One of the worst (or best, depending on your point of view) things about Thanksgiving for many families is the inevitable shouting matches and other types of family drama that happen at the Thanksgiving dinner table. This doesn't sound like your family at all? Well, good for you. Then you and your family are nothing like 97 percent of the other American families.
For most of us, whether it’s the progressives versus the conservatives, the paleo diet followers versus the vegetarians, or just the awkward conversations that happen when mixing different generations and branches of families, the Thanksgiving dinner table can seem like a battlefield. Some of you may join in the fray, but for the rest of us, we sit shellshocked waiting for it all to end.
But what can you do to change the dynamic at the Thanksgiving dinner table? Well, if you are lucky enough to be hosting (or have some influence with the host), why not institute a few rules, try some conversational starters, or offer up some fun dinner games at the table? You’ve pretty much got nothing to lose.
This year, vow to make your family’s Thanksgiving dinner not resemble a reunion show of the “Real Housewives of Wherever!”
11 Ideas for a Calm and Civil Thanksgiving Dinner
- No Booze - Alcohol tends to loosen lips and add fuel to already heated family debates. We know it’s drastic, but go alcohol-free this year to make the Thanksgiving dinner table a more tolerant space.
- Thankfulness - One way to bring civility to the table is to ask each family member to share those things for which they are thankful.
- Charity Donation - In the same vein, come up with a charity that everyone can agree upon (like the food bank, a children’s charity, or something not issue-based) and “pass the hat” around the table. It’s more difficult to be disagreeable after discussing the needs of others.
- Say One Good Thing - Have each member at the Thanksgiving dinner table say one nice thing about the person to their left.
- Invite Unrelated Guests - Let’s face it, we all act better in the company of guests!
- Have a Children’s Table - If the whininess of children at the table is a trigger, just have a kid’s table. Those of us who grew up sitting at the kid’s table are stronger for it!
- Avoid Certain Topics - As the host you can request that certain topics be avoided. My grandmother also said that it was impolite to discuss politics, religion, or money at the dinner table--and she enforced that rule!
- Buffet Style Meal - If your family can’t behave at the table at all--serve the meal buffet style, and people can sit wherever and with whoever makes them feel comfortable.
- Conversation Starters - To set the tone, consider filling a jar with per-approved conversation topics. Set a timer and have each person pull one topic out every 5 minutes to keep the conversation from getting too heavy.
- Table Games - Consider introducing fun games like “I’m going on a Picnic” and “Twenty Questions." Or if you are looking for something a little more grown-up, Slate has some ridiculous debate ideas.
- Place Cards - If you are having a very large gathering, try using assigned seats to separate out potential troublemakers. It might seem ridiculous to assign adults seats, but any event planner will tell you it’s a great idea!
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