Here is my full column that ran earlier this week in the Washington County Daily News
I have read several opinion pieces over the last few weeks about how people are telling their family that they will not celebrate the holidays with them because of politics or COVID or both, since COVID has become inexplicably intertwined with one’s political views. In order to help keep the peace, allow me to suggest some conversation topics that will not ruin a good family Christmas gathering.
First, let it be said that if you are forgoing a traditional family gathering because you disapprove of some of your family’s political views, then you should really reevaluate your priorities. Politics are important, but there is a lot of life to be lived outside of them. If your politics are more important than your family to the point that you cannot even spend a few hours in their presence, then your priorities are wrong.
Second, if you feel the need to scold a family member about their politics or COVID protocols when you decline an invitation to attend their holiday party, you are a jerk. There are plenty of polite ways to decline a party without insulting the person who invited you. Consider who the intolerant one is in this situation.
If you are going to be a grown-up and attend a family gathering with people of different political and social stripes, here are a few handy topics to make the time enjoyable.
Sports are always a safe refuge of conversation. A lively conversation about the Packers, Brewers, or Bucks can fill hours. If you are not a fan of sports, just take a few minutes and learn a few things about your family member’s favorite team before going. Just bringing up the topic will bring out the discussion from the sports fans in the room.
Speaking of learning something, take a little time to read up on some of your family members’ favorite hobbies. If they like to bake, fish, hunt, ski, travel, etc., taking a few minutes to learn something about it and ask a few questions is a courtesy that shows respect while also making for a fun conversation. People love to share the things about which they are passionate.
One of the greatest parts of family holiday gatherings is the food. People bring a dish to pass or the kitchen is full of old family recipes. Talk about the food. Who wrote those old family recipes? Any cooking tips? Cooking shows and competitions are enormously popular because people love to talk and learn about food.
It is increasingly difficult to talk about television shows in the age of microbroadcasting. We do not have as many of those widely watched shows to discuss. There are, however, more television shows and movies available through dozens of streaming services. Talk about your favorite shows and jot down the shows that others are watching. Not only is it a good conversation, but it provides good tips for shows to watch later.
Family gatherings provide the opportunity to talk about family. Everyone is busy and family gatherings are a great way to catch up on the latest news. Talk about how the kids are doing in school, how work has been going, the latest vacation, the new roof on the house, and all of the other events small and large that we spend most of our time doing.
Since you are gathered for the holidays, talk about that. Why are you together? In my case, it is to celebrate the birth of my lord and savior, Jesus Christ. For others, they may be celebrating a different faith or just a secular holiday. Whatever the case, talk about the reason for the season.
Finally, if you are unable to or unwilling to carry on a conversation without launching into a political diatribe, just listen. Ask questions, and listen. Even if you disagree with something your family member said, just listen. Smile. Nod. Move on. There is nothing to be gained from venting your spleen onto a family member during a family gathering. Be mature enough to recognize that fact even if your family member is not.
The holiday season is a magical time to stop, reconnect, repair, and recharge. For just a few hours or days, set aside your rabid political passions and build relationships with your family on a more meaningful level. Faith. Family. Football. A great Packers coach would agree.