How To Keep The Peace At Thanksgiving

(If You Want To)

While Thanksgiving continues to play second fiddle to Christmas (and who can really compete with presents, Santa Claus, and Mariah Carey musical domination?), it’s still an important and fun holiday.

Although it has its own problematic origins, perhaps we can all agree that it’s still a good occasion to reflect on gratitude. Being grateful and taking time out (even if it is only once a year) to list all of the things we are most thankful for is a beautiful thing. In fact, here’s a little refresher on why practicing an attitude of gratitude can be good for your overall mental health.

However, Thanksgiving can also be fraught for many of us. Family dinners are not always a relaxing time. It can even be said that the past few years have made political discussions at the dinner table particularly explosive. But things don’t always have to get political to be awkward or even offensive. Maybe your Aunt Sally is always asking you why you’re still single. Maybe your Uncle Rob is always policing how much you eat or don’t eat. There are so many reasons to dread Thanksgiving, despite its overall healthy message of remembering to be thankful.Ok, so how do you keep the peace around the dinner table while you’re just trying to enjoy some turkey and cranberry sauce? Let’s explore some approaches.

  • SET GROUND RULES. You can get ahead of it all and set very specific rules around certain subjects. For example, you can literally ban any discussion of politics and current events. If you’re willing, you may appoint yourself the designated “conversation director” and have specific topics ready to go, kind of like “icebreaker” questions that will steer the conversation in a positive direction every time. Consider yelling STOP at the top of your lungs anytime someone goes off the rails, so to speak. Just kidding. Or are we? It all depends on how far you’re willing to go and how much you’re willing to keep the peace. We’re not saying it’s easy, but it may be worth it.
  • DODGE, DEFLECT, DISENGAGE. Though many people just want to have a lowkey Thanksgiving where focus is on food and good vibes, some people are willing to go THERE, i.e., itching to have political or controversial discussions. Maybe that someone is an in-law or your not-so-favorite cousin. Maybe they are the type to go out of their way to launch into some diatribe and no amount of ground rules will deter them. If you know you won’t be able to stop them from spewing their nonsense, it is up to you to decide whether you will add fuel to the fire. Sometimes all it takes to stop someone from going on and on about the conspiracy theory du jour is to NOT ENGAGE. Simply smile and nod like you would to some tinfoil hat lunatic and ask the table if the cheesy mashed potatoes turned out cheesy enough. Do not try to use logic or other sound argument techniques to change their minds. It won’t work. Dodge. Deflect. Disengage. Let the conspiracy theorist run out of steam and continue enjoying your meal.
  • AGREE TO DISAGREE. This one’s an oldie but goodie. Even if you’re internally screaming at some asinine thing your well-meaning but behind-the-times grandmother said, you can choose to take the high road all for the sake of keeping the peace. Don’t stay quiet. Tell granny or whoever that you don’t agree at all with their comment, but that you acknowledge their point of view. You can say something like: “Although I disagree, I’m glad you feel comfortable enough with me to voice your opinion.” Follow that up with: “I don’t think you can change my mind and I may not be able to change yours, so let’s just agree to disagree for now.” If you’re up for it, you can always open up the topic for discussion later.
  • GO ALL IN. Hey, maybe you’re not trying to go out of your way to keep the peace. Maybe you’ve found that Thanksgiving is not such a bad time to air grievances and you’re not willing to wait around for Festivus. We get it. If Aunt Sally makes that dreaded remark about your lack of romantic attachments, you can choose to get in her face about it and tell her she’s being incredibly rude. If Cousin Erica gets passive-aggressive about your outfit, home decor, cooking skills, or what-have-you, call her out! You can absolutely wake up on the morning of Thanksgiving and choose chaos.

Bottom Line:Whether you choose to keep the peace at Thanksgiving or not is ultimately up to you. Whatever you do, take a moment to decide whether it is good for your mental health.