How to avoid a dining-room civil war at Thanksgiving
There is some evil genius lost in the mists of American history – evidence points to Abraham Lincoln – who first made the decision to put Election Day and Thanksgiving Day in the same month.
Coincidence? Please. Whoever made that call did so as a clever little piece of social engineering, as a way to get Americans to break bread in brotherhood – “sisterhood” hadn’t yet been invented – after an acrimonious election season. It’s like when two pre-schoolers get into a crying, screaming fight and their respective mothers make them hug and apologize.
The three weeks and change between the election and Thanksgiving gives us all a little time to get our more demonstrative emotions out of our system, be they smug triumphalism or bitter resentment, so we can be more mature adults and share pumpkin pie with relatives who deep down think we’re political cretins. Because nothing defines the American experience more than learning to live with people you believe are fools.
This year’s Thanksgiving is likely to be more super-charged than most, following an election season that long ago devolved into the world’s most expensive food fight. There are no ties in the American system, and, like a Catholic marriage, we Americans are stuck with each other. So, short of moving to Canada, we all have to learn to get along, and if you won’t do it for America, do it for Canada.
So, herewith we offer a bit of advice for surviving Thanksgiving without verbal or actual fisticuffs with your political opposites, because on Thanksgiving, a food fight isn’t just a metaphor. It took me two months to get the cranberry sauce out of my hair last year.
If you’re sick and tired of the election and its ugliness – can I see a show of hands? – and just want to keep the Rachel Maddows and the Rush Limbaughs in your family from ruining your holiday, you can always do the mature thing and have a private conversation with each a week before asking them to stuff the political talk. Of course, the mature thing will often only inflame the immature, so why do the mature thing?
Look, you’re perfectly free to take the floor once all your guests arrive and announce that the election is over, and we all need to find a way to reconcile and let’s all go around the room and say something nice about the other side. But only a masochist or an independent filmmaker would attempt such a thing.
But, if you’re of the mind to avoid confrontation and hope for the best, you’re going to have to work at it. You’re going to have massage the conversation constantly, like a moderator in an on-line chat room.
You’ll be able to judge soon enough if you’re going to have to break a sweat. Once you lay eyes on your know-it-all Obama-phile college-age daughter, you’ll be able to see the urge to gloat in her eyes. You can’t miss it. Ditto the brooding cauldron of venom in your sore-loser dittohead Republican brother-in-law.
Once you’ve assessed the situation, it’s time to stage-manage the conversation. Talk about the food – in depth. Chatter on about how hard it was to find a suitable turkey, and the step-by-step process of making the mashed potatoes, and your likes and dislikes of every supermarket in the county. Of course, that might lead to someone bringing up Prop. 37, the defeated food-labeling measure. Just remember, change the subject. Watch how it’s done:
“Speaking of 37, doesn’t Jen have a birthday coming up?”
“Speaking of Trump, who wants to play bridge?”
“Speaking of Benghazi, um … I love your new car, Bill!”
Awkward? Maybe, but would you rather be scraping stuffing off your wallpaper until March?
Once the food thing is exhausted, move to people’s personal lives. It’s perfectly reasonable to catch up with family members you haven’t seen in a year, and it allows you to get granular.
“OK, so that covers April and May. Now, let’s go into June. What did you do for Flag Day?”
Remember, you’re likely to find an ally or two in your efforts to squelch the political talk. Take them aside and discuss strategy. Assign any volunteers to stay close to a potentially troublesome guest, like a basketball coach putting his best defender on LeBron. Work as a team, people. You can’t keep the peace alone.
Sports will likely occupy the menfolk for a while, as Thanksgiving remains the only day of the year that women give thanks for the NFL. Remember there are three games broadcast back to back to back, and they are absolutely brilliant at serving as doze-inducing distractions. Remember it’s possible the only thing standing between you and domestic civil war is the Dallas Cowboys.
Also, keep in mind that people will see what you’re trying to do. Democrats dying to do a victory dance and Republicans bottling up their rage will note your resistance to them. That doesn’t mean they can resist over the course of a long afternoon. Be vigilant.
And, finally, realize that time is on your side. The day after Thanksgiving – Black Friday, the opening gun to the holiday shopping frenzy – is becoming ever more powerful by the year. Soon, the economic pressures to begin earlier and earlier will allow Black Friday to jump the calendar altogether and move into Thanksgiving Day itself. By 2016, the next election year, Black Friday will begin by 3 p.m. on Thursday and Thanksgiving dinner will be a pleasant hour-long affair after which you’ll be blissfully napping instead of sweating an outbreak of hostilities in your living room.
So, all you have to do is get through this year. Now don’t you feel a bit more thankful?