According to Guy Winch, Ph.D., contributing writer for Psychology Today (see references below) there are things families can do to reduce the friction that is so often present when families get together to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday over dinner and football. He offers the following five suggestions:
Eliminate tensions at the source
Winch suggests corralling those people who have a history of disrupting family gatherings before the big day. Having a one-to-one conversation where you flat out ask them to refrain from behavior that you both know will cause disruption may be all that’s needed to keep them from doing so once again. Such a conversation can also serve as a means of showing such a person that you care about their issues and are willing to listen to what they have to say, just not over Thanksgiving when others are around who might become upset.
Have reasonable expectations
People aren’t perfect, far from it, so why pretend otherwise. Forming images of happy family gatherings that never happen can cause you, or others in the family to feel pressured into feeling or behaving certain ways, which all by itself is sort of a recipe for disaster. Instead, try to accept everyone as they really are, and then, don’t sweat the details. If the stuffing is too clumpy, don’t worry about it, you did your best and it doesn’t really matter anyway. Right?
Create a mood for giving thanks
Something that might go a long way is to set the mood right from the outset. Being grateful that you have relatives to celebrate with and who truly want to see you at their Thanksgiving meal is a real blessing, one that not everyone enjoys. So, be both humble and grateful and then point out things that you are grateful and thankful for, and it might just rub off on some or all of the other people in your family which can go a long ways towards everyone having a peaceful, happy Thanksgiving celebration.
Set ground rules
Another way to promote family harmony is to come up with a list of things that you know will cause friction and then hand them out to everyone either beforehand, or when they arrive, and then ask that those topics on the list not be brought up, mentioned, or even commented on.
Invite someone less fortunate into the mix
Very few things cause people to suddenly remember that the things they want to gripe about aren’t nearly so bad as they might have thought, than does the presence of someone who is less fortunate than they are in the mix. It might be a friend who has been laid off recently, someone you all care about that is still trying to recover from a serious illness or even a stranger that has gone through some pretty tough stuff. Their mere presence is quite often more than enough to keep people from harping on about their own issues, which should help to keep others from jumping in to comment as well.
The bottom line is, Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be an angry or tense affair, all it takes is some forethought and a bit of planning, and your holiday this year can be one of peace, and of giving thanks