How To Navigate Awkward Thanksgiving Conversations

Hot rolls, not hot takes, I say.

Author by John Devore
Art credit: Nusha Ashjaee

A recent poll found that one in three Americans will do whatever they have to do to avoid talking about hot-button issues during Thanksgiving. These poor unfortunate souls will hide behind the living room ficus tree before they even think about sharing their personal thoughts on democracy.

This also means that two in three Americans are open to sparking awkward conversations while the turkey is being carved. Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with engaging family members in an open and honest dialogue about important issues. But I don’t know if Thanksgiving is right setting for a contentious deliberation of social values. Thanksgiving is a time to battle your pants, not your parents.

Besides, the only surefire way to win a political debate with a family member at Thanksgiving dinner is to politely excuse yourself from the table, splash the walls of your childhood home with gasoline and light a match. Then, once outside, point at the family member with the poorly thought-out opinion and silently mouth the words “you are wrong.”

This should decisively put an end to whatever debate about current events was being had while passing the gravy boat until, at least, next year. Law enforcement will have questions, however. To recap: Arson is never a solution.

And so, to the many conflict-adverse and panic-prone who are dreading our nation’s beloved annual family get together, I am offering up a few simple ways to navigate any awkward Thanksgiving dinner conversations. (I have not included hiding behind the living room ficus tree.)

First, I recommend just eating. Isn’t that what this holiday is about: filling the empty space inside with pie? So eat. Hot rolls, not hot takes, I say. If a family member makes an outrageous statement about, oh anything really, just respond by grabbing a turkey leg and gnawing on it like you’re a minor character on Game of Thrones. An inflammatory question may be posed, but don’t worry — a perfectly acceptable Thanksgiving answer is to grunt while stuffing yourself with stuffing. A mouth slicked with cranberry sauce says, “I’m too busy working on giving myself indigestion to participate in any impromptu panel discussion about the future of the republic.”

Next, consider dying inside a little bit. Imagine, if you will, that the human soul is a light bulb shining deep within every person. Now just pull the little cord and turn it off. Go dark. The inner light of humanity’s immortal essence isn’t even really needed when hanging out with extended family members. It is very important, however, that you make direct eye contact with anyone who begins a sentence with “What do you think about …”  This person must be allowed to look into empty dead eyes and behold total nothingness. They’ll move on. Trust me. No one can hold that stare for long. We all look away when confronted with the abyss. At the end of the day, you can pull the little cord and light your soul back up again and, presumably, go scroll Instagram.

The third option is to sit at the kids’ table. I miss the kids’ table. When I was wee, the kids’ table featured most of what the adults were eating plus kid classics like chicken nuggets. There is always a good deal of laughter at a kids’ tables. There is a lesson to be learned: Kids want to have fun; why do we all grow up to be such broken jerks? Sure, the conversation at the kids’ table can get serious if the topic turns to Batman versus Wolverine or burps versus poots. But those discussions are way more interesting than what adults have, which, if I had to boil it down, is: “Who is more right: Me or not you?”

My fourth suggestion is to choose to talk about the safest topic possible. In olden times, long ago, families could talk about the weather without fear of controversy. This is no more: Any talk of the weather will eventually lead to someone insisting that hurricanes are caused by angels.

More recently, football was a refuge for fractured families. But that, too, has been compromised. This is not a commentary on the many issues that have transformed football into an actual political football. It’s just that football on Thanksgiving was a gift to those of us with social anxiety. Instead of talking about the weather or football, talk about something inoffensive like, oh, fruit. Who doesn’t like fruit? In the eventuality that someone, your sister’s new boyfriend for instance, tries to turn the conversation to national security, just slam your fist on the table and shout “Bananas or pineapples?”

And finally, if Thanksgiving dinner spirals into passive-aggressive bickering about whatever was most recently on cable news, then I suggest shrinking down to the size of a thimble or, if need be, even smaller. It’s a simple matter of closing one’s eyes extra tight and really concentrating until the desired sized is achieved.

It is unlikely that anyone will really notice you willed yourself microscopic. Shrink so small you can play basketball with a green pea. Shrink so small you become friends with Doctor Mouse. Shrink so small — so very, very, very small — you can climb inside the ear of your aunt or step-father and sit in their head for a moment and listen to their fears. Think about it: No one who posts insane political memes on social media is happy with the way their lives are going. Be a quiet molecule and listen. Whatever happens next, do not return to normal size while inside another person’s skull because the end result will be messy and unhappy.

I hope these tips are helpful. When in doubt: Don’t forget to breathe. Enjoy your family, if you can. You see, life is short, and it will all be over sooner than you think.

I’ll be spending this Thanksgiving with my mom and my brother. The three of us will eat enchiladas, play the card game UNO, and, maybe, go see a movie in which superheroes punch a lot, and then punch some more. There are family members who will not be able to join us for Thanksgiving dinner because they are no longer alive. I wish I could have awkward Thanksgiving dinner arguments with my dad or sister. It’s not like we ever did, but I would gladly do it if it were part of some supernatural bargain with, I don’t know, a genie. If the deal was that I’d have to answer my sister’s request to pass the green bean casserole with “what about the illuminati!?!” I would do it, not because I believe the world is run by a secret cabal of wealthy space lizards, but because I’d just want to hear her voice one more time.

Anyway, I’m thankful for what I have, even if it is not enough.

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