Tension, Turkey, and Toxic Environments


Story by Elizabeth Schoof, Editor in Chief

Photo Courtesy of Canva

Picture this. You’re sitting at the dinner table on Thanksgiving Day surrounded by your family. Everyone is in the hand-knit sweaters Grandma made for Christmas last year. You’ve just finished passing the cranberry sauce to your Great Aunt Ruth, the only one in the family who will willingly eat the gelatinous slime. The room is filled with nothing but the sound of forks hitting plates. As you go to take a bite of the Macaroni and Cheese that only gets brought out on this sacred holiday, your Uncle Ralph breaks the comfortable silence. 

“So you go to a liberal arts college. You aren’t turning into one of those liberal snowflakes are ya?” 

The forks go silent as everyone stops eating, waiting in anticipation to hear your response. Will you laugh it off? Will a fight break out? Who’s going to be the first to storm away from the table? 

Though this scene may seem a little dramatic, the holiday season is back —and so are the awkward dinner arguments.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays. They’re the one time of the year that my entire family comes together to be with one another. I love getting to help in the kitchen as we look over old family recipes. I love the inevitable fight that my mom and I get into every year as she tries to direct me in making pumpkin pie, even though I’ve been making it for the past five years. I love putting on the Friends re-runs and watching all of the Thanksgiving episodes before the football games startup. 

I look forward to Thanksgiving Day, but I have friends who don’t. 

I’ve heard countless horror stories about families getting into political arguments at the dinner table. Uncle Ralph says something insulting, Aunt Ruth tries to laugh it off, and the next thing you know, someone is throwing mashed potatoes and people are leaving early, vowing not to come back for Christmas. 

If you ask me, Thanksgiving should be about coming together to spend time with the people who matter the most to you. Next to Christmas, it’s the one day of the year that people should be willing to put their opinions aside to spend time with the people who, in theory, love and support them the most.

I’m not saying that you should allow Uncle Ralph to spout his opinions and say whatever he wants without anyone speaking against him. What I am saying, however, is that Uncle Ralph shouldn’t use the one time of the year that the family is together, as a chance to promote his ideals. The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and laughter and, in limiting the controversial conversations and the judgment that is sure to be passed alongside the dinner rolls, people are more likely to want to spend time with one another. 

A lot of people dread going home for the holidays because they don’t feel that they’re accepted by their family members and they don’t want to be in an environment that’s going to be damaging to their self-esteem or their mental health. Your family is supposed to be your guidepost. They’re supposed to be the ones that, when everything else fails, you can turn to and ask for help. If they aren’t acting in that role, then maybe it’s a good idea to have a conversation with them. 

Sit down and talk about what’s not working. If it’s the political debate that happens after Uncle Ralph’s second glass of brandy, then maybe it’s best if the family celebrates the holiday as a “dry” holiday. If it’s Aunt Ruth’s persistent comments about your weight, then ask one of your cousins about potentially acting as a buffer. If nothing else, simply addressing the situation with the person who’s causing you pain could put a stop to things. People don’t always know that they’re doing things that are damaging. In addressing the situation, and explaining the impact that it has on you, you provide them with the opportunity to make things right and do better. If they choose to ignore your feelings, you can at least say that you tried to make the situation better. 

The biggest and most significant thing I can say is that being related to someone does not give them an excuse to treat you poorly. If you’ve tried to address the situation and nothing has changed, then maybe it is better to celebrate Thanksgiving elsewhere. I’m a big fan of Friendsgiving. Friends are the family that you get to choose. If you’re looking for a support system, they’re bound to be ready to provide one. You could also choose to spend the holiday doing something on your own. I can confirm that movie theatres are practically empty on Thanksgiving day and it is a great opportunity to catch up on some of the new releases. 

Don’t count your family out just yet. Talk to them. Explain the situation and, if things go south, make sure to grab the Macaroni and Cheese on your way out the door.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s