Holiday gatherings this year could prove to be the best of times or the worst of times.
Discussions during holiday family get-togethers have seldom faced such dangers of turning into bitter disagreements. With political views tearing the country apart as seldom before in living memory, it will be a challenge for many this holiday time to steer clear of any topic that might set tempers flaring.Read More »
So much so that it seems almost everyone capable of traveling is intent on flying or driving across the country, across the state, or even just down the freeway to spend the holidays in person with family members.
Half the country
Some 161 million Americans plan to travel to get together with their families for the holidays this year, according to a recent poll by New Jersey-based The Vacationer. That’s a 37 percent increase over last year and more than half the entire U.S. population—men, women, and children.
A third of all gatherings will consist of five to nine people, a quarter of 10 to 14 and one in 10 gatherings will consist of 15 or more people. Many of those get-togethers are likely to consist of people with sharply differing views on politics, religion, COVID-19, vaccinations, masks, and now, it seems, even such topics as inflation.
How will you cope? What if you slip up and inadvertently let your view on one of those, and other, sensitive topics get out? What if another family member expresses a highly controversial view?
Tips to help you keep the peace
Here are tips to help you play your part in guiding the discussion when families gather for the feasts and festivities.
Discuss the food.
Break the ice by discussing a safe subject—the food on the table. Start by complimenting those who prepared the food. Inquire from those who prepared the meal how they did so. What ingredients did they use in some of the food items? Were they able to obtain all the ingredients they needed before the stores ran out? Did they shop earlier this year as a result of the disruptions in the supply chain? Unless you are sure, find out whether they are family recipes. If they are, and you are familiar with them, discuss how the recipes came to be in the family.
Catch up on family news.
Ask each member of the family, even those who are young, what they have been doing during the year. If you are familiar with the broad outlines, ask for details. How are you liking your new job? What are your daily tasks? What are you studying at college?
Clearly, discussion on special occasions during the year, such as a wedding or a vacation to an exotic place can be included, too. Inquire about humorous incidents, what went wrong, or how someone solved a last-minute problem. Even if all those at the table were at the occasion, recall the happy and exciting parts of the events.
Ensure that every member at the table or sitting in the living room gets a chance to speak. It is a good idea to go around the table or room and include everyone. Be sure to include those who have just started school. Find out what they are learning and whether they like their teachers, for example.
In most cases, avoid talking about grades or performance at school or college. Doing so could be embarrassing to some. Also, try to avoid the discussion tipping into a sensitive topic. Depending on the number of people around the table or in the room, that could take some time.
Discuss daily life
You might also include a discussion on other aspects of what people are doing in their daily living. For example, what movies or TV shows stood out for you during the year? How is grandma enjoying daily life at the retirement home?
Use your discretion when discussing what family members have been doing during the year relating to the pandemic. In some cases, that might raise questions on vaccinations or masks or other issues that might best be left alone. You likely will know your family well enough to decide what route to take in that field.
A member of the family, or a special guest, might have started a new hobby, such as painting, making crafts, or taking photographs. If discussion on that topic was not included in the wrap-up of family news, ask family members who among them have started a new hobby or are continuing an existing hobby.
You might also want to take a tally on such issues as Who is the oldest person at the table? Who is the youngest? Who is married the longest? Some questions might be obvious; a lot will depend on the composition of the family gathering.
Recall family memories.
Raise stories about earlier days, possibly including former family get-togethers. You can mention exciting vacation times and what happened on them. Some family members might have died during the year; talk about them and the memories they left behind.
You might find that even close family members are unaware of some aspects of the family roots and history. You might learn some of that history yourself.
Once the meal is over and you have spent time discussing family news and memories, you might want to play a game or two to keep everyone occupied and away from discussing controversial topics.
Such games might include charades. You might want to include a new twist by restricting them to acting out only topics that relate to the family, for example.
Board games usually are a perennial favorite. Even those who say they do not like such games can most times be persuaded to join in. They will generally find that they enjoy the game anyway.
Many new board games are now available in addition to old favorites such as Scattegories, Scrabble, and Clue. You might want to buy a few new games that you feel would be suitable or discuss doing so with those hosting the get-together if they do not already own them.
Keeping the peace
These suggestions might help to keep the peace at this year’s holiday get-togethers. They might even result in helping you to establish happy memories you can recall when you gather for future festivities.