7 tips for averting family disaster at the holiday dinner table
So, the holidays are upon us, and it’s a time of wonderful things: pie; family; another kind of pie, this time with nuts; other people who may or may not be related to you, you’re not entirely sure, but they probably are, why else would they be here; more pie, but with cream on top; family.
Pie is never bad, so let’s revisit the “family” part.
Genetics are interesting! You can look a lot like a person and even have the same predisposition for getting canker sores, but your brains work in entirely different ways. And by that I mean your sense of what is true and correct may differ from that of your blood relative. Which brings us to one of America’s greatest pastimes, especially around the holidays: debating facts.
A few examples: The planet is getting warmer, and will continue to do so, to truly detrimental effect, unless we rein in our emissions. Women having control over their reproductive health is never a bad idea. The Oakland Raiders will never make it to the Super Bowl in the lifetime of any human currently on Earth. FACTS!
If you are reading Grist right now, odds are high that, politically speaking, you tend to lean left. Odds are very high that you have feelings about issues relating to climate and the environment. It is almost a scientific certainty that there will be someone at your holiday meal who will disagree with you, and whose adherence to those conflicting beliefs will make you upset.
We are here to help.
While you may feel the urge to bang your head against the nearest solid surface to relieve yourself of the exploding rage that comes on when your sister-in-law Shelly says, “But it’s snowing right now!! How can you say global warming is real???” you must remember that A) Shelly has a right to express herself, even if she is wrong; and B) you do love Shelly, after all, not least because of that one time she drove you to the emergency room at 80 mph with a veritable fountain of blood spurting out of your left index finger after The Bagel Slicing Incident of 2010. FAMILY!
But we have some tips for dealing with that rage in ways that will not ruin Thanksgiving for you, for Shelly, or for anyone else in the vicinity, in order of effectiveness – with appropriate ratings:
1. Do not speak to anyone. This is actually sort of easy when you’re at a holiday that revolves entirely around consuming food – which, let’s be real, is every holiday. This should be a very last-ditch tactic, however, because you will come off as extremely anti-social, and if you spend five straight hours eating, you will probably throw up.
RATING: 2 out of a possible 10, or one piece of celery with hummus on it
2. Maintain a steady drunk buzz for the entirety of Thanksgiving. In all honesty, this tactic has a maximum effectiveness time window of approximately two hours, because if you continue to drink after that point, you will likely get confrontational and also less capable of expressing any kind of coherent point, thus defeating the entire point of not arguing on Thanksgiving.
RATING: 3 out of 10, or one liter cranberry sauce, but the kind with brandy in it
3. Carry old photos of you and your relatives to remind everyone of simpler times. This is easier, and less weird in the age of the smartphone than it was when you had to carry crumpled Polaroids in your pocket. Do not underestimate the degree to which people love to look at photos of themselves when they were younger and had dumber outfits. With this tactic, you can divert attention from the steady CNN broadcast in the den for at least 45 minutes, and everyone will be in a good mood.
RATING: 5, or two servings of candied yams, without marshmallows
4. Propose a steady stream of group activities. For example: Suggest a friendly race around the block! Physical exertion is good for the mood! Plus, this makes people feel less guilt about the massive quantities of food they’re about to consume. If you are already surly because of some offhanded comment about scientists being allowed to go ahead and spew their wacky ideas to Congress, you can just keep running, or hide in a bush until you feel better. Both work!
RATING: 6, or three shrimp cocktail platters
5. Deflect attention from conflicting ideals by asking your relative about his/her life. Like old photos, do not underestimate how easily someone can be distracted by being asked to talk about him/herself. Here are some good questions: “How are your three dogs?” “What is the significance of your most recent tattoo?” “Wow! How many different forms of dairy are in this casserole?” Here is an example of a bad question: “Do you think Miami will be underwater in the next 100 years?”
RATING: 8, or an entire bowl of garlic mashed potatoes
6. If you absolutely must engage in some sort of debate, remember to smile the whole time. This makes people feel at ease. To keep a smile on your face at all moments, including the moment at which your cousin, on his third neat bourbon, yells, “FRACK UNTIL THERE’S NOTHING LEFT TO FRACK!” you must watch this video exactly 17 times before dinner to keep it imprinted upon your brain:
RATING: 8.5, or three pecan pies
7. Maybe (casually! be smooth!) you could recommend that all of your conservative relatives read Grist, because it is a truly charming publication that provides excellent information about all of the issues that they are thinking about.
RATING: Perfect 10! Five locally raised, free-range turkeys!
Do you plan to employ these tactics during your holiday travels? You should, because they are excellent. Please tweet at us to let us know how successful they are. We swear this is not a social experiment!