An American Holiday Tradition: Family Dinners and Politics

With the holidays coming up, there are many things to look forward to… time off, festive décor, meaningful rituals and traditions, good food, and time spent with family. They all sound great in theory, but every year that last one tends to make my head throb, my body tense, and my heart want to leap out of my chest. Why? Politics.

As America continues to become more and more polarized with political views, the more exhausting the prospect of seeing family can be. There’s always one family member who knows exactly how to push your buttons over a lovely meal of turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes (or whatever meal coincides with your holiday traditions—the more food the merrier). To make these holiday dinners more complicated, it cannot be ignored that this year’s elections were extremely emotionally heightening. Lastly, with the pandemic in the mix, stress feels at an all time high.

“What should I do?” and “How do I deal?” you might ask. There aren’t simple answers to these questions, but one thing is certain—preparation is key. Consider some of the following guidelines before that holiday dinner to take care of yourself and your family.

1) First and foremost, do what makes you and your family feel physically safe and comfortable. Don’t put your loved ones at risk if they have chronic conditions. Go virtual if you need to. (Check out the CDC recommendations on holiday gatherings: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html.)
2) Take deep breaths before, during, and after the holiday event.
3) If the subject of politics comes up, gauge your tolerance and the tolerance of those around you. Encourage a healthy discussion and if things get out of hand, politely end the conversation. Redirect your family to another topic that brings them closer together instead further apart.
4) Practice and model empathy. It can be very disheartening or even maddening to hear a family member or members take stances that counter what you believe down the core. Nonetheless, in order to change hearts and minds you must understand what drives the thoughts and feelings of the person you disagree with.
5) In a world filled with animosity, remember that love wins.

You’ve made it through these holiday dinners before, and you can do it again. Cheers to a tasty meal, being around those you love (even if they make it hard sometimes), and a new year coming to us soon!

– Jessica Tang

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