For as far back as my childhood memory allows, my family’s holiday table had a chair reserved for strangers. They were missionaries, foreign college students, pastors, traveling musicians, and roommates eager to experience a Norman Rockwell moment.
See, I grew up on the Michigan equivalent of Walton’s Mountain—farm families gathering together for food and fun on any occasion. Everyday grandparents. Cousins galore. Board games and ice skating and cookie-making and croquet.
We had a revolving door of guests who jumped right into whatever we had planned for the day. Planting and harvest were the biggest draws, but the holidays with their farm-food buffets and handmade gifts were a close second.
As children, we were fascinated when foreign exchange students from far-off countries like Turkey sat at our Thanksgiving table. (Plus, it was giggly-funny.) A Michigan State student from Yemen joined us for Christmas. Summers brought kids from Japan and Mexico. Strapping teenage German boys joined us one spring.
And what I find most fascinating on reflection of these glory days is how well everyone adapted. Guests tried new foods. We tried new languages. We never talked about politics or religion or anything controversial. We just laughed and ate and played games and enjoyed each other’s company. And really—isn’t that how it should be anyway?
This holiday, I encourage you to invite a stranger to your holiday table—a student, a recent transplant, a widow, an immigrant. You might be surprised how many people near you have no holiday plans, but would really like them. And just like that, you could be the difference between a long day of sorrow or joy.