7 Steps for Keeping Politics Off the Thanksgiving Table

Millions of Americans return home this time every year for the holidays.

For many, this is a time of feasting, nostalgia, and friendly familial rivalries over football teams and who gets to split the wishbone.

For some, however, family ground is one to tread carefully: Political beliefs, often touching upon strong, deep-seated beliefs and values, are likely to arise during conversations around the dinner table.

Particularly following an election cycle—and an election—as controversial and contentious as 2016.

The past few weeks have been full of strong emotions, particularly for Americans, but the effects have been felt worldwide. Citizens from many countries have voiced concerns over this election cycle, the divisiveness and bigotry it has stirred within America, and worry for the futures of many citizens—if not for the planet itself.

It’s likely that your holiday gathering will have people from both sides of the spectrum, with many scattered somewhere along the middle. How can you maintain a sense of equanimity—calmness, composure, and consistency of temper—if things get heated? Especially if it’s something you are passionate about?

Here are some steps I’ll be taking this holiday season. Let me know how it goes for you, and happy holidays!

1. Keep It Light

If you know that the conversation can’t be held as a dialogue (and is more likely to turn into a screaming match) don’t engage. Keep things light: the weather, what movies everyone’s seen lately, how Auntie Merle’s hip surgery went, who thinks it’ll be a bad winter. Before you engage, ask yourself: Are you going to help things, like your cause? Your beliefs? The people you care about? Or are you just going to alienate your friends or relatives, make them angry, and contribute to the memory of a family fight on a holiday? Steer clear. Keep it jolly.

2. Exercise Beforehand

As Elle Woods said, exercise gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t get in screaming matches around the dinner table. They just don’t.

Go for a run in the morning. Get to your local yoga class. Challenge your cousins to a flag football game. Get your heart rate up and your blood pumping, and watch your holiday anxiety lower… Even a little bit.

3. Don’t Drink Too Much

We don’t really need to discuss why. Think of the last time you drank too much and you tried to have a tough conversation with someone (even the bartender). How did that go? Alternate your mulled wine with water.

4. Have a Mantra

It might be counting to ten, and taking a deep breath. And repeating (for a million). It might be, “Inhale, Exhale.” It might be, “Peace, friend.”

It might be, “I’m going to love my family if it makes me crazy.”

Have a routine that you can go to when you need to be calm. Repeat it when you feel baited or like you want to engage in a conversation that is going nowhere.

5. Have a Safe Person

Do you have a sibling, parent, cousin, or other relative that understands your feelings and can be your safe person? The one that you can exchange a look with that says, “Let’s change the topic,” or just, “I’m glad you’re with me. Let’s stay quiet in this together.” Sometimes having an ally—even a silent one—is enough to get you through.

6. If You Must Engage, Engage Mindfully

Sometimes we’re forced into corners, or baited into boxes. Do you have an uncle who won’t let up about the political sticker on your car, or a cousin who keeps asking you about your feelings? Are all of your other coping tools failing?

But be mindful.

The chances are that the people you’re with have been in your life for a good long while, and they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. They will outlast this election, they will outlast this current political climate, and they will outlast everything but time.

Fight or flight is a normal reaction, especially when emotions have been running high for a long time.

Take a deep breath. Be short. Be concise. Be compassionate.

And then be done.

Be clear that you are done.

7. Organize and Activate

You’re done. You did it! You made it through without being hurt or hurting anyone (emotionally, mentally, or physically), thank goodness.

But that doesn’t mean you’re not fighting for what you believe in—you’re just going to do it in a proactive way.

Join a local activist group. Donate to a cause, whether it’s through time, money, or effort.

Perhaps, in lieu of traditional gifts this year, you donate in your family members’ names to your favorite cause.

I hear some organizations even send certificates when a donation is made in someone's name.


Kristin Diversi is a star-child. She is convinced that she has control over the space-time continuum, but she has a hard time remembering to eat breakfast. A unicorn/monkey hybrid, she spends her days hopscotching dreams and moonbeams. After graduating magna cum laude with a BA in History and an MS in Nutrition, she delighted her parents and the student loan companies by dec...READ MORE