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Topics You Can Safely Talk About At Thanksgiving Dinner With Your Family

Conversations can get ~awkward~.

10/06/2017 11:11 EDT | Updated 10/06/2017 11:11 EDT
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Holiday dinners can be awkward at the best of times. There's always that one uncle who gets a bit too close to you while he's talking, or the mother who makes pointed remarks about when you're going to settle down/have kids/get a better job/etc.

But in the current political climate, when many people are so divided both in the United States and in Canada, family dinner might be something you're seriously dreading. There are times when hard conversations are warranted — but there are also times when an argument isn't welcome, and many of us could use a dinner's worth of distraction from what seems like an endless cycle of terrible news.

Previously on HuffPost:

You might be able to head off conversations that are particularly charged by warning your guests in advance that they won't be welcome.

"A great idea that we share with our clients that are hosting family holiday dinners is to include a friendly reminder on e-invitations to the effect of: 'As we gather in love this holiday season to celebrate community and togetherness, let's refrain from politically charged conversations, focusing our energy on gratitude to be together,'" suggests Klay S. Williams, a holistic lifestyle expert.

You might be able to head off conversations that are particularly charged by warning your guests in advance that they won't be welcome.

You can remind everyone of this request on the day itself if someone insists on trying to get a contentious discussion started.

So which topics of conversation might actually be safe? Here are a few suggestions.

Try an icebreaker

Many business meetings start with an icebreaker activity ("What does everyone have planned for the weekend?" for example) in order to get people comfortable and dispel any tension in the room. If you think about it, the common tradition of going around the table to ask everyone what they're thankful for this year is a type of icebreaker.

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You could also ask guests to share a specific memory of gratitude, or ask questions about everyone's responses, Williams suggests. "Focusing on what we are grateful for creates great morale and optimism in family group dynamics," he says.

Retell an old story

There's always something wonderful about discussing favourite family memories with the loved ones who share them. Perhaps discuss a story from your childhood, or a great vacation you took together, or a particularly funny family event. (Just make sure everyone there agrees it's funny!)

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It's nice to remember great family times when you might otherwise be feeling disconnected or argumentative.

Talk about the future

By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, the new year is not far away. Try focusing the conversation on exciting events to come in order to take the focus away from difficult events in the present.

"It's a great conversation piece to ask guests about their travel plans for 2018, any fun projects they are working on, goals and visions, and anything that they are looking forward to," Williams says.

Bring up home improvement

Pop culture topics can be a great neutral ground, but they don't always span the generations. But nearly everyone watches shows about home decorating and cooking.

Pop culture topics can be a great neutral ground, but they don't always span the generations.

HGTV just might be one of those perfect family topics because so many people watch the shows, which are generally non-political — just make sure nobody in your family has very strong opinions about tiny homes.

There's always the weather

Canadians love to talk about the weather, perhaps because we spend so much time dealing with the ways it inconveniences us. If all else fails, you can always go back to this well.

Wasn't that a hot summer? Do we all think it's going to be a rough winter? How much are we looking forward to getting back to the cabin? You can kill more time with this one than you might expect.

If all else fails, you can always go back to [talking about the weather].

Ask your family about themselves

Our older relatives often have fascinating stories to tell, and family dinners are a wonderful time to ask them about their favourite memories, exciting times in their lives, or other family history that you may not otherwise hear.

"Family storytelling is an event which brings together the teller and the audience in a common experience," says folk historian Paul Miller.

Family storytelling is an event which brings together the teller and the audience in a common experience.

But what can you do if those contentious topics do come up, despite your best efforts? It's OK to take a "bathroom break" in order to get away from a conversation you aren't enjoying, or that is making you lose control of your emotions. "You'd give your child a time out to regroup, so give yourself the same opportunity," says relationship expert April Masini. "This prevents reactive responses and family feuding."

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And remember: you might want to avoid an argument, but there are times when countering a relative's views is worth the awkwardness. It's important to stand up to intolerance and to be an ally, even if it means dinner is less pleasant than you might like.

And if your children overhear conversations you'd rather they hadn't, discuss it with them later. A desire to keep the peace among your extended family doesn't mean you can't express your own values to your children at home.