Table Talk: 5 Strategies for Surviving Thanksgiving Get-Togethers
November has been a month of opposites. Many of us have been alternately pleased by the mild weather and consumed with the recent political election. No matter which side of the issues you find yourself on – there is one thing on which we can all agree – we can’t agree on much these days.
And now we find ourselves at Thanksgiving. A time when, for many families, contention may be the norm and awkward is the best one can hope for. But, in true American spirit – you must not despair. The holidays are a time for remembering the things that bring us together – and forgetting for a while the things that tear us apart. And the best gift you can give this holiday season, to yourself and to your loved ones, is a commitment to sane, respectful discourse – and in the absence of that, the benefit of a well-thought out escape plan.
In the hopes that that will not be necessary, here are five more strategies that may help you enjoy the holidays. Remember, ultimately, you actually do love these people.
Strategy 1: Find your allies.
If you are the political renegade in your family – you better buy extra wine. Just kidding. (Not really.) But in addition to that, it’s a great idea to at least find an errant aunt or a jolly grandpa who is willing to agree that the table at least should be a neutral zone. Enlist this person to help you brainstorm a list of safe table conversations – How many new soccer players does the family have this year? Who earned their black belt? Has anyone discovered that they are NOT in fact gluten intolerant? That’s really something to celebrate and provides a whole myriad of conversational tributaries to explore. It’s a rare family dinner where an enthusiastic person with a penchant for diversion cannot entice a whole litany of digestive distraction discussion topics from the other diners. Formalize your alliance as firmly as you can before you sit down at the table, and when you do make eye contact with your allies and give them a little wink, knowing that on this subject at least you can all agree.
Strategy 2: Invite a witness.
Of all the holidays Thanksgiving is most often the one in which we open our homes to others. Can you find a friend or two who might be tempted away from a solitary celebration in order to become the buffer to bad behavior at your holiday meal? Whether it’s your Cousin Nancy who you suspect will toss the first verbal grenade – or perhaps even yourself – having a guest encourages all attendees to be on their best behavior. You will all feel so good about yourselves for the magnanimous inclusion of wayward diners that perhaps no one will feel the need to spill the proverbial gravy boat. One word of advice – if you are planning to use this person (or persons) as a human shield for uncomfortable dinner discussions – it’s best to pick an extroverted type. You might find yourself on Santa’s naughty list if you choose your quiet, introverted co-worker to take one for the team.
Strategy 3: Wear your chic-est comfy pants.
It’s a wise sage (pun intended) who endeavors to be comfortable on our most indulgent holiday. It’s difficult to be charitable when one is feeling pinched – and for this Thanksgiving in particular, you may want to give yourself every advantage. But that isn’t to say that you should show up in sweats – unless of course that’s your thing. There are many ways to dress up an outfit that otherwise might be best suited to the couch. A little jewelry, a little make-up, a cozy sweater that feels like a hug. Whatever you choose to wear, or adorn yourself with, make sure that it makes you feel good. Self-love through style choices should not be overlooked. It’s easier to be forgiving towards others when the waistline of your pants is forgiving towards you. It may seem a small act, but taking the time to ensure that your clothing is comfortable and comforting can potentially make quite a difference when you’re faced with the choice to take someone to task or to take the high road.
Strategy 4: Pick your battles – and your battleground.
For many people this election season has brought up issues that feel vital to their well-being and their personal freedoms. It may feel disingenuous to talk of lighter topics when you feel so much is at stake. It may, in fact, feel impossible. But, try to remember that even if you and your family vastly disagree on these issues it is highly likely that you can agree on how important you feel the stakes are to your respective lives. This article is by no means an entreaty to ignore the very real and disturbing trends that have surfaced in the political scene – or to suggest an ostrich-like approach to our collective societal problems – rather to implore readers to commit to the idea that there are still safe places, places where love is still the language of the day. Our differences may divide us, but if we can remember to set aside time to come together in friendship and fellowship and family, despite our disparities, then we just might make the progress that all of us are looking for.
Strategy 5: Give thanks.
And lastly, when all else fails, find yourself a quiet space to actually feel the gratitude that we are all endeavoring to celebrate on Thanksgiving. Carve out a space and a time to sit quietly before the hustle and bustle of the holiday gets going and do some deep breathing. Quiet contemplation and meditation can soothe the mind and make space for accepting the differences of others. Find some pretty paper and some colorful pens and journal about the things that bring you joy. Use these things, these blessings, these tools – to protect yourself from the worry that comes from heading into uncharted territory. Use your gratitude as a map to find a common humanity with those with whom you viscerally disagree. Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” And who among us does not see the need for more virtue in our lives? Yes, there is still much work to be done – that will always be the case – but there is still much to be grateful for, and this after all, is why we come together.