Going Deeper with the Family: Convening a Promise Circle over the Holidays

So, it’s that holiday time of the year again.

Back in 2008, when the economy had begun to tank and we were doing a lot of conscious work on ourselves, we decided that the best thing we could give each other was more connection and support.

We wanted the same level of depth and dialogue in our family circle (our kids, then ages 6 to 23, each other, our parents) that we were getting with strangers in the classes we were taking. We wanted to express gratitude, wonder and appreciation at the year gone by, to connect and communicate with those that we love, to help each person clarify their own intentions for the coming year, and to let each other know what we needed in the way of support.

So we set aside one of the holiday afternoons when everyone was gathered for a new tradition: a family inquiry and promise circle.   We asked each person to spend some time alone in the morning doing some kind of vigorous exercise to clear their head: hiking, bike riding, dancing. We asked for all devices and electronics to stay off all day.  We set up a snacky buffet and an art table with magazines and glue and markers in case people wanted to do their books visually… then we paired up in unlikely pairs, and handed out the promise booklets with the questions in them, so people could work side by side on their answers and really give them some good thought.

Late in the afternoon, we gathered in a circle, all piled up on pillows and blankets and cuddled with popcorn and cider and teas, and put all the questions in a hat.  We pulled a question and went around the circle while everyone referred to their notes and shared their answers.  There were some sibling ground rules, like no heckling, and only one person talks at once, and how to do non-judgmental inquiry, and that was cool.  There were a lot of questions in the book, but we only pulled 5 to do in the circle.  Then, we did a final round robin, where each person could have an extended time to talk about where they were at and what mattered to them and what kind of help they wanted in the coming year making that happen.  Lots of play and smiles and nodding heads ensued.

It takes some amount of willingness to play and open up to do it “formally”-with all the intentions and format, but even if your family’s not up for the whole thing, you can sneak in the inquiry by just using the question list to get a little deeper than “how are you?”.  It was so rewarding for each person to be asked meaningful questions and actively listened to by the whole family, to be known in that way- and even our 6 year old had really profound answers to the questions we asked.

The questions were divided in reflections and preflections:


  • What was your most glorious moment this year?
  • What did you learn (something tangible or life-lesson-ish)?
  • What will you never do again that you did this year?
  • What was your most embarrassing moment?
  • What happened in the outside world that impacted you the most?
  • What’s working and what’s not working in your life?
  • What do you want more of?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What’s the most memorable moment?
  • When did you laugh the hardest?
  • When did you cry the most?
  • If the year had a theme for you, what would it be?


  • What gets you energized when you think about the year ahead?
  • What are you most concerned about in the bigger world?
  • What habits do you want to change to let your best self shine?
  • What relationships do you want to improve or change?
  • Who do you want to meet?
  • What experiences do you hope for?
  • How will you serve?
  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • What do you intend the theme of the year to be?
  • What are your goals in you avocations?
  • What are your goals in your vocation?
  • What are you dreaming of?  Paint your most fantastical vision of your most fulfilled self.

I hope you try it.  Sometimes the most unexpected things come out, especially from the youngest ones.

In gratitude,


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