Hospitality and Raising Boys: Get Your Xenia Going

“Hospitality is a lost art.” (Micah Willard, September 2011)

Micah Willard teaches sixth grade at The Heights School. Simply put, he is the type of man you want teaching your boys. The oldest of twelve children, he is married to his Irish sweetheart, Kathleen. Micah has a bachelor’s degree in classical and early Christian studies. During his college years, he taught middle school boys in the Bronx, New York, with the Crotona Achievement Program. This is Micah’s third year at The Heights teaching literature, language arts, and history as the head of a sixth grade home room.

Micah Willard, sixth-grade home room teacher (photo courtesy of The Heights)

Above all, he knows boys. As our son’s teacher and advisor, he said, We are here to assist you in the intellectual, moral, physical, and spiritual education of your son.”

I shared with him that we also want our son to be hospitable toward others, be it in our home or anywhere he goes in life.

Mr. Willard didn’t hesitate when he responded:

“Yes, hospitality is a lost art.”

It wasn’t long after meeting that Mr. Willard worked a hospitality lesson into some Greek Mythology and the story of the Golden Fleece. A literature worksheet came home with the Greek word “xenia” noted along with its meaning and its relation to the story. I knew this because my son quizzed me to see if I knew what xenia meant.

The Greek god Zeus is sometimes referred to as Zeus Xenios — meaning the god of travelers. This title created an obligation to be hospitable to travelers and guests to their hosts.

Xenia consists of three basic rules:

  1. The respect from host to guest. The host must be hospitable to guests and provide them with food, drink and a bath.
  2. Respect from guest to host. The guest must be polite and not be a burden.
  3. The parting gift (xenion) from host to guest is when the host shows honor at receiving the guest.

You have to admit, a brilliant move on Mr. Willard’s part — teaching hospitality by working it into a lesson — seamless!

Xenia: Learning from a 12-Year-Old Boy

Sixth-grade boys are just getting warmed up for a night of fun. Crazy hats made from packing material destined for the trash bin.

Two weeks ago was the long holiday weekend, Columbus Day. School let out on Friday to an Indian summer day. The boys started out at the baseball field and continued the evening in the yard—bikes, silly hats, camp fire, rope swings, flashlight tag, you name it. FREEDOM after a long week of hitting the books.

At 10 p.m. our son asked:

“Can Connor spend the night?”

I replied, “Yes, but it’s late and you two have an early game, so you have to get your showers and get right into bed.

To save time, Connor ran home to his house to shower and get a change of clothes. In the meantime, our son, Patrick, showered and got ready for bed. I asked Patrick to get in his bed so when Connor arrived, my husband could just tell him to come in and go right to bed.

Mother-Son Exchange

“Mom, I can’t be already in bed when Connor comes. I have to be downstairs to wait for him.”

“But, it’s late and you have to get up early for a game!”

“But, Mom! That’s not hospitality…me not there waiting for him and dad just sending him up here with me already in bed?!”

I said, “You know…you’re right.”

To which our 12-year-old replied: “Thanks Mom…you know, it’s a good thing you started Kelley Hospitality!”

Okay, maybe it was a ploy to get to stay up a tad later, but he was right. Greet your quests at the door and show them you are glad they came.

Eureka! (Greek)  We have a little xenia going on!


2 thoughts on “Hospitality and Raising Boys: Get Your Xenia Going

  1. What a cute story! Thanks so much for sharing this!

    What do you think about facilitating conversation among guests? I think that’s a particularly important and helpful function of an adult host or hostess, who often knows each guest’s background and who can let them know what interests they have in common.

    • Hi Dana: Absolutely! This host’s mantra is “to make the uncomfortable comfortable.” Make people feel glad they came. The food, the table settings, the drink, the flowers — all the “sizzle” as I call it — is important and fun, but people having a nice time is paramount. If that means a host has to step in and get things going, then do it. That is why I am big into prepping ahead so I can spend time with the guests. Yes, hard, but doable. I may write about some strategies in the future. Thanks for bringing up that important aspect of hospitality.

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