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American Thanksgiving is right around the corner. It is a holiday that is so synonymous with feasting that we have collectively nicknamed it Turkey Day. We plan the meal for weeks, schedule vacation time, close businesses, and cook for days, all so that we can gather together and eat. With all the attention paid to turkeys, hams, pies, and potatoes, one could be forgiven for thinking that the meal is the only part that matters.

The meal does matter. It is a delicious and magnificent feast whatever you are serving. That said, the important part, to my mind, is the gathering together. The fact that we do so over food is far from coincidental. There is something significant about sharing a meal together. Our family celebrations are often marked by it.

Thanksgiving is far from the only holiday where people gather to share a meal. Where I live, it’s traditional to have a ham at Easter, and for others, it would be inconceivable not to have a goose at Christmas.  Even a simple Sunday afternoon meal can become steeped in tradition and meaning. We take our friends out to lunch to celebrate their achievements, and after a funeral we gather around food to share our grief.  Food is a marker of our highest and lowest moments. 

It is over food that we talk to one another. Gathering over a meal can be a highly social and profoundly intimate experience. We meet to chat around the table. We call our loved ones to schedule a lunch, for coffee and dessert, or a wine and cheese night. We talk over food. We share our dessert, but we also share our triumphs and our tribulations.

Food connects us to each other and to ourselves. There is a certain intimacy in knowing someone well enough to know precisely how they take their coffee or to be able to order for them when they are running late. It’s a beautiful feeling when someone saves your favorite piece of cake or remembers that you are allergic to olives. It says that they know you and they have paid attention.

Food is bonding. It can be a relief for the more socially anxious among us to have a built-in conversation starter. More extroverted types are often thrilled to have a reason to get out of the house and be around people.

I think this is especially true since the beginning of the pandemic. How many restaurants added outdoor dining? People show up because they want to eat together. They want to celebrate and mourn together, and they want to do so over a meal. We simply do. It is one of the most potent ways in which we connect with other people.

As this season of feasting begins, I would encourage you to take the time to listen and connect with those around you. Active listening is an art form, and there is no better place to practice it than over the table. Genuinely knowing the people you break bread with is a great gift to give.

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