How To Remain Sane This Thanksgiving
“Thanksgiving is so called because we are all so thankful that it only comes once a year.” – P.J. O’Rourke
Today’s the day. The day were everyone comes together from all over the country, and even abroad, to celebrate food and family. It might be the least patriotic or religious holiday in America (according to the hundreds of guides to Thanksgiving self-control it’s the ‘‘holiday of overeating’), but that’s not to say it’s all maple syrup, pumpkin pie, and happy families.*
Back when my father was a little boy in 1950s/60s Philadelphia, when “ridiculous” (his words not mine) boats made out of tinfoil burst with mashed potatoes were all the rage, canned cranberry sauce was like “red jello”, and inedible “cardboard” Turkey was the norm, the main concern of Thanksgiving was how to get everything cooked on time, ready to go, and what to do with what my father remembers as “essentially a week of leftovers”. (Full disclosure: my family is Jewish and ascribe to the model of there-can-never-be-too-much-food, so this isn’t exactly surprising.)
Of course, things have changed in the last six decades. Most notable being that there is now a big emphasis on achieving the perfect turkey. And then there’s the elephant in the room: politics. Blame the echo chamber or Trump himself, but there’s no denying that politics now have a seat at the table. They might be served with pre-dinner drinks/snacks, disguised as a joke, but come dessert time, the dining room has descended into a less family-friendly version of Family Feud.
It’s clear that America is still a divided and partisan nation. Many Americans have been forced to have awkward conversations and disappointing realizations that their own relatives harbour different political beliefs, and even values, from their own.
In the wake of the midterm elections and with America still reckoning with the 2016 election, the idea of getting the family together for dinner has never been so stressful. While America’s family fights are nothing new, anxieties surrounds the holiday are on the rise. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, over the past two years Americans have become more likely to say it’s stressful and frustrating to have political conversations with people they disagree with (53 percent to be exact). Diana Butler Bass, a professor at Duke University and author of several books on American religion and culture, has called the shift the “American Thanksgiving Anxiety”. So imagine when those people are a) share similar DNA and b) only separated from you by a mound of brussel sprouts.
No wonder the internet is full of survival-guides and failproof seating strategies on how to navigate this national holiday. So in the spirit of trying to remain thankful not hateful, and because we love a good bandwagon, we’ve decided to share a few of our favorite coping mechanisms for ways to remain zen when things start to get sticky.
Excuse yourself, go to the bathroom, and zone out. No, I don’t mean with weed or any other substances, although if that helps go for it, but with mediation or to use the buzzword of the year: “mindfulness”. While you may think this is all very Goop-y, and it is – they have a whole section devoted to the practice – it’s not without merit. More than just inhaling and exhaling (although that works pretty well), mindfulness can help you clear your thoughts and become more aware of yourself and your surrounds. Naturally there are plenty of apps to help guide you to ‘inner peace’ etc. Not sure where to start? Try celebrity approved app “Headscape”. Alternatively, pop on your headphones and listen to some music or your favorite podcast. Admittedly this is a bit of a band-aid approach, but it’s not like Thanksgiving is observed for eight nights and days.
Note: the most important thing to remember is to drink a lot (preferably non-alcoholic for obvious reasons). That fifth trip will look more believable and raise less concern about your bowels and/or smoking aforementioned substances.
Talk to your Uncle
Angry Uncle Bot to be specific. Developed by Dr. Karen Tamerius, a former psychiatrist and the founder of nonprofit group, Smart Politics, Bot is a chat program created to help teach you techniques to use when discussing difficult topics. Ideally you would have downloaded this app prior to Thanksgiving (sorry about that), but don’t despair, that’s what your third bathroom break is for (see above).
Trust me, you’ll need an ally at some point during dinner and food is who you should partner up with. Embracing gluttony, definitely the most fun of the deadly sins, can work to your advantage when trying to navigate tricky topics/awkward conversations. Ask someone to pass you a dish at the opposite end of the table, loudly exclaim how much you’re enjoying your cousins’ mac and cheese, spark a debate about sweet potato pie vs pumpkin pie, and when things start to get heated zero-in on your plate of food and pretend you’re too busy navigating the contents of your plate to have heard anything.
The “cute” decoy
Perhaps the most fail-safe diversion comes courtesy of the New York Times: find the cutest thing in the room and home in. There’s a reason why pictures of babies and animals consistently garner the most likes and views online. Anything small, fluffy and helpless is human kryptonite. So when you find yourself in bathroom break #5 and all out of water, direct attention to a baby or dog in the vicinity. Or, if without, have a meme, GIF or YouTube clip at the ready.
And if all else fails...eat more food
Because if you’ve stuffed your mouth with enough mashed potatoes chances are you’ll need a minute or two (mindfulness in disguise??) before you can reply to any racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/political remarks made by your family.
*There’s a bit more to the holiday than happy Pilgrims and Native Americans sitting down to a big feast. Contrary to popular belief, the peace between them was political, driven by trade and tribal rivalries. Thankfully schools across America are now debunking some of the myths of Thanksgiving.