Thanksgiving etiquette, family dinner table

Not in recent memory has there been a Thanksgiving so needed (and simultaneously dreaded) by so many. Coming on the heels of one of the most contentious election seasons in American history, this year’s holiday brings with it more than just stuffing and yams—it also brings the threat of family arguments and hurt feelings. Will politics be broached at your dinner table this week? Here are some ways to put partisanship aside and focus on counting our blessings:

1. Establish a Politics-Free Zone
The dinner table should be a place where all feel comfortable and welcome, with no one held captive to a heated political conversation. If this is a concern, the host should request in advance (whether by email, phone or text) that there be no political chatter at the table and instead request that guests arrive prepared to discuss something in their life for which they are thankful.

2. Use Placecards to Help Keep the Peace
If there are two or more relatives who are sure to lock horns over politics no matter what rules are set in advance, the host should prepare a seating plan and use place cards to ensure the two combatants are neither next to one another during the meal, nor across from one another.

3. Bring on the Blessings
Ask one or more of the younger members of the family to say a prayer to begin the meal. This will help kick the celebration off on the right foot. If they enjoy craft activities, at the start of the gathering, have the children (and any creative adults) make signs with tongue depressors that have fun slogans on them, such as “Poultry, Not Politics” and “Gobble, Don’t Squabble.” Have the young children hold these signs up anytime they hear a heated political conversation brewing.

4. Let the Music Play
Remember that Saturday Night Live skit where the arguing family turned happy and non-contentious every time Adele’s “Hello” played? I think that skit was on to something. If not Adele, create a Thanksgiving music playlist with an emphasis on music that calms nerves rather than rattles them. Suggestions: instrumental soft jazz, classical piano or, for something completely unexpected—Hawaiian music.

5. Create a Personal Tagline
Try as you might, you know there will be one family member who insists on broaching the peace with unwanted political chatter. Unless you can engage in a way that is respectful and one that will not result in hard feelings, you are best to avoid the bait. One of my favorite strategies for doing so is to have a mantra that you stick to verbatim any time someone tries to lure you in to a conversation you’d rather avoid. Suggestions: “I choose to avoid talking politics today” or “Let’s table this for another time.”

Don’t fear your family on Thursday—embrace them. If not their beliefs, for their better qualities. Challenge yourself to re-discover what they are and be the one to create that fresh start.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!