Even in the best of times, Thanksgiving can be a fraught family affair. With the election like we just had, expect extra helpings of relentless gloating mixed with unrestrained rage.
Now, more than ever, let's give thanks to Friendsgiving, the refuge for those of us able to opt out of our annual family cage matches.
But in the wake of such a divisive election, even Friendsgiving could get ugly if the table conversation veers into the "political minefield," Margaret Kimbrell, executive director of the bipartisan organization No Labels, said by phone. "People really need to take special care. It's a delicate time."
Within that challenge lies the opportunity to make Friendsgiving a moment for healing, action and, of course, gratitude. Here's how.
Pop your filter bubble. No, Facebook is not responsible for dividing the country. But if we're honest with ourselves, we can't deny we tend to surround ourselves with people and opinions that reinforce our positions and beliefs. (And why not — it's warm and cozy in the bubble!) In the spirit of getting outside your comfort zone and rethinking your own assumptions, invite friends who don't necessarily share the same viewpoints. Without the emotional baggage of family ties, there's a better chance you'll actually have a civil conversation.
Establish rules of engagement. Give civility an even better chance — and keep the conversation from going completely off the rails — by setting some ground rules. For example, forbid blanket insults or the use of finger-pointing phrases like "you people!" Encourage everyone — yourself included — to take a timeout if they feel themselves getting worked up over something someone says. "The keyword to remember throughout your conversations is empathy," Kimbrell said. "You have to understand where people are coming from."
Focus on the food! After all, our shared love comforting foods is one of the most powerfully unifying things about gathering for the holidays. And since Friendsgiving is often about enjoying foods that aren't traditional Thanksgiving fare, pick a unifying theme — say, Hogwarts feast — and challenge your guests to contribute a potluck dish. Or better yet, invite everyone over to prepare the meal together.
Focus on others. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have access to a full holiday spread — there's an estimated 6.8 million kids between the ages of 10 and 17 years old who struggle to have enough to eat. On a day like Friendsgiving, when you joke about wearing pants with an elastic waistband, consider sponsoring a family by having everyone bring extra food or money to dinner. Check out Family-to-Family to find your best giving option.
Put all those hands to good use by signing up your entire Friendsgiving crew for a group volunteering session at a local homeless shelter or food bank. What's better than spending quality time with each other while simultaneously helping your community? Check out the National Coalition for the Homeless to find a local shelter.
Winter is coming, so have your guests bring an old jacket or blanket sitting in the back of their closet. By doubling your Friendsgiving dinner as a coat or blanket drive, you can help those less fortunate stay warm in the upcoming months. One Warm Coat gives you six easy steps for hosting a coat drive, and your local chapter of Project Linus can take your blankets.
Be thankful. Sometimes we need to be reminded of how fortunate we are. Ask everyone to share their thoughts about something they're grateful for. The opportunity to share a delicious meal surrounded by the people we cherish is just one of them.