How to Politely Dodge Hot Button Topics at Your Holiday Table (Without Help From Adele)

No one wants to talk politics over pumpkin pie. 

people-eating-around-a-thanksgiving-table
Photo by Roland Bello

Holiday meals are highly anticipated, but sometimes dreaded too—it's exciting to be with family and indulge in delicious food, but it's never fun to get stuck in the midst of a controversial argument about the latest global crisis with your unrelenting, offensive uncle.

The most recent Saturday Night Live parodied this exact situation, remedied only by the family playing Adele's latest hit single, "Hello." While that's certainly an appealing option, we consulted etiquette expert Diane Gottsman to find a few conversational strategies to evade even the most uncomfortable topics. So grab another glass of wine (it's the holidays after all!) and try these tactics:

1. Talk to key players beforehand. If you're bringing a new boyfriend or friend to dinner, be proactive. Grab a parent, sister, or close relative, and make a plan to be the peacekeepers. If your parent is often the one starting debates, Gottsman says it's okay to respectfully ask them to tone it down for the evening. Try saying: "I want to be comfortable and part of that is I don't want to feel 'on guard.'"

2. Exit a one-on-one conversation with a single sentence. If you're stuck in one of your uncle's classic tirades, put it to a halt by saying his name, says Gottsman. It will make him feel heard. Then, follow with: "I love you, but I don't want to get into a debate on Thanksgiving. Let's agree to disagree." You have to "own it," says Gottsman. If you want to end a debate, say so.

3. If you're the host, seat strategically. Normally, you can trust everyone to find their own spot at the table, but if you have a few family members who love to rile up the group, a seating chart can be your best friend. "Mix it up," says Gottsman. "Put somebody that you know can hold their own next to that person."

4. When the table is fired up, propose a toast. A surefire way to get everyone quiet is to raise your glass to the family, Gottsman says. As soon as the shouting becomes unbearable, toast to love, gratitude, and the chance you all have to be together. Then, redirect—possibly to a child's recent accomplishment or a funny TV show you know everyone would love.

5. Suggest an activity. If everyone is milling about after dinner and starting to argue, send them outside, or set up a game of charades. "This way, they're not talking, they're just doing something," says Gottsman. We have 10 fun activities beyond flag football to get you started.


6. And if all else fails...


Find more ways to handle awkward holiday situations here.