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Surviving the Turkey Talk: Handbook for Holiday Harmony

Families are like fudge - mostly sweet with a few nuts. - Les Dawson

Thanksgiving is my favorite family holiday because it brings us together for food and connection, our most basic needs with our most important people. The story goes that the first Thanksgiving celebrated the survival of the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. They struggled during their first winter in the New World and the Wampanoag, especially Squanto, helped the Pilgrims adapt to their new environment. Squanto taught them how to plant corn and fertilize the soil with fish, which ensured the Pilgrims' successful harvest in the fall of 1621.

To acknowledge the bountiful harvest and express gratitude, the Pilgrims and Wampanoag came together for the first Thanksgiving feast. A beautiful reminder that we cannot make it alone. We all owe our existence to others.

Thanksgiving conjures up images of happy people of all ages smiling and laughing together around a table loaded with turkey and trimmings. This is can be true, but there are minefields to negotiate. Emotional discussions about politics, religion, money, social issues, sibling rivalries, health choices, relationships and marriages, career choices and family secrets can derail the dinner and lead to arguments, tension and hurt feelings.

Thanksgiving with the family is a big event, we spend time preparing the food, it helps to prepare for the conversation as well.

1.     Expect Imperfection


Fighting what is leads to unhappiness. You know these people. You know their opinions, triggers and pet peeves, and you know your own. Remind yourself that you’re imperfect, they’re imperfect and set your intention to have a wonderfully imperfect Thanksgiving. If you get aggravated, remind yourself that you love these people. Even though it won’t be perfect, it can have perfect moments. Have a few light and positive topics ready to steer the conversation away from potentially contentious subjects. Ask about interests, share funny memories, or discuss non-controversial current events. Research inspiring stories ahead of time to share when conversation lags or becomes too heated.

2.     Validate - Don’t Aggravate

This is your superpower in adulting. It takes just a little willpower to acknowledge that everyone's feelings and perspectives are valid. It's okay to have differing opinions, in fact, it's expected. Listening with an open mind may surprise you. You could learn something. This doesn't mean you have to agree, but showing respect for their viewpoint sets the tone for open communication. Think of it as letting a kid beat you at a game you know you can win. The real win is harmony. Then graciously change the subject, compliment the food, ask someone a question about something you know they’re interested in or share another inspiring story or idea.

3.     Family Stories – Excavating Gold

Storytelling has the power to bring people together. Everyone loves a good story especially when it’s about them. Prepare to share anecdotes, reminisce about the good times, and recall happy memories. Avoid criticizing or bringing up past grievances. Positive storytelling can diffuse tension, create a sense of unity and remind everyone of the love that binds the family together.

4.     Gratitude – Not Attitude

You’re alive, you’re breathing, you’re able to be together. So much more than many families are experiencing in many parts of the world right now. Start a Thanksgiving tradition of going round the table and letting each member express gratitude for something in the moment. Include the kids. Their responses will be hilarious. Privately, take time to thank each family member for their unique contributions. Acknowledge their efforts, no matter how small. Expressing gratitude helps foster a positive atmosphere and strengthens the bonds that make family so special.

5.     Moderate Alcohol Consumption

A drink or two can help people relax and add to the festive atmosphere. Too much, however, can lower inhibitions, amplify emotions, impair communication, lead to misunderstandings and escalate into arguments. Thanksgiving is associated with more drunk driving incidents, arrests, and a rise in alcohol-related accidents and fatalities. If you drink and have a tendency to overdo it, plan ahead to have more non-alcoholic beverages and make this a Thanksgiving to remember, in a good way.

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