Mom, Dad, Uncle Harry, Grandma B., Cousin Jack (and his new girlfriend)–the guest list for your Thanksgiving meal looks familiar and a-okay except for one addition you probably weren’t planning on: a huge elephant in the room–the 2016 Election. Politics and other current events never have a welcome place around the holiday table, especially among mixed parties, but this year’s national situation is bound to set off some tofurky fireworks if you’re not careful.
Thanksgiving is one of the most special, and of course American, holidays. It holds no religious affiliations and can be completely catered to each family’s (biological or otherwise) traditions and needs. Thanksgiving meals can have an Italian flair with lasagna and tomato “gravy,” or burst with the bright flavors of Latin America. Despite our tumultuous history, present, and now future, it’s important to remember that this country was founded upon the idea of inclusion and diversity: on people who came from all over the world with a shared vision for equality and democracy.
To prevent those core values from getting lost in heated arguments, it’s best to be prepared with some nonpartisan conversation topics you can whip out of your back pocket like a refill of the hummus and crudites. Even if you’re among like-minded company this holiday, wouldn’t it be nice to take a break from the 24/7 news feed that we’ve endured for the past, oh, year, and have a real conversation? Let’s remember what normal life feels like. During the holidays, “normal” can be anything but, but I for one would welcome rehashing that time we were all on vacation and Jack did…what? as a return to my clan’s usual functional dysfunctionality–and our bonds that transcend whichever bubble we filled in on 11/8.
1. Talk about the last book you read and loved (or didn’t): Books are a very neutral, intellectually engaging common ground for most people. I have a bias as a publishing professional (it’s likely I know all the books that have come out in the past year and will come out in the next few…!), but introducing someone to a story you’d think they’d like, or something that made you turn a fresh eye toward a topic or idea, is a great way to learn more about another person while sharing your own interests. If someone’s eyes light up at the mention of a particular title or author, you’ve also got a great gift idea and a way to support your community at a local bookstore on Small Business Saturday Thanksgiving weekend. Haven’t had time to read anything but Twitter lately? No problem: Check out these faves from the National Book Foundation (winners announced this Wednesday!).
2. Watch a movie: This is an old family tradition of mine that was useful when my cousins and I were little–turn on the TV, and we’d gather ’round, quietly for a few hours. The TV is as toxic as the Internet these days, and you may be reluctant to introduce more screen time on the holidays, especially with little ones. But if it provides a respite from awkward conversation, a way to turn kids’ and adults’ attention to something else for a little while, I’d say it’s worth violating the rules. Will Ferrell in Elf will guarantee to bring laughs and smiles even if you don’t celebrate Christmas; there’s also the fantastic Charlie Brown shorts or, depending on when your guests arrive, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Tune in to tune out!
3. Play a game: There are endless possibilities for large- and small-crowd games that require focus, creativity, and even some healthy competition. Look to Charades or Pictionary if your guests are lively, or head outside for a classic football scrimmage. Quieter folks could turn to old faves like M*A*S*H and Mad Libs, which are designed for one-on-one laughs.
4. Take a walk: Step outside for some fresh air and exercise solo or with a buddy or two (pets count!). You can admire the fall foliage, practice walking meditation to clear your head, or prepare yourself for your second course/dessert: studies show that a short walk after a meal, as little as 15 minutes, can aid digestion and lower blood sugar.
5. Find a kid: Some the most enjoyable and engaging conversations I’ve had at the last few family get-togethers were with people under the age of 10. Kids are natural storytellers–ask them the simplest question and they can go on…and on and on. Remember what it was like when what you had for breakfast, or your new pink scrunchie, was the most exciting thing ever? Kids are also great partners for games and crafts (coloring, making name cards for the table, etc.) and most likely won’t grill you on where you stand on certain political issues. No kids among your guests? Take on a kid-like mentality of openness, curiosity, and wonder at everything that’s brought to the table–dishes and conversation alike. You’ll be surprised by how different your perspective is when you strip away preconceived notions.
6. Dream up your next vacation: Escapism at its best–strike up a brainstorm session for where your next vacay will take you. Because, honestly, don’t we all need one?
7. And if all else fails…Simply confront the issue head on. When Uncle Harry makes you want to serve him a piece of your mind with his mashed potatoes, be honest and direct, and ask if you could avoid discussing the election today. If there’s noncompliance, take the high road, and remove yourself from the area. Sit quietly and listen to your breath, counting 10 deep inhales and exhales. Return to the group having found your center–and knowing that Black Friday deals are just a few hours away.
What are your tips for staying sane–and peaceful–during family get-togethers?
Also by Jennifer: An NYC Book Editor’s Vegan Budget
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