Ahhhhh, Thanksgiving. Such a magical time. It’s the one day of the year when families gather together to break bread, share heartfelt memories, and catch up with the loved ones.
It’s a special time.
It’s crackling fires and merry laughter and cocoa by the hearth.
Oh, who am I trying to kid? That’s a load of frozen gizzards!
Any Turkey Day veteran worth their gravy knows that, in reality, every single Thanksgiving dinner table is really just a vast, unforgiving minefield of danger, heartbreak, and looming alienation. People who haven’t seen each other since this time last year gather around a dead bird and stare at one another out of the corners of their condescending eye, just waiting for the wrong thing to be said by the wrong person at the exact wrong time.
It is as predictable as stuffing from a box.
Someone always says something.
Of course, many families have perfected the fine November art of biting their proverbial tongues when mother-in-law offers up her 19th century parenting advice or old Uncle Wilbur begins one of his epic Tea Party rants, but let’s face it, in this day and age we live in, where actual information has been all but replaced by opinion, it’s getting harder and harder to hold back.
Like it or not, it’s getting tougher to just eat your dang sweet potatoes in peace.
Fear not, though, my tempted warrior, for I have come up with a slightly brilliant list of conversation topics that you should avoid bringing up at all costs this Thanksgiving. And while you may, in fact, question the inclusion of some of my ideas, and even go so far as to wonder what exactly you CAN talk about with your cockeyed, loudmouth relatives this holiday season, allow me to reassure you that I am a man who speaks from nearly four decades of creamed onions, boxed wine, and tragic experience.
And I know one thing for certain.
If you wish to remain in the good graces of your family then remember: history and tradition have proven, time and again, that the best thing for you to do is eat, drink, and be merry without ever straying from discussing the one and only topic known to be safe to approach with all of twisted mankind: the weather.
Except climate change.
No matter what you do, do NOT mention climate change.
Just keep quiet. 1 of 16
Politics 2 of 16
Talking politics with your own family often results in a really productive and informative discussion. Said no one ever. Look, unless your last name is Kennedy and you're sipping your Thanksgiving wine up at the compound in Hyannis Port, you might as well just forget about having a rational, thought-provoking political discussion around the roasted turkey, my friend. Even if you're all in the same party or whatever, it won't matter. It's like spraying a blowtorch around the dining room.
Other People’s Kids 3 of 16
No, you're not dreaming this. One of your sister's toddlers is over there across the table throwing flecks of dinner roll at your face. And one of your teenage cousins is missing dinner because ... surprise! (not) ... he is in juvenile hall for drinking wine coolers in the school gym. Kids are maniacs, we all know that. But unless they are your kids, you had best be steering waaaaay clear of passing any kind of judgment on them at all. No matter what. Believe me, I know, even just a tiny sliver of unsolicited advice or criticism is enough to turn any parent into your own personal Thanksgiving Nightmare.
Image: M. Bielanko
Your Ex 4 of 16
Don't talk about your ex. It's unsavory. Plus, no one cares. Seriously. If you have a new person in your life and that person is dining with you this holiday, then it goes without saying that even a single mention of your ex, good or bad, could result in a nuclear attack. And if you're still single after the big breakup, mentioning your ex will only solidify what everyone in your family is quietly murmuring to each other when you're out of earshot. That you're nuts and you're going to die alone.
Old Wounds 5 of 16
Chances are fairly good that, come Thanksgiving, there will be at least one or two relatives or acquaintances in the room who you have a less than wonderful history with. Everybody has that sort of thing. It's part of life. But don't have a couple cocktails and feel like the time is absolutely right to "work out old problems" because it really ain't. Nothing silences a crowd like hurling a bunch of filthy old bones on the dinner table. And if you're the one who does it, don't expect too many of your fellow diners to come running to your side. It'll be icy temps and averted eyes all around, I guarantee it.
Religion 6 of 16
This one's tricky because we've all had a few memorable, cool religion discussions around a bonfire with some open-minded people in our day. And it is entirely possible that even if you and your fellow Thanksgiving guests aren't on the same page, God-wise, you might still end up participating in an eye-opening round table about some spiritual wonders. Yet, you may also end up defending things that you believe against a bunch of people who don't agree with you and who don't know how to do that civilly, without telling you that you are a lost soul who is bound for a fiery Hell. That sounds pleasant, huh?
Image: M. Bielanko
Gun Control 7 of 16
For the love of all that is beautiful and majestic in this dilapidated world, no matter what your own personal feelings are on the subject, never ever ever bring up guns or any topic concerning them at the Thanksgiving dinner table unless: A) you are absolutely certain that you are alone; B) you are prepared to enter into a strange and lawless galaxy where even the most innocent of questions or ideas is something that could incite a dining room riot; or C) you wish to tangle with the painful fists of a certain drunk relative out on the cold, dark tundra of the front lawn.
Money 8 of 16
If you happen to have a banker uncle or a brother who works as an investor and he or she is eating alongside you on Thanksgiving then, by all means, feel free to seek advice and utilize their valuable knowledge when it comes to your own personal finances. However, beware the other kind of money talk; the kind that happens when people begin to tell other people what they SHOULD be doing with their money, or even worse, what they SHOULDN'T have done! Talking cash is a slippery slope, especially at a family gathering, because, let's be honest, if anyone present really knew a darn thing about money they'd be having their turkey dinner on board their yacht off the southern coast of France. But they're not, and neither are you.
Yourself 9 of 16
Judging by my own experience with my fellow humans recently, I'm going to go out on a limb here and declare that ever since the internet and email was born, people have more or less abandoned the long lost art of conversation in favor of something horrible and tragic. That's right, these days I'd say 85% of the adults I end of talking with on a daily basis never ever stop talking about themselves. They never ask you about 'you'. It's an epidemic, and chances are, if you're not infected with it, your neighbor is. So have meaningful talks with interesting people as much as you possibly can in this world. But don't think for a second that everyone listening to you babble on is just a wonderful listener. Because, in reality, they're often wishing that your tongue would just hurry up and fall out so they can start their next sentence.
Your Own Kids 10 of 16
Children are little precious blessings bestowed upon us by some higher power who loves us so much and knows we are exactly the kind of people who can live up the enormous responsibility that parenting requires. Yadda-yadda-yadda. Nothing bores people to actual instant death faster than some story or vignette about your kids that lasts more than a minute or two. Don't take it personally. Everyone knows you love your little ones and that you are very proud of them, but human nature is human nature and, unless you're in the rare company of some fellow parents who are seriously needing a bit of enlightenment from an old pro like yourself, just accept and understand that most people would rather listen to a chainsaw than endure a marathon of stories about your young.
Image: M. Bielanko
Your Medical Problems 11 of 16
I feel kind of goofy having to tell you this because everyone really, really wants you around for as long as possible; they want to see you next Thanksgiving and the one after that, and for at least nine more Thanksgivings until they are more or less sick of you and indifferent about whether you croak or not. However, please don't confuse anyone's silent empathy for whatever medical condition or problem you may be dealing with for a real down home, folksy eagerness to hear you wax poetically about your bunions or your STD rash or your deep-fried time bomb of a heart. Everyone needs a listener, of course, especially when we're scared or concerned, but the Thanksgiving dinner table surely isn't the right place or time.
Vegetarian Stuff 12 of 16
If you are a vegetarian, that's great. But remember it's probably best to keep your ethical or nutritional core values to yourself as much as possible at Thanksgiving even though it may be a little awkward for you, sitting just inches away from the half-devoured carcass of a very dead bird. LIKEWISE, if you are just another meat-eater, feeling empowered by the swollen ranks your fellow carnivores around whatever table you might find yourself on Thanksgiving, do us all a favor and avoid any in-depth commentary on what 'the vegetarian' is eating. That person could care less what you think about tofu or whatever. In fact, if you're lucky enough, they may let you try whatever it is they're enjoying, even if you won't have to share your precious drumsticks any time soon.
The Dinner in Front of You 13 of 16
Obviously, you are one of the nation's most revered 'foodies' and many, many people all over the globe love to tune in to see the wildly colorful photos of the most wonderful street food finds (a Lebanese food truck in Oklahoma City??!!) that you post on your Twitter or wherever. Congratulations ... you've arrived. Yet, unless you're the person who prepared most of the food spread out before you on Thanksgiving, by all means keep your highly valued thoughts about the gravy needing more salt to yourself. No one likes a know-it-all foodie. Not even other know-it-all-foodies. So, when you find yourself glancing at the turkey, and you begin to ask,"Is this a heritage hen?" do the right thing and just punch yourself in the cheek.
Image: M. Bielanko
Your Job 14 of 16
Hey, if you are A) the starting first baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, or B) the newest female cast member of the new Breaking Bad spinoff, or C) you won some kind of Nobel Prize in the last three years or so, or D) your name rhymes with 'Muhrock Olama', ... then it goes without saying that you ought to feel free to talk about your job and some of the schmoes you work with as much as you want this Thanksgiving. If none of the above applies to you though, just take another big old bite of candied yams whenever you get a hankering to talk about your job.
Other People’s Decisions 15 of 16
Here's a very simple truth about human beings. Human beings between the ages of, say, 11 and dead absolutely LOVE to second-guess their fellow human beings decisions in life, especially when said person's decisions resulted in anything but optimal results. If you don't ever fall into that category, good for you. Either way, on Thanksgiving, with your loved ones gathered around, steer very clear of playing armchair quarterback with this person's marital mess or your nephew's horrible grades. It kind of goes without saying, but no one ever wants to be publicly shamed or called out on what they should or shouldn't have done. Especially by you.
Drunk Talk 16 of 16
So you've had a great Thanksgiving so far. A little touch football with kids on the lawn, some 'interesting' talks with Uncle Teaparty. Now, you're enjoying your fifth glass of wine (or is this whiskey?!) and you're feeling quite loose, thank you very much! What's to stop you from bringing up some of these so-called 'forbidden' subjects we've been sorting through anyway? Bah! Humbug to this whole slideshow! You have a nice warm glow of coals inside your locomotive and you want to talk Obama Care, damn it! Don't do it. Use the last few drops of your faculties to go and get yourself a big fat slice of pie and take it in the living room and watch whatever is on in there. Now, close your eyes....there you go....it's been a looooong afternoon....and you're getting very,very sleeeeeeepy...
You can also find Serge on his personal blog, Thunder Pie.
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