Holiday gatherings often serve up an abundance of delectable desserts, but do you sometimes wish your family conversations were a little less stale? You wish Uncle Merle would dish out stories about Grandpa instead of his latest adventures with Medicare Part D. You hope your cousins’ chatter will someday get around to childhood memories.
Relatives are more likely to talk about heritage when the conversation starts with a dash of fun. For example:
Serve a starter before the main course.
Plate your questions individually or serve them up family style.
Allow for different tastes.
Be sensitive about dishes nobody likes.
Don’t forget dessert.
Conversation starters for family gatherings
Try these 10 questions to help keep the conversation going around the dinner table this holiday.
1. How did the family celebrate Thanksgiving when you were young?
2. What’s your earliest holiday memory?
3. What’s your favorite holiday food?
4. When was the first time you spent the holidays away from home?
5. Tell me about someone you miss during the holidays.
6. Was there ever a lean gift-giving year?
7. How did your family celebrate the New Year when you were young?
8. How important do you think the religious aspects of the holidays were to Mom?
9. What ethnic traditions do you remember being part of the holidays?
10. What’s the best gift you ever Received (or gave)?
Keep these tips from the personal memoir book My Life & Times by Sunny Jane Morton (Family Tree Books) in mind as you ask questions, share stories and reminiscence with loved ones this holiday seasons:
- Everyone will remember things differently, and each perspective has value. You and your siblings will recall your childhoods in unique ways and have a different take on the times you shared. Resist the need to try to set the record straight if stories conflict; sometimes the discrepancies are the most interesting and enlightening parts!
- Remember that many people don’t have clear, consistent memories of life before age 10. Chances are good that you’re not going to recall details, but most of us do remember something. But our childhood memories may not always make sense. When we stored young memories away, they were relatively raw—perhaps just images, emotional impressions or song fragments. We didn’t assign the same complex meanings to them that we would today.
- You probably know plenty of embarrassing stories about your family, but think twice about telling them all. Similarly, where important family memories involve secrets, consider whether these are your secrets to share. Seek permission from someone who would be affected by your sharing them.
- Everyone has moments (often much longer periods) of joy, quiet contentment, personal triumph or deep satisfaction—times when faith or hard work was rewarded, family or friends came through, or a season of life went smoothly. Make sure to pass on this ‘good news’ of life. It brings hope and happiness to those who can share it with you.
- Keep conversations positive and upbeat. Gently redirect everyone to a new topic if one of your questions doesn’t go over well or stirs up bad feelings.
- Show a photo or home movie from a past family Christmas celebration, and ask relatives to identify people, describe the setting and share any memories that come to mind.
More great genealogy resources from Family Tree Magazine: