As we head into this season of major holidays that are focused on food and family, I’m sure I’m not the only one for whom this year is especially freighted with sadness and tension. Many of us will soon be breaking bread with family and friends with whom we have some profound and even painful disagreements—differences that we may have known about and argued over in the past, but that the recent election has put in even starker relief.
Food is a communal and healing thing for so many hurts. I was wondering if you had any food-focused tips to help us get through the holidays with both our family relationships and our personal integrity intact. It’s a tall order, I know—apart from many furtive sips of wine (which might actually make things worse, not better), do you have any ideas? Thank you!
Happy Thanksgiving to you! I hope that you are enjoying a peaceful, joyful meal with your loved ones today, despite recent disagreements.
Let me begin by acknowledging that you are correct: this election season has been different from others in the past, and it may have caused more long-standing and contentious rifts among family members than past political disagreements. For some individuals, this election marked a crossing of the Rubicon, an affront to moral beliefs held so dear, there is no coming back from their assualt. You must deal with your actual reality: individuals may have lost respect for and trust in each other, and that takes time and energy to rebuild, if it can be rebuilt at all.
You do not need to pretend that these problems do not exist in order to enjoy your holidays together, but you may do well to remember that they can’t be solved over one turkey, one gift bag, etc. Lead with kindness, rely on laughter, and be gentle with yourself and others. That will be enough, I promise. Why? Because the way you treat others is a reflection of you and your character, and at the end of the day, you can always chose to be a person you admire, no matter how ugly the circumstances.
Throughout the past week, I have written a few posts which address some of your concerns. On Saturday, I published a strategic guide for holiday conversations, which I hope will help you to practice some communication tools for difficult conversations, should they come up. Specifically, this post addresses how to be strategic so you can preserve your self-dignity and (hopefully) strengthen your relationships, even during conflict. I think it is right up your alley.
Several of my readers suggested sound advice (that I did not include in previous posts): if necessary, set up a “no politics” rule for your holiday gatherings. There is nothing wrong with requesting (firmly, but kindly) that a ban on political topics/election re-hashing/future speculating be honored when people begin to slip into those discussions.
I think this is a wise choice for many families and many situations. I also know that, in some cases, even bringing up the idea of a forbidden conversation topic could stir things up. You know your family best, and if a ban on politics makes sense for your holiday table, gently ask people to respect that once everyone is assembled.
I find that the best way to avoid one topic is to throw yourself into another one. Keep conversations based on fun past memories, exciting future plans, or interesting commonalities between individuals. Sports teams, new movies, craft fairs…think recreation, and you’ll be headed in the right direction.
Are you a games family? Consider creating a BINGO board with different prompts like “Hates Pickles,” “Has Been to Hawaii,” or “Favorite Color is Orange.” Give each guest a card, then ask them to go around the room, finding family members who fit each category. When they find someone, they ask him or her to sign that box. Here’s the catch: depending on how many guests you have, tell them that they can only sign each card once (or twice.) So, if Uncle Jim hates pickles, has been to Hawaii, and loves orange, he can only sign one of those categories on Cousin Alice’s card—she’s got to figure out which one is best for him, and which other categories she can fill with other relatives.
Make a big deal out of silly prizes, and keep handing them out even after the “grand prize winner” has been determined, if the guests are having fun. When you are seated at dinner, you can talk about some of the sillier categories on the card, especially if you put some “inside joke” categories on there that you know only one or two people in the room can fill.
As you mention, the dinner table is a place of comfort for many, and good food can be a balm for the soul. My recipe suggestion for these times of conflict is simple: make food which has strong family ties and bonds you together. For our family that might be my Grammy’s cinnamon rolls, or my Nana’s ravioli. At Thanksgiving, there is nothing that I love more than my dad’s sausage stuffing (recipe below), and I know I’m not the only person to wait for it all year long.
Just as you focus on shared activities and memories in your conversation, make food that reminds you of your shared traditions and values. It won’t fix everything, but it certainly will make you feel better in the moment, and that is sometimes the best you can do.
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1-2 onions (to taste), chopped
- 4-5 celery stalks, finely chopped
- 1 tube breakfast or spicy sausage
- 1 lb lean ground turkey
- 1 large bag cubed stuffing (seasoned to your taste)
- 4-6 cups chicken or turkey broth, warmed
- Salt and pepper
- In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter and cook dice onions until golden brown.
- Add chopped celery, cook until softened.
- Add breakfast sausage and ground turkey and cook thoroughly.
- Add one cup of the broth to help deglaze the pan, picking up any browned bits from the skillet.
- Pour skillet contents into a large bowl.
- Add stuffing mix and mix.
- Pour in broth, a cup or two at a time, until desired consistency is achieved (we like ours very moist, especially if we are reheating.)
- This may be served immediately, or reheated in a casserole dish at 325 degrees.