next time. Hopefully, however, you’ll be able to get people talking a real way, even if it peters out after a few rounds. Here’s to some real connections during the upcoming holidays!

Cecilia Pigg

Cecilia Pigg was a Gregorian Fellow and 2015 graduate of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. A former editor of Catholic Match newsletter, she is a wife and mother living in Topeka, Kansas, and writes weekly for Aleteia.