Thanksgiving is one of the great American holidays, a time dedicated to the deliberate expression of gratitude to the Lord for this country and our many blessings.
If you’re like my wife, Jean, you’ve been shopping and preparing the last few days. Perhaps you’ve cleared your house of extra clutter, wiped the fingerprints off the fridge and aired out the stuffy guest room. The serving platters are out of storage and your overnight guests might even be on their way.
And while it all seems to be arranged, there is one more thing to prepare for: the Thanksgiving Day meal itself.
But I don’t mean cooking the turkey … I mean the actual sitting down and talking.
Sadly, conversation is an art form some individuals and families have slowly lost over the years. Part of it has to do with fewer households eating together as a family due to busy schedules. Another reason is that so many of us are succumbing to the temptation to bring our smartphones and tablets to the table.
Whatever the case may be, you’ll likely soon find yourself seated around the table with loved ones, perhaps including a few friends and maybe even some distant relatives you only see once or twice a year. Are you tired of the same small talk each year … the weather, football and aches and ailments?
If that’s the case, here are a few tips to help kick start meaningful conversation around the table:
1. Ask Some Great Questions
Conversation is like playing catch with a ball. It only works if the object is tossed back and forth. If you never throw, it’s not a catch. Nor is it a catch if you hold onto it after it’s been thrown to you. As you think through what questions or topics to include in your list, consider your family’s personality. Goofy, lighthearted clans might enjoy silly “would you rather” type of questions sure to incite laughter. More serious families might appreciate recounting some of their more significant experiences that year. No matter what the family’s temperament, the old Thanksgiving standby is always a good idea: What are you thankful for?
The Internet is full of sites with suggested conversation topics and questions. You might want to look up phrases like “icebreaker questions,” “conversation starters” and even “first date questions” in your search engine.
2. Put Down The Phone
As I alluded to earlier, techie gadgets can sometimes create an invisible barrier between us and others. Other times we use them as a “safety net” – bored? Check Facebook. Things get tense? Hide in your email. Is it absolutely necessary to post or tweet a picture of that plate of turkey and stuffing while you’re at the table?
My suggestion is to take the temptation away. Perhaps you want to set a basket in the next room where guests can place their devices. Or maybe you want to make a game of it – first one to check their device has to help clean up or gets to pay for the next day’s stop at the coffee shop.
3. Step Carefully Around Controversy
Perhaps the challenge you’re encountering doesn’t have anything to do with a lack of conversation, but with too much tension when there is talk. Some families struggle when it comes to topics like religion and politics. Sometimes parents are wrestling with poor decisions their children have made – or the other way around.
If you’re hoping there’s a subject folks will tiptoe around, here are two suggestions:
- Talk with your friends and family beforehand and ask them to observe a “truce” during your time together. While things like faith and interpersonal relationships are certainly important topics, Thanksgiving fellowship may not be the best time to discuss them if they’re likely to induce hard feelings.
- If someone launches into a stump speech for their favorite candidate, do your best to withhold a judgmental response, pro or con. Saying something like, “I can see you care passionately about this” or “That’s very interesting” is a diplomatic but polite response. Just remember, you’re not going to save the world or likely change their mind by debunking or rebuking a personal opinion. Relax. Smile.
4. Don’t Expect Perfection
It’s okay if your Thanksgiving meal isn’t reminiscent of Norman Rockwell’s iconic “Freedom from Want” painting. Some years are just harder than others. Maybe it’s your first time around the table without a loved one who has passed away, or perhaps the family is reeling from the shock of bad news. Or maybe you have a rowdy toddler who screeches or likes to hide cranberry sauce in the seat cushions.
Set realistic expectations for your Thanksgiving meal. Focus on simply being together and giving each other grace. Not every year has to be a “good” time, after all. There is meaningfulness in walking together through hardships. So if your family has lost someone dear, don’t avoid talking about them – oftentimes, that can be therapeutic. If someone is going through a difficult personal situation, don’t be afraid to ask them what they need most.
5. Pray and Give Thanks!
Give the day, and the meal, to the Lord. Take a moment right now, or tomorrow morning, to pause and ask God for His presence to reign over your time together as a family. Ask for Him to intervene between family members who’ve hit a rough patch, or to guide the conversation. So many times we try to do everything right, yet we forget that our best efforts will often fall short without His blessing.
It’s my hope and prayer that, no matter how your Thanksgiving Day ultimately goes, you will sense God’s presence and love. As Christians we know that we can have thankful hearts despite dashed expectations or in the midst of trials, so I encourage you to look to Him as the source of all blessings and comfort.
And if you have any other suggestions on how to make Thursday’s mealtime pleasant and significant, please let me know in the comments section. Also, what are you thankful for this year? Write it down and share it with our online community. Your openness might very well help remind someone else to express gratitude for the very same thing.
And for more tips, download our free guide, “Helpful Hints for Holiday Struggles.” It’s designed to help you navigate common family conflicts with love, grace and the spirit of the season.
From the Daly house to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!