8 Simple Ideas for Holiday Civility

Christmas is upon us and so is New Years. It’s the time when families and friends get together, food and wine flows and so do awkward political, familial and social discussions.

Many of us would like to avoid controversial discussions around the unreleased movie – The Interview; the racial tensions plaguing America; the horrific school shooting in Pakistan and other topics that family members may not agree upon. And then there are awkward and nosy questions about personal lives, divorces, marriages, college acceptances and so on. Holidays can be an overwhelming time for many.

Credit: Emiliano De Laurentiis, Credit: https://flic.kr/p/8GTsat
Credit: Emiliano De Laurentiis, Credit: https://flic.kr/p/8GTsat

It’s best to set some basic ground rules such as, no yelling, no berating and no controversial and hurtful discussions. But to achieve such zen is nothing short of miracle. Here are some helpful ideas that have worked for us in the past:

1. Pre-discuss awkward issues

It’s always better to have a discussion with folks we think might act out prior to the family gathering. For those who are feeling confident about their forgive-and-forget attitude, facilitating discussions between warring members may also work. Patching up albeit halfheartedly, is key to limiting all-out battle scenes during dinners and lunches. Bottled up emotions do not serve anyone well – it’s essential to address them sooner than later.

2. Gather small sane groups 

It’s important to remember that everyone is overwhelmed and touchy during this time of the year. Meltdowns are more likely than ever as the financial stress and the pressure to get along build up.

In such a case, having few small gatherings with groups that get along might also be a viable strategy. Small gathering are more manageable and like-minded groups are more easily controlled than large battling ones.

Credit: Ian Muir , https://flic.kr/p/6uHhuj
Credit: Ian Muir , https://flic.kr/p/6uHhuj

3. Manage offensive guests

There are guests who will manage to offend others by saying something racist, sexist, belligerent and outright rude. Instead of calling them out in front of everyone and shaming them, it may be better to pull them aside in the kitchen and request them to stop saying hurtful things.

It’s important not to just glance over rude behavior to maintain decorum. Avoidance sends a wrong signal to other guests, especially the children who model themselves after adult behavior.

4. Rehearse answers to awkward questions

People often ask questions because they are genuinely interested in our life history. Holidays may be the only time to really catch up in person. Instead of assuming people are nosy, it’s nicer to assume they have an innocent intentions.

Better yet, it’s wiser to go prepared by thinking through the answers to awkward questions. After all, we cannot control what people ask, but prepare how we respond to their questions.

Credit: Riccardo Cuppini - https://flic.kr/p/4aVgdn
Credit: Riccardo Cuppini – https://flic.kr/p/4aVgdn

5. Go A-Wall

It’s also okay not to answer prying and uncomfortable questions. We often feel compelled to answer questions because we don’t want to seem rude – but it’s okay to simply state the truth by saying, “I don’t feel comfortable discussing this”.

Or apply the art of deflection – it’s useful in all walks of life.

One of my closet friend in her mid-30’s has the solution for THE persistently embarrassing question, “how come you’re not married yet?” She simply says, “Oh that’s such a funny question!” And that’s that – an end to an undesired discussion.

6. Unfortunately, loudest voices get heard!

Though the loudest and the most opinionated people get heard, it is important not to get caught up in a screaming match. Listening is an important and unappreciated skill however, and what better time than holidays to put this skill to practice?

In my personal opinion, the friends and family that I respect most are the ones who have their inner balance together and ones that act out the least. So why not try and be the sanest person when everyone else is losing their sanity?

7. Talk about happy times

Here’s ONE trick that always works. When discussions start getting rough, it’s always good to redirect the discussion to happier times! How about going around the table and asking people to share something fun they did during the year, or their favorite Christmas memory?

Credit: Cathy Stanley-Erickson; https://flic.kr/p/5LQwQ7
Credit: Cathy Stanley-Erickson; https://flic.kr/p/5LQwQ7

Happy memories bring families and friends together. They remind us that no matter how rough the current situation is, it’s the deep affection for each other that brings everyone together at the dinner table.

8. Go watch a movie instead!

Though the holiday tradition revolves around food, why not reset the tradition for your family? Instead of assembling for dinner together, how about assembling for a movie – preferably a kids movie. Warm hearted kids movies require minimal inter-personal interactions and evoke warm fuzzy feelings. It’s likely everyone will hug it out at the end of the movie regardless of interpersonal differences.


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