Thanksgiving survival guide: How to make it through a family dinner in 2019

Home for the Holidays

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — For many, Thanksgiving is a time to get together with family, friends, and loved ones, to share a meal and reflect on life’s blessings.

For others, it’s a chance to give back and volunteer to brighten the day for those who are less fortunate.

And for some, it’s an awkward gathering with people you don’t have a lot in common with. If you fall into that last category, this is for you. Here’s how to survive your Thanksgiving in a polarized 2019.

How to change the subject with your overly political uncle

Different family members have different political beliefs and a quick way to ruin a Thanksgiving feast is to turn it into a CNN panel on the impeachment process.

Regardless of how strongly you may feel about the state of Congress, the Governor’s Office, or the County Legislature, it’s best to leave those topics to social situations where a food fight isn’t a likely result.

If a family member attempts to steer the conversation to something politically charged, try a deflection to something related, but not directly. Example:

“There’s too many Democrats running for president and some candidates need to give up already.”

“Interesting point, but what’s more important that Americans exercise their right to vote.”

Stays on the political topic, but gets to a different more universally accepted ideal. Voting is generally encouraged by most, and it’s a safer bet for civil discourse than breaking down the nuances of Bernie Sanders’ tax plan vs. Elizabeth Warren.

Use the buddy system

Perhaps you have a certain family member — or members — you generally don’t mesh with too easily. Find an ally.

Buddy up with another family member or friend you feel comfortable with who can encourage you or divert attention if you feel under attack.

If this isn’t you, that’s great! But maybe you know of a strained relationship in your family that you can offer your services as the buddy.

Keep an ear out for moments that might make someone uncomfortable, or accusatory conversations and look for an opportunity to spin the talk in a more positive direction.

How to avoid the nasty side dishes without disrespecting the host

The traditional Thanksgiving menu hasn’t changed much over time, and those side dishes that nobody wants will inevitably end up on your table.

Maybe you don’t want a helping of the cranberry relish or the Waldorf salad, but you don’t want to seem unappreciative of the host’s efforts.

The key here is to be overly dramatic with your vocal praise of everything. Really sell it too. Before the meal, vocalize your admiration with comments like, “Look at all this incredible food,” and “I wish my stomach could handle more because this all looks so good!”

The host will remember the early praise, and forgive later discretion should you not try a little bit everything. And when the time comes to dress your plate, you’ll have already offered plenty of compliments and disclaimers to steer your feast to the stuff (or stuffing) you like to eat.

A word of caution here: You have to commit. You’ll look fraudulent if you skip most of the portions during dinner only to dive into four slices of pie, two cannolis and a brownie when dessert is delivered. Pick your battles.

Hosting for a vegan? vegetarian? gluten free? keto?

Many people have specific dietary restrictions these days and it can be difficult to cater to a big crowd if you’re hosting.

Instead of stressing that certain guests can’t eat and not knowing where to start, encourage those guests to bring a dish to pass that will work for their diet.

It will give them something to eat, and give you an opportunity to learn a little bit more about them and their recipes. It also will make that person feel that you genuinely care and are interested in their diet and want to make sure they have a full belly on Thanksgiving.

Post-meal comfort comes with pre-meal planning

Some folks like to dress up for the holidays, but Thanksgiving isn’t about glit and glamour. Pilgrims set a solid standard for comfortable fabrics so forgo the tight clothes for more loose-fitted options.

If you’re a messy eater, consider dark colored clothing that can mask your mashed potato mishap should some food miss your math and land on your lap.

It would be weird to bring an extra change of clothes, although there’s an inherent level of respect in regards to that level of dedication and preparation, but it’s best to pick your fit and stick with it. Bonus points for clothes that are especially lounge-able. Post-feast naps have to be considered.

Don’t come empty-handed

Regardless of party size, there’s a lot that goes into preparing a Thanksgiving event. Take some stress away from your host by bringing an appetizer, a side dish, a dessert, a bottle of wine, or some otherwise contributing factor to the gathering.

It is a holiday of giving after all — so give something practical along with your thanks. It will buy you some bonus points from your overly political uncle too.

Thoughtful thanks

If you’re family or group is one that takes turns around the table for each person to offer what they’re thankful for, avoid the cliches. If everyone recites the same “thankful for this meal, this group of people and all of life’s blessings,” everyone will be snoozing before the tryptophan even hits.

Take time before you dine and think of a few kind, gracious sentiments that not only resonate with you, but with your loved ones. Specificity and idiosyncratic ideals go a long way here.

Connect something on the table to a memory of the past and how it makes you think fondly of that person and why you’re thankful for having so many great times with those present. Offer something intimate or personal that maybe you’re proud of from work, or otherwise, and have yet to tell anyone. Intimacy is what this situation is all about, and yes, this can be a sappy or corny moment, because after all, that’s what holidays are for.

Many hands make for light work

We get it — nobody wants to clean up after a feast, but you should at least offer to help. If somebody took the time and effort to invite you over, prepare a meal, and present it to you — the least you can do is offer to help after the fact. There’s a chance that the host will refuse your services anyways, but it never hurts to ask.

Stick to these tips and you won’t only survive Thanksgiving, you’ll thrive.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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