How to avoid the hostile political talk at the dinner table this holiday season


Illustration by Joshua Sun

You don’t have to validate someone else’s content that you may find inconsistent with your political values over the dinner table. Instead, just use holiday time to get together with family members and relax.

By Carlota Cano

As the fall semester slowly comes to its end, many students across the country are preparing to return home for Thanksgiving. This year has been a whirlwind, and let’s face it: we all need and deserve a big fat break. Thanksgiving weekend is the perfect time to forget about work, spend time with the family, and relax. The holidays, however, aren’t always so happy and dandy. 

This year especially, there are millions of people that will not be able to join their extended family because of the enduring COVID-19 pandemic. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has released a series of guidelines and safety measures Americans should consider—one of which includes refraining from travel this year.

Reuniting with extended family (either in-person or virtually) can leave room for arguments. We also can’t forget the big elephant in the room: the recent presidential election. In the last couple of months leading up to the election, I’ve heard of relationships ending because of political differences. Ultimately, while choosing your friends and significant others based on similar political ideologies may come with ease, you can’t choose your family. 

 If you’ve watched Lilo and Stitch, you’re probably familiar with the saying: “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” To a certain extent, Stitch was right. But Stitch wasn’t aware of the problems that can arise when discussing politics at a dinner table. 

 To avoid a remake of the battle of Winterfell, I’ve put together a list of five non-hostile conversation topics to use while you’re sitting with your family and friends. In order to keep the peace, I recommend adhering to the following five subjects of conversation: sports, films, art, food, and books. For example, if a touchy subject surfaces during your Thanksgiving dinner, one of your options could be to steer the conversation towards football, since the teams Ravens versus Steelers, Washington versus Cowboys, and Texans versus Lions are playing this year on Thanksgiving Day. You could also mention any television shows or movies that are trending on Netflix, like The Crown, as well as any recent books you can recommend. 

Of course, planned conversations won’t always save the day, but they can be generalized to anyone of any age and background and provide an escape route from even the most troublesome conversations. 

The important key here lies in your ability to have a prepared answer for the possible emergence of a touchy subject. Or like in the case of 10 percent of respondents for the Harris and Takeaway poll, you can just drink more and power through the rest of the dinner conversations. So, whether you decide on an extra cocktail or a change in subject, either one can do the trick. 

It wasn’t until recently that I discovered avoiding politics at the dinner table is also a matter of table etiquette. I used to believe etiquette had more to do with table manners, posture, and overall presence. Lifestyle and etiquette expert Elaine Swann states, “Tradition would dictate you don’t speak about politics at the table.” On the other hand, there may be times where holding back your comments is inevitable and voicing your position can lead others to have a change in perspective. 

 You don’t have to validate someone else’s content that you may find inconsistent with your political values over the dinner table. Instead, just use holiday time to get together with family members and relax.

After all, as Steven Petrow states in his 2019 USA Today op-ed, “talking politics or impeachment at the holiday table can only lead to one thing — indigestion.”

Carlota Cano is a senior studying communication studies. If you would like to respond to this thought piece in the form of a letter to the editor, email [email protected]. Letters may be edited for style and clarity.