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A Peaceful, Non-Partisan Thanksgiving


Holiday dinner conversations can get heated, especially if (when!) someone brings up politics. Are you concerned that there may be more than the usual turbulence alongside the turkey this Thanksgiving?

We are, so we asked our staff, contributing writers and friends to share advice for keeping the peace.

Everyone agreed that it’s a good idea to debrief with our college students — who may come home with new and strong opinions about the issues of the day — before the relatives arrive. Consider giving them a gentle tutorial on the etiquette of multi-generational discussions.

Sarah shared her expectations of how she’d like her young adult children to respond. “Instead of flipping out if your grandfather loves a candidate that you loathe, ask open ended-questions,” she advises them. “'Why do you think that? What's your main concern?' Respond with neutral answers: 'That's interesting. I disagree, but I hear your point.'”

She added that we can all use this as an opportunity to understand how and why people of different ages, ethnicities, hometowns, etc. interpret and understand issues differently. The friend or relative you disagree with “may be swayed by past historical events that you are unaware of or didn't realize affected them. You may not share their opinion, but you might understand slightly better why they hold it. And don't waste breath arguing your position. Present it calmly and succinctly. Practicing these skills with your family is a great way to master them for when you are out in the larger world.”

What matters most at the Thanksgiving table? Our appreciation for being together with family and friends, and for the food and love and history we are able to share.

You could try to ban the topic from the table altogether (“How about a swear jar where you have to add money every time you say something about politics?” Charlotte suggested) or start by blessing the meal and reminding everyone that “politics is not a side dish” (thanks, Rebecca!). But just in case...

More ideas for keeping things at a low simmer:

  • The most politically safe behavior is to have the football game on, so this may be the year a flat screen gets mounted in the dining room. That and I plan to focus on my new gluten-free pie offerings, which lends a good five or ten minutes of good-hearted commentary. – Lucy
  • Have an alternative topic ready so you can change the subject fast. For whatever reason talking about our dogs is the quickest way to distract everyone in my family! – Evanne
  • How about a turkey trot before the meal to burn off a little steam? And/or a brisk walk between the main meal and dessert for anyone who feels the need to duke it out a bit. – Diane
  • Let’s remember that there’s a lot of good in every person at the table — perhaps each person could name something they like about someone else (in case the sign saying "check your politics at the door" didn’t help). – Marlene
  • Opinionated, political discussions have always been the norm in my family. If things get too hot this year, we might play a silly board game like Apples to Apples or watch an old favorite movie like “The Wizard of Oz” on DVD. – Liza
  • One strategy will be for the young cousins to spend time together away from the grandparents, going out to movies or shopping. (And it occurs to me that focusing on my kids provides me with a strategy for managing my own possible reactions.) – Scott

What matters most at the Thanksgiving table? Our appreciation for being together with family and friends, and for the food and love and history we are able to share. Though she did not agree about politics with her father, Marlene remembers that he was a nurturing person who taught her how to swim, play Scrabble and ride a bike, to love writing, classical music and art.

And one more thing. “My dad used to take me into the voting booth with him when I was little and although we never saw eye to eye on most issues he taught me to love this country. Every year he reminded me how lucky we were to vote — he was born in Budapest, Hungary and did not grow up with that right.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

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