How to Make Holiday Gatherings More Memorable & Meaningful

Elizabeth Marglin

by | Updated: October 13th, 2020 | Read time: 4 minutes

Have you ever been to a gathering that felt like it missed so much of its potential? That it had the right ingredients but never gelled? That at the end of the event, you felt flat and drained, rather than connected and energized?

We gather together for a number of reasons—to celebrate, to foster community, to strengthen and deepen our sense of kin—but often we fail to acknowledge the purpose of why we are really gathering. We rely on assumptions or past traditions, so our gathering often feels bland and even empty.

The Art of Gathering Being Enjoyed by Friends Dining Together on Patio Decorated with Twinkling Lights and Candles |

But if you want to give your gathering a chance to be the most it can be, take this advice from Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering: “The more focused and particular a gathering is, the more narrowly it frames itself and the more passion it arouses.” Here are her five of her favorite tips, culled from her book, on how to create a memorable and meaningful gathering.

1. Decide on the purpose of your gathering

Be specific about the purpose of your gathering. Drill down to find a meaning beyond the conventional. Dare to refuse to be everything to everyone, she says. The more specific your purpose, the more likelihood of success. Try to find something unique about your gathering that makes it more than an ordinary holiday party. Aim for what Meetup, the online groups service, calls “tightness of fit”—but not too tight that you attract a skimpy crowd. If you can’t land on a purpose for your get-together, it’s OK to have a simple, casual hangout. But it won’t have the same flavor as an intentional group experience.

Try this: Think about the kind of outcome you would like to have and reverse engineer to achieve that result. For example, if you want the kind of gathering that helps you reconnect with your extended family, you can try asking everyone to take turns sharing their biggest struggle of the year and how they navigated it.

2. Be exclusive

Your purpose is not just conceptual, it serves as a guiding light for how you want your event to unfold. It’s the filter that helps you determine all your logistics, from the guest list to the menu.

As Parker says, “purpose is your bouncer. Virtually every choice will be easier to make when you know why you are gathering, and especially when that why is particular, interesting and even provocative.”

Try this: Thoughtful exclusion, although it may sound stingy, is the ticket to any gathering that stands a chance to be coherent. “You will have begun to gather with purpose when you learn to exclude with purpose.”

3. Size matters

Depending on your chosen aim, the size can help reinforce (or interfere) with your purpose. The size of the group determines the nature of the interaction. Parker says that if you want “lively but inclusive conversation,” a group between 8-12 people is ideal. If you want the buzz and energy of a party, a ballpark of around 30 creates excitement and diversity but does not feel overwhelming.

Try this: Investigate how you respond to scale and what kind of numbers suit you best. If you want to have a single conversation, smaller groups work best, but if you want a sense of dynamic energy, a party size group might fit that bill better.

4. Venue has voice

Do you want to contain the energy or have it be dispersed? Do you want to shake things up or make people feel safe? Parker talks about how context determines what aspect of your guests gets to show up. The venue serves more of a role that most people give it credit for. One way to think of venue is how can the setting enhance the reason for your convening. How does where you meet influence how you meet? “When a place embodies an idea,” says Parker, “it brings a person’s body and whole being into the experience, not only their minds.”

Try this: Choose a space or location that resonates with the specific goal of the gathering. If it’s to decompress and reattune, why not opt for a picnic in a national park? If you want to promote bonding, even something as simple as arranging chairs in a circle can create more intimacy.

5. Connect your guests

One of the jobs of the host, says Parker, is to use their authority generously, with the aim of connecting guests to each other. You have to be willing to stick your neck out a little to make connections happen. Although it’s nice to think that people may meet each other on their own, sometimes a little prodding is in order. Otherwise at most parties, people tend to seek out the familiar. While facilitating connections does not have to be complex, it should be copious. As in—do a lot of introducing. And don’t be afraid to point out to people what they may have in common.

Try this: If you are seating people at tables, have each guest do a brief introduction, saying their name and a quirky interest or something that relates specifically to the gathering.

Bottom line:

Putting intention into your gathering pays off in a multitude of ways. Instead of meh, you can create magic: Moments that engage, inspire and connect us to our deepest self and to each other.