Dreaded family dinner: surviving Thanksgiving meals

While there might be some delicious food, such as the stuffing pictured above, to distract your stomach from the problems of the world, it may be a little more difficult to distract yourself from your family’s opinions.

While there might be some delicious food, such as the stuffing pictured above, to distract your stomach from the problems of the world, it may be a little more difficult to distract yourself from your family’s opinions.

By Ollie Gratzinger | Staff Columnist 

As Thanksgiving nears, our dreams are suddenly filled with visions of turkey breast and sweet potato pie. Soon the stresses of an ending semester will be temporarily forgotten while we resolve to stuff our faces and kick back to watch the Macy’s Day Parade flood the streets of New York City.

But all that glitters isn’t gold. We’ve all got that relative with an opinion, a mouth and no filter to separate the two, who breaks the one golden rule of Thanksgiving dinner: Don’t discuss religion or politics.

With the election at our backs and the results hanging ominously overhead as a topic to fuel the discussion when small talk fails, there’s surely the possibility for some discomfort around the dinner table. What do you do when forced to sit in closer-than-comfortable proximity to that pesky relative? First off, don’t panic — common ground is closer than it might seem.

1: Don’t be that relative.

The easiest way to ensure smooth sailing is to make sure you aren’t the one who makes it weird. It’s good to be passionate about politics, and we live in an era during which we really can’t afford apathy, but Thanksgiving dinner is neither the time nor the place. Take a step back from the rush of political jargon to think of things that you’re thankful for: loved ones, the sunrise, the break from school, homemade apple pie…

There’s still goodness in the world, and it’s important to remember that.

2: Don’t encourage them.

Sometimes, a relative goes on and on about something so blatantly ignorant that you just want to take a fork to their neck, or, more civilly, tell them just why they’re wrong. Adding your two cents, though well meaning, might just be the oxygen that fuels the fire. Sometimes ignorance runs so deep that any attempts to educate just result in an explosive argument. Pick your battles and pick them carefully, because some things just aren’t worth it.

3: Don’t take it personally.

Thanksgiving is one of those times when family members you haven’t seen since those awkward preteen years come crawling out of the woodwork with a head full of questions that you might not be prepared to answer. They might ask what you’re studying, and then demand to know why you aren’t studying what they think you should be studying. Maybe they’ll ask about your boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other or, even worse, your lack thereof. There might be comments about whether or not you’ve lost/gained a pound or two, and it goes without saying that these comments and questions could hit home.

Believe it or not, though, they probably mean well. Some of them come from a different generation with different boundaries, and for the most part, they have no idea that they’re crossing a series of social lines. Be patient and realize that at the end of the day, they’ll go home, and you won’t have to see them for another year or so.

4: Accept and expect non-closure.

This one might seem a little odd, but it was something that my high school English teacher was fond of saying before we delved into the messy areas of personal opinion. Not everyone is going to agree, and for the most part, that’s OK as the instances in which one’s views are innately hateful, but that’s the exception to the rule. In most cases, differences in opinion are just that: differences. Accept and expect that not everyone will see things the way that you do, and that’s fine. Encourage your relatives to accept this, too, and direct a drifting conversation back to the matter at hand: food. Food has the unique ability to bring people from all walks of life together in a display of unity. Use that to your advantage.

5: Have fun!

It’s cliché but important nonetheless. Seeing old relatives and friends again can be awkward and stressful, but it can also be a fantastic opportunity to catch up. Try out Friendsgiving, and use the precious time allotted to visit and talk with acquaintances, old and new. After all, no one wants to be alone for Thanksgiving. Play cards, watch sports, eat, drink and have a great time, because in the blink of an eye, it’s all over. Don’t dedicate time to stressing and hating, no matter how easy or tempting it might be. Instead, let loose and live a little.

After all, the holidays only come around once a year.

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