Last Year, Christmas Began on a High Note
A cinnamon candle in the foyer of my NJ home greeted family members as they arrived. In the living room by the fireplace, we drank wine, and while listening to holiday standards, nibbled on grapes and cheese. The kids played with their new toys; Uncle Thomas and Cousin Ralph chatted about football; my Aunt Susan and my cousin’s wife, Kathy, discussed Susan’s new job. Thinking we’d enjoy a politics-free holiday dinner, I invited everyone into the dining room.
The silverware and porcelain sparkled. With pork on the platter falling-off-the-bone, I smiled and noted that the bag method of cooking worked well again. We said grace, packed our plates, and after pouring gravy over the potatoes and vegetables, we chuckled at the mention of my great aunt’s cockapoo. In between bites, we laughed about my sister’s crazy vacation plans.
Then, Ralph Got Another Drink
The kids went upstairs to play their new video game. Kathy was telling us about her plans for Jadon’s birthday party. I scooted my chair forward to let Ralph pass behind me. He stumbled before sitting down. Susan was suggesting a fun activity for the party when Ralph interrupted. “So, do you agree with the mask mandate?” he asked me, referring to Biden's new 100-day policy.
I shrugged. I didn’t like wearing masks. No one liked wearing the masks, but most people in NJ and around the world understood that face-coverings were, at the very least, slowing down the transmission of the virus by limiting the spread of droplets. Unlike Ralph, I didn’t view the policy as extreme, nor did I think that it was unreasonable or permanent.
“Biden’s mask mandate is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,” he spoke loud enough for Uncle Thomas to hear.
“Trusting a guy that won’t disclose his tax returns is what’s really stupid.”
Ralph called Biden a joke. Thomas called Trump a fraud. They accused each other of lying and of being uninformed. I hoped that the kids upstairs couldn’t hear the curses and insults. Thomas stormed off to the patio. Ralph spent the evening watching tv in the basement, and by the end of the night, no one was in the mood for dessert.
This Year, We Have a Plan
We didn’t get together for Easter and Thanksgiving, but now – with Christmas around the corner – my aunt mentioned doing something at my place. Ralph and Thomas agreed to keep the conversation light, but I still felt uneasy about the prospect of another argument. I emailed Susan and Kathy a few articles, discussions, and videos on avoiding conflicts, and just today, we came up with a plan for a politics-free holiday dinner.
Our first line of defense is the conversation changer. If Ralph announces that vaccinations are a government conspiracy to poison the masses, as I expect, one of us can halt his momentum by responding with a reflection question. “Maybe you had a bad experience with immunizations?” Susan might say, encouraging him to consider another point of view. “Choosing between freedom and safety can be challenging for everyone.” from me might thwart the attack.
If a conversation changer is not enough to get Ralph to settle down, we might gently shift him away from his rant by throwing out a “help me” scenario. At a rude comment, I might strangely find myself unable to turn off the oven. At various points in the evening, Susan or Kathy might need help with the thermostat or “locating” the tv controller. Our radical guests might be unable to spew out a political viewpoint and complete tasks like these at the same time.
In addition to conversation changers and help-me scenarios, activity redirects might also save Christmas this year. If Ralph or Thomas starts mouthing off about a controversial issue, one of us might swoop in and offer a change of activity. If it’s the end of dinner, I might suggest that everyone move to the living room for the football game. An argument there might be the perfect moment for everyone to take a walk or to have dessert in the dining room.
Putting a spoonful of cheesecake in the mouths of these revolutionaries might help everyone have a politics-free holiday dinner.