If politics got in the way of family fun last holiday season, yours isn’t alone. A new study found that “politically divided” families cut their Thanksgiving celebrations short by an average of 20-30 minutes last year. Republican voters bailed on Democratic families more often than vice-versa. And reductions in family time were steeper in areas that saw more political ads. What’s a turkey-lover to do? Experts tell us to avoid the subject, and we’ve got a few topics that will go over better than grandma’s green bean casserole.
1. Media coverage of the divisive election took its toll
The study also found the volume of political advertising affected these numbers. “Thanksgiving dinners are further shortened by around 1.5 minutes for every thousand political advertisements aired in the traveler’s home media market,” they found. In a heavily saturated state like Florida, that resulted in a 1.2 hour reduction in Thanksgiving time for politically divided families. There’s a good reason for that.
Next: Why does Thanksgiving get so heated?
2. Scientists say holidays breed tension
Mark Reinecke, chief psychologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told the Chicago Tribune divisive politics can exacerbate already tense family relations. “[Family members are] going to share their thoughts and opinions.There’s always an uncle who’s a bit … unfiltered,” he said. His solution? Just don’t discuss it. “If it’s a family where it could become divisive, then it’s probably best to not talk about politics,” he said. “Just don’t engage in it.”
Next: Try this lighter topic instead.
3. Shake it off with some T-Swift
Love her or hate her, Taylor Swift’s new music and 100th image makeover are all over the news. Even grandma probably knows about T-Swift, and if not, why not take this opportunity to introduce her to this sick beat?
With the star’s reputation for suing everyone from the Kardashians to innocent bloggers, she’s good for as much juicy goss as the orange man himself. We bet everyone at the table can get into that much safer convo.
Next: Instead of current events, try some ancient history.
4. What’s controversial about dinosaurs and mummies? Hopefully nothing
Did you know the dinosaurs might be reason we sleep at night instead of during the day? Now you do. What about the secret chamber inside one of the pyramids? That’s good for at least one course. If you’ve recently visited a museum or learned an interesting fact, share it with your fellow diners. At best, it might spark a great conversation about the wonder of our universe. At worst, you get crickets and your family members learn something.
Next: This topic is safer in some families than others.
5. Turn on the game — or talk about it
Some tables feature more sports fans than others. If yours includes a lot of jerseys, go for the sports talk. Got a lot of different teams around the table? Why your family and friends chose their colors of choice can make for a great, spirited conversation. If the tides start to turn to the NFL police brutality protests, just turn on the game itself. Cheering — or even losing — brings everyone together.
Next: Why not Netflix and chill (out)?
6. What’s everyone watching, theses days?
When in doubt, the tube is tried and true. Everyone watches something, or wants to watch something, or just finished watching something and has a lot of opinions. Paste Magazine regularly updates its list of 75 best Netflix shows if you need some inspiration. Go ahead, toss around Game of Thrones theories. Fictional ruler drama is so much more fun.
Next: People have strong opinions about this one.
7. Mechanical or lead pencil? (We’ve got thoughts)
When all else fails, play the either-or game. Do your relatives prefer mechanical or regular pencils? What about blue or black ink? Chicken wing drums or flats? Most people consistently choose one or the other and harbor strong reasons for it. Go ahead and go there — you might learn something new about your loved ones.
Next: Make things awkward — but not in the way you think.
8. What’s your most awkward moment?
We’ve all done it. Jumped into the pool with a too-loose swimsuit. Slipped and fell in front of a crowd. Given a presentation with spinach in your teeth. Those embarrassing moments make for great stories, and we all love to relive each other’s. Why not go around the table and share the time you definitely didn’t have on your best look?
Next: Get nostalgic, and relive the glory days.
9. How about those good old days?
Whether you’re 18 or 81, all of us have that favorite snack, TV show, or childhood past-time we miss. The differences between what grandma and your 12-year-old cousin consider nostalgic might surprise you. Take a trip down memory lane, and see what comes up.
Next: It’s all about the food, right?
10. Talk over the table — literally
Some families stick to the classics on this food-focused holiday. Others use it as a time to express their culinary creativity. Whether your table looks the same year after year or changes it up each one, send some compliments to the chefs. This is your chance to draw out the secret to grandma’s sweet potato pie or find out where your uncle picked up that stellar bottle of wine. Food is so central to the holiday, it makes sense to talk about it.
Next: A lot of families ban cell phones at the table, but take it one step further.
11. Get everyone’s opinions on cell phones
Cell phones have changed everyone’s lives in big ways. Research says the devices changed the way we interact socially, in general. What do different generations think about it? Whether you allow phones at the table or not, the grandkids might have different perspectives than older attendees. Have phones helped or hurt humanity, as a whole? Holidays bring generations together in a unique way, which can lead to great perspective on an issue often divided by age.
Next: When all else fails, go viral.
12. The latest viral videos are always good for a giggle
Teens and millennials may stay on top of what’s hot on the Internet, but older generations might not. Introducing the whole table to the hottest new viral videos can make for a great group activity. Break the cell phone rule just this once and bring out the big tech guns if conversation gets slow. If things get too serious, a funny video-watching session will definitely break the tension.
Next: Sometimes, the weather makes a decent topic.
13. Climate scientists can fix your conversation lull
While the weather outside makes for a pretty dull dinner table, extreme weather doesn’t. You might want to steer clear of Trump’s Hurricane Maria response, but there’s plenty of fodder elsewhere. Climate scientists have some scary hypotheses about how the world will end. Which one does your table think will happen?
Next: Turn the talk to this controversial beverage.
14. If you’re not serving it, at least discuss it
Seltzer has been around for decades, but it’s having a moment. NPR says Americans are drink nearly 170 million gallons of the fizzy stuff each year, and sales have gone up 42% over the past five years. Some people love it, others hate it. Go ahead, this is one place it’s safe to take sides.
Next: Ask some Thanksgiving-appropriate questions instead of yammering.
15. Get some of grandma’s best stories
Many Thanksgiving gatherings have a matriarch or patriarch or two in attendance, but how often have you asked about their lives? What was it like growing up for them? Who did they have a huge crush on in grade school? Why did they choose their career and do they ever miss it? Many people express regret after their elders pass on and take their memories with them. Take this opportunity to engage them, instead. They’ll (most likely) appreciate it, and you’ll learn a little about family history, too.
Still need to keep the discussion rolling in a safe direction this Thanksgiving? Parent Co. has a handy list of conversation-starters. With these tips, you should be able to have a peaceful holiday, regardless of your political affiliation.
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