A convivial occasion is one in which the tone of the gathering is one of friendliness, liveliness, and enjoyment and one that leaves everyone feeling happier at having spent time together. It often entails good conversation, the breaking of bread, and perhaps sharing of wine, together. It is unrushed and interactions unfold naturally at their own pace. It never feels tense, stressful, forced, inauthentic, or boring.
Because attendees differ by their natural predisposition towards (and skill at) conviviality, it is up to the host to set the conditions for conviviality to thrive during the get-together, irrespective of who is in attendance.
Conviviality at Thanksgiving
If perchance you are hosting Thanksgiving this year, you can set the tone for the gathering by subtly – or not so subtly, if required – communicating the ‘house rules’ of conviviality. I would capture them this way: it is everyone’s role here tonight to not only have a good time but to ensure that everyone else has a good time too. In other words, each attendee has a double role, to be happy and to make others happy and, by extension, make the entire gathering a happy one. When everyone cooperates in this way, the sense of togetherness, gratitude, and happiness grows exponentially.
One explicit but subtle way to communicate everyone’s twofold role is to lightheartedly announce towards the start of the occasion – perhaps as a toast – something to the effect of, “I have two jobs for everyone tonight: one, to have a good time, and two, to make sure everyone else has a good time too. So, enjoy yourselves and each other’s company and let us give thanks – together – for that which each person is grateful.” Then, if you overhear a conversation getting heated and unfriendly, you can intervene with a “Hey, are you two making yourselves and each other happy with this conversation? Remember the house rules. Don’t make me send you on the back porch to finish dinner.”
Conviviality as a Way of Life
In many cultures, irrespective of the word used to describe it, conviviality is an active part of life and one explicitly sought and cultivated. It seems this is not strongly the case in the US. But we can choose to make it so in our own lives, no matter how busy we are.
I’d like to share some memories with you. From my vantage point of three decades having passed, what I most fondly remember of my years of medical school and residency were the dinner parties I held. I was not much of a cook, but I knew how to make certain dishes from Thailand and Burma. And that was enough. After all, most of my friends could barely fry an egg let alone make dinner for a group of six or eight people. Also, I would sometimes hold a potluck dinner, in which everyone was tasked with bringing a salad, side dish, dessert, or wine while I supplied the main protein. This approach spread the effort around and made everyone feel better that they contributed.
My approach was to invite friends from different parts of my life, ones who had never met before. So, I would invite friends from med school or the hospital I was rotating in, childhood friends, friends I met learning shiatsu massage, friends from my house painting days, and so forth. As part of the evening, we would sometimes play music CDs that someone discovered and loved and wanted to share with the group. (I remember I was into Fela Kuti – the great! – at that time.)
Then when I met my wife, and both before and after we were married, we always (always!) had dinner with candles lit. It was a small thing. We were busy, but it was a meaningful gesture that reminded us to slow down and enjoy each other’s company. Somehow when we started having kids – and I hate how this happens, haha – the candles no longer came out. Now – just to remind myself – it is time to bring them back out.
Thanks and send some of your memories of convivial occasions from your life or your ways of cultivating conviviality so I can share them with everyone. And remember: happy, happy.
“When I was growing up, my grandpa built a small house. Next door the youth club had some sheds, down the street the local painter stored his equipment under some stretched-out tarpaulin. Everybody added on. It was telescopic. A game. Life wasn’t so expensive — ordinary people would live and work in Paris. You’d see masons in blue overalls, painters in white ones, carpenters in corduroys.” – Robert Doisneau
What are the odds so long as the fire of the soul is kindled at the taper of conviviality, and the wing of friendship never molts a feather?” – Charles Dickens
“Healing is impossible in loneliness. It is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation.” – Wendell Berry
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” – Dalai Lama
“I wish that life should not be cheap, but sacred. I wish the days to be as centuries, loaded, fragrant.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson