No Talkin’ Turkey This Thanksgiving: 3 Tips for Keeping Table Talk Civil

Last Update: September 7, 2022

Gathering around the holiday table with family is always a bit tense, but lingering strain from a particularly divisive election has the potential to make this year’s Thanksgiving even more of a tinderbox. Will Aunt Bev launch into a Trump tirade? Might dad transform into a Hillary Hellion? Will a cousin pass the turkey … with a side of shade?

After all the time spent planning and preparing a beautiful holiday meal, the last thing you want is for the conversation to cause indigestion. Here are a few ideas to help make the holiday a joyful, celebratory time with family. Take these with a grain of salt, and please offer your own suggestions in the comments!

Keep politics off the table

At the start of your gathering, declare that it’s been a wild campaign, that you know there are multiple views represented in the room, and that in the spirit of the holiday and family, you politely suggest banning outright political talk at the table. This approach helps in two ways: by making this short speech early, you’ll be cutting any tension in the room by addressing the elephant therein. And, more practically, it keeps conversations from straying into politics, and gives everyone permission to put the kibosh on anyone who might offend.

Have a plan

Eating meals together may not be as common a practice as it once was, so some of us may be a bit unaccustomed to maintaining civil, interesting, even joyful conversation around the table. Give some thought to what you’d like to see everyone talk about during this all-too-rare moment of togetherness. Did a family member pass away recently that everyone could remember with a funny or poignant story? Or stick with the classic: “What are you thankful for this year?”

You might even want to put a few of the questions on the table as centerpieces to set the expectation of touching on one or two of them. (There are actually boxes of Table Topics you can purchase if you’re stumped for specific questions.)

Bottom line: a little intentionality can go a long way.

Focus on what bonds you rather than on what divides

Especially this year, it’s easy to demonize, dehumanize, and outright resent individuals you know who voted differently from you. It can be especially painful when family members have such different views. As hard as it may sound, choose to set aside those feelings for one day. Concentrate on appreciating each person around that table for the values you do share, and the ways that they make your life fuller—at the very least, they probably make it more interesting! Find ways to relate by really listening to what brings them joy, and what makes them nervous or fearful. Focus on finding points of connection rather than dissension.

I don’t anticipate any of this being a problem for most families. But if division should rear its ugly head around the table, remember this: ban (political talk), plan (meaningful conversation), and bond (over what connects you).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

This article is related to:

Healthy Families, Thanksgiving, Tips

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats,, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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