It can be terrifying to juggle new couples, old grudges, politics and turkey. Here are some tips to keep things under control.
1. No booze
While you may feel like you need some alcohol to deal with the drama, booze tends to loosen lips and add fuel to already heated family debates.
Try going alcohol-free this year to make the Thanksgiving dinner table a more tolerant space.
If you can feel things starting to get heated (besides the potatoes), try calming things down by asking each family member to share those things for which they are thankful. Hopefully this will detour the conversation away from controversy.
3. Donate to charities
To help start a party in a charitable frame of mind, try coming up with a charity that everyone can agree upon (a food bank or a children’s charity – not something issue-based) and “pass the hat” as people arrive. It’s more difficult to be disagreeable after discussing the needs of others.
4. Be nice to each other
Sometimes, you have to almost force people to be nice. One way to do that is have each member at the Thanksgiving dinner table say one nice thing about the person to their left.
Go around the table until those positive vibes start flowing. Or, go around once, stop, and go in the opposite direction.
5. Invite people from outside the family
While it’s tempting to let the relatives have it in front of the other relatives, bringing in unrelated guests is usually a good nuclear deterrent. We usually act better in the presence of people we don’t know.
6. Have a kids’ table
Some people are good at talking to children. Some people aren’t, and don’t like to deal with whining kids.
The easiest way to avoid meltdowns in both age groups is have a kids’ table – possibly in a separate room. Put one of the oldest kids in charge.
7. Topic cleansing
While we all have a right to free speech, as a host you can request that certain topics be avoided. Politics, religion and money at the dinner table is a meal that can lead to upset stomachs.
8. Buffet style
If family members can’t speak politely with people they only see once a year, try serving the meal buffet style. People can get as much as they like, and can sit wherever and with whoever makes them feel comfortable.
9. Conversation starters
If you need help with conversation ideas, try filling a jar with pre-approved conversation topics. Get the patriarch or matriarch of the family to act as judge – if the conversation is getting too heavy, they make a ruling that the offender has to pull a topic from the jar.
Mix in a fair number of ridiculous topics, so that the person who insists on discussing politics now has to start a conversation about the construction capabilities of Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir.
10. Place cards
You might have thought this process was over after your wedding, but lacking other options, try using assigned seats to separate out potential troublemakers.
It might seem ridiculous to assign adults seats, but the results will give you peace of mind in the end.