For some families, discussion of the ongoing impeachment hearings could leave a bad taste after their holiday meals this year. The question of impeachment will not be decided before Thanksgiving. Public debate will certainly be hot. But if you believe that the only thing that should be heated at your Thanksgiving dinner is the meal itself, then we’ve got you covered! The Family Dinner Project Team offers these tips to keep your holiday gathering warm and enjoyable, despite the potential for a heaping helping of politics.
Step 1: Take a Deep Breath
Thanksgiving is the “Mother of All Family Dinners,” so it can feel like a lot of pressure even under the best of circumstances. But remember that it’s only one meal. As grating as you might find Uncle Chuck’s political opinions, once you’ve served the pie, he’ll be on his way.
Try this stress-busting trick: If you feel tension rising, head into another room for a few minutes alone. Breathe deeply for 90 seconds while you take a mental note of your five senses: What do you smell? Hear? See? Feel? Taste?
Step 2: Know Your Audience
Strong personalities or the presence of alcohol can raise the likelihood of an argument. Take stock of whether your holiday table can handle impeachment talk, and be ready to gracefully change the subject as needed.
Try this go-to phrase: “That’s such an interesting point of view, but I feel like everything in the news lately has been nothing but politics. I’d rather hear about where you got that lovely reindeer sweater.”
Step 3: If You’re Dishing Up Politics, Add a Grain of Salt
Maybe your dinner guests can handle the discussion — or won’t be denied. But if you feel your blood pressure rising, take controversial conversations with a few grains of salt. Approach the topic with curiosity to keep things calm. “I’m really curious about what you’re saying here. Can you share your thinking?”
Try this self-monitoring idea: If you feel the impulse to start arguing, take a big bite of turkey. A full mouth will give you time to reconsider shouting “What the *$!* are you thinking?”
Step 4: Take an Ingenious Tip from Downton Abbey
Fans of the show and its lavish dining-room scenes will have noted the custom of “turning” during dinner — being permitted to speak only to the person to your right for a while, then instructed to “turn” to the person on the left and hold a conversation in that direction. The modern-day equivalent might be to encourage seat-switching between courses, so no one has to listen to a political know-it-all for too long. Or serve the whole meal buffet-style and allow guests to move and mingle, providing easy escape routes from awkward conversations.
Try this maneuver: “You’ve sure given me plenty to think about! But I feel like I haven’t had a chance to talk to Cousin Alfred very much at all. Let’s all switch seats before dessert so we can visit with everyone.”
Step 5: Plan a Whole Menu of Topics
Just because impeachment is on everyone’s minds doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you can talk about at the holidays. Remind your guests of the conversational possibilities with a centerpiece jar or basket filled with our holiday-ready conversation starters.
Try setting the scene for success: Print out our Holiday Interview placemats and use them to help both the conversation and the seat-switching trick from Step 4. “Sorry, Mom, I’d love to continue this conversation about your opinion on the death of democracy, but I haven’t had a chance to interview Grandma yet! Why don’t you let little Joey ask you some questions now?”
Step 6: Get Gaming
Distraction is the best way to keep opinionated guests too busy to argue. Suggest some dinner-ready games, like Top Four or Higglety Pigglety, to help pass the time. Or get silly with a joke contest, Charades or a “Minute to Win It” challenge like a Cookie Face Race. Any kids present at the festivities can help think up games to play, too. Whatever you choose, make sure to encourage everyone to play.
Try inviting a cast of characters to dinner: Ask everyone to act at the dinner table like a character from their favorite holiday movie. If another person guesses their character, they can go back to behaving like their normal selves…if you want them to.
Step 7: Play Mood Music
Set the mood for an upbeat holiday dinner with some carefully selected music. Get a singalong going with a playlist full of familiar carols or show tunes you can belt out while prepping and cleaning up. Or play songs that you know are meaningful to your guests. You could have fun with songs that refer to food, or find some backing tracks where the words are stripped out so you can turn the whole meal into a game of “Name that Tune.”
Try shaking things up: Break tension with a dance party! If you need an excuse, hand out securely lidded containers filled with whipping cream and confectioner’s sugar and have your guests dance and shake the containers to make the whipped cream for dessert.
Step 8: Focus on the Past, Not the Present
Above all else, your family gatherings are about celebrating your bonds with each other, regardless of what’s happening on Capitol Hill. Have guests share stories and recipes that will remind you of what you’re truly thankful for.
Try this twist on a trip down memory lane: Ask everyone to bring old family photos to dinner, and display them on a board or wall. Pass out Post-it notes and pens and have a caption contest! Guests can stick their funny caption ideas under each picture, and you can all enjoy reading them aloud to each other during dessert.
While the current political climate may not be any laughing matter, it’s still important — maybe now more than ever — to find ways to have fun at your family gatherings. None of us can control what happens in Washington, D.C., but we can choose the people we invite to share our holidays and the ways we celebrate. Forgetting about current events for the duration of dinner may turn out to be the thing you’re most thankful for this year.