So, it’s finally here. The holidays are upon us, and there’s no turning back, and no avoiding them.
I don’t know about you, but while I’m looking forward to the holidays, and while I want to be able to look forward to spending time with my family, I’m currently dreading it.
Most years I experience this, but after a particularly toxic election year with plenty of fodder for a large family to argue about, I feel like the air is ripe for the holidays to easily be soured by religious or political arguments at family gatherings.
How does one survive? How can we make this year different?
While we cannot control other people, we can be proactive in how we will act over the holidays. So, here’s 5 things we can do to help contribute to a drama-free holiday season with our politically or religiously opinionated family:
1. Consider reaching out before the holidays to establish family gatherings as a controversy-free-zone.
Be proactive in setting the tone for how you’d like to experience family gatherings this year. Consider both disarming and pulling those loved ones close by reaching out and asking them to agree to making family gatherings a controversy-free-zone this year.
For example, you could start a group thread with those in your family and say something like this: “I love all of you, and I’m really looking forward to enjoying family time during the holidays this year. One of the things that really gets in the way of enjoying family gatherings is when we end up talking about controversial issues. Can we please all agree to make this year one where we enjoy spending time with each other, and not talk about issues that lead to arguments?”
This can help by disarming those who might feel like you are the one who will be the problem this year, and really helps to set a kind, positive tone.
2. Be honest with them about how you feel when gatherings are ruined by political or religious arguments.
In a non-threatening, non-blaming way, express how you have felt when past family gatherings have been ruined by religious or political debates.
Instead of saying, “Dad really made me angry last year and ruined it!” say things like, “When the holidays have turned into family arguments, I’ve often gone home feeling really sad and hurt about what happened, and this year I don’t want the holidays to be like that for me.”
3. Refuse to take the bait.
The unfortunate truth is that even if you properly set the tone and disarm your family, there’s always a chance that you-know-who will still find a way to make an underhanded comment to get under your skin. Whatever you do, don’t take the bait!
Once you take the bait, you lose all credibility and become part of the problem by engaging in the argument and fanning the flames. Instead, go into those family gatherings resolved and confident that no matter what happens, this year you will be refusing to intentionally participate in toxic nonsense.
4. Calmly and lovingly redirect and reinforce your boundaries.
Refusing to take the bait doesn’t mean do nothing, and it doesn’t mean that you spend the day ignoring that sibling who is continually trying to get you going. Instead, when they do this, calmly and lovingly redirect them and reinforce your boundaries.
Try something like, “I can see you really would like to talk about that, but I love you too much to get into a debate with you this year,” or simply give them a gentle reminder that you all agreed to make this holiday season controversy-free.
Or, diffuse it with humor by saying, “I can see you really want to argue with me, and to be honest, I’d love to argue with you too. But how about we set up a time to have this argument on the phone after the holidays are over? We can yell, scream, and even call each other names. It will be more fun if we set enough time aside to really do the argument well.” And then just give them a mischievous smile that leaves them confused.
5. Build an alliance with other drama-free family members.
The chances are good that you are not the only one in the family who would like to avoid a blow-out argument that makes the day spiral out of control. Identify those people and build an alliance before the family gatherings.
For example, you can reach out privately and say, “Hey– I really want the holiday gatherings to be stress free this year, and I know you do too. So, if Dad starts on one of his rants again this year, can you please help me redirect him so that the day doesn’t go south?”
If you build enough of an alliance, those who want to create drama will quickly realize that if they want to have an argument, it might need to be an argument with just themselves.
Is there a guaranteed way to have a drama-free holiday season with your politically or religiously obnoxious family?
No, there’s not.
You can’t control what others do.
However, you can control what you do.
You don’t have to let your holidays be at the mercy of others– you can be proactive in doing a few things that will contribute to the holidays being happier and drama-free.
These 5 things will help.
What are some others you can think of? Continue the discussion below…
Benjamin, I love this post. I’m the only non-fundamentalist in my family (that I know of–we’re a quiet bunch) and my Mom has declared holidays to be free of religious or political arguments and that really helped. I was glad I didn’t have to come up with the rule. I haven’t tried the re-direct, but I will. And my coping mechanism to to keep visits short so that tensions and tempers don’t have as much time to build. Thanks for caring for us ex-vangelicals!
Great tips. Thankfully my family and friends are liberals/progressives so there is no drama at gatherings. I can’t imagine having to interact so closely with people who want to fight with you over politics or religion. Sounds nauseating.
Great suggestions. Already used the redirect idea though not with family. My roommate and I who are liberal were with three friends for Thanksgiving, two are conservative. Got on some explosive topic and we all decided to talk about something else that did not divide us. Had a very good time.
I have a shorter list.
1) Don’t go home.
2) Celebrate with friends.
One thing I’ve found; if you host the gathering, you have more control. I’m lucky there, I’m a darn good cook. I can almost always volunteer to host, and get total agreement.
As host, I set ground rules. No harassing of any guest. No overt controversy. No baiting. And, if anyone is being made too uncomfortable, as host, I reserve the right to insist on a change of topics. Everyone knows the rules, and they know if they overtly break them, they may be asked to leave. They will be embarrassed. No one else will support them, not because they don’t (necessarily) agree with them, but because we’ve all agreed on these rules to make the holidays pleasant, and the rules only work if everyone follows them.
We all want to have a good time. No one wants to be insulted, picked on or made to feel unwelcome. I find setting a few boundaries makes this much more likely.
I’ve had this policy called “political correctness.” In the past, acting like this was called “good manners.” Sadly,good manners are an old fashioned value that many folks who usually claim to treasure those don’t seem to care much for.
I believe I know now how the eleven disciples felt when Barabbas won the election, popular and electoral, after three years of campaigning.
I believe I will know this week what it was like for them to go back home suffering dis-grace before their families who voted against that lying Jesus.
Meh, if its politics or religion, it’s all in….and no prisoners taken….
Probably why we don’t get together much.
people on both sides can be opininated. personally i just make the holidays politics free
It is not surprising to me that people differ with your controversial views. You can see that on this site all day long.
To worry about family gatherings, however, is a different matter. if you do not feel free to defend your views among family, who love you, why do you feel free to express those views to strangers on this site?
Since the political discussion has been turned into a contentious shouting match it may not be the best subject for family gatherings at the moment. Religion is a different matter. For example, I get ask by family every year why I don’t believe Christ’s birthday is December 25th? So I always give them an answer. How are people supposed to learn other points of view if they never hear anything but that which they already believe in?
I get attacked every time I post anything on this site; many times with the most vile and condescending language. This does not deter me from commenting. You have posted in the past about your strict religious upbringing. I think it should be fun at your stage in life to debate with family that hold those views you so strongly disagree with. Good luck.
So timely. My wife and I had bemoaned this very thing just yesterday. We’ll keep our mouths shut while the Trumpsters crow ha
Man, I’m glad we don’t have this problem in our family. People who fight over politics, whether they’re on the left or the right, at the dinner table are obnoxious and need to get some perspective on life. Don’t make politics an idol and you won’t feel the need to jump into each and every argument over it.
Thank you for this. I always dread Thanksgiving.