Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Surviving Holiday Season 2016

The prevailing mood going into the Holiday Season 2016 is, perhaps, best summed up by a current ad for Stove Top stuffing that warns: "If you run out of stuffing, they'll start talking politics..."

Never has this warning carried more weight than in the wake of a long, bitter presidential race that divided many families in the process of polarizing the nation.

I see it all around me.

A brother and sister are so at odds over the campaigns and the election -- he was for Hillary, she for Trump -- that, as much as they love each other otherwise, they can't imagine getting together over the Thanksgiving feast.

Another friend, horrified that her elderly parents voted for Trump, is torn over holiday plans. "Every holiday, I'm afraid it will be their last. Even though I'm really mad at them, I want to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with them. I'm just trying to figure out how to make it a nice day for everyone when there is still so much anger between us."

A close friend of mine has been angry with his three siblings, all Trump supporters, and is estranged from one brother who is still not speaking to him even after the election. Is an extended family holiday celebration on his calendar? Not likely.

Other families are planning for Thanksgiving dinner with all the kin -- and, while hoping for the best, are bracing themselves for more than the usual family fireworks.

If you're part of a family divided by the contentious election of 2016, how can you deal with the quickly upcoming holidays in a way that doesn't create more anger and resentment?

First you need to make a decision. Do you want to celebrate the holidays together, despite your differences and fears of a politically-inspired family donnybrook? Do you want to have a calm, quiet
Thanksgiving while leaving Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza and/or New Year's open? Do you want to spend the whole Holiday Season 2016 with quiet, scaled down celebrations?

If you're planning to host or attend a traditional, all-family-inclusive Thanksgiving celebration:

  • Consider requesting a moratorium on political discussion. In extending or accepting invitations, request that conversation steer clear of political grumbling or gloating, concentrating on fun family memories, feelings of gratitude and acts of kindness. Or, as a diversionary tactic, bring back games. Haul Trivial Pursuits out of storage. Play cards or charades. Try a family songfest. Head to the back yard for some touch football or catch. Watch football or parades on television together. Do anything but continue to argue about Trump vs. Clinton.
  • Think about taking your family celebration to a restaurant this year. This may lead to more polite, civilized behavior among family members. In suggesting this alternative, you might say that this has been a hard year for everyone and that giving all a break from cooking and cleanup might be just the thing for a more harmonious holiday. 
  • Be kind. Being kind may mean listening without arguing or putting differences aside by expressing love and pleasure in being together. If your candidate won, save your exaltation for like-minded friends. If your candidate lost, save your horror and fears of impending disaster for a more receptive audience of friends. Tread gently with family. 
  • Put love first. As much as you may disagree with certain family members, give them a break. In so many ways in the past, we've made allowances for family members for differences, for  eccentricities or  signs of sheer madness, for quirks that may or may not be endearing. So why not now? Let your love for each other prompt all of your words and actions this holiday.

If you're planning to postpone family get-togethers until later in the holiday season:

  • Be specific about future plans.  If you can't bear the idea of Thanksgiving, but think you might be up for a Christmas Eve or earlier tree-trimming family party, share your plans so that family members will know that you're not removing yourself from family celebrations long-term.
  • If you're having a Thanksgiving dinner, plan carefully.  It isn't in the interests of family harmony to invite only people with whom you agree politically. Either announce and follow through with plans for a simple immediate, nuclear family celebration or with a dinner with or even a holiday getaway with friends. Don't set the tone for further family polarization by inviting some extended family but not others. 
  • Let extended family know you're thinking of them. A card or note wishing them a happy Thanksgiving and talking of your desire to see them at a specific later date can help to smooth ruffled feelings and keep you in touch with each other.
  • Put love first. Though you may be opting out of a full-family Thanksgiving, choosing to stay away for the time being, express your love for family members --those who agree with you and those who disagree -- with a note, a phone call or text, letting each person know that you love and value them.

If you're planning to have a quiet Holiday Season 2016 either alone or with only immediate family:

  • Let extended family know that this isn't forever.  It may be that you will choose to skip the more rambunctious family gatherings well into the future. But it's hard to know. This year has been such a contentious, divisive one. Feelings are still raw. What you know for sure is that you need a rest from the usual this year. Next year may be different. Or not. But focus on more immediate intentions: to get a rest from what has been an unusually difficult year for everyone.
  • Make the holiday special for yourself (and immediate family if applicable). Do something you've always wanted to do but never could when hosting or attending large family holidays. Spend the day at the movies or indulge in old or new favorites via Netflix. Volunteer to serve meals to the needy through your church or a local charity. Take a last minute trip. Visit and celebrate with friends who are at a distance from their families -- either geographically or emotionally. Spend a day of total indulgence: sleep in, then spend the day reading or watching the Macy's parade followed by football. Eat out or get take-out. Call a friend you haven't seen for awhile -- someone who is likely to be alone on the holiday as well. Go for a nice long walk. Cuddle a beloved pet. 
  • Keep in touch with family. Thanksgiving and Christmas cards are easy, fairly neutral, ways to stay in touch. Add a personal note expressing only love. Or send a brief text, sharing your love and best wishes for the holiday.
  • Use time alone to make peace with what is. Chances are, you will always disagree on politics and many other topics with certain family members. Putting aside your differences for a moment, think about what you value about the other person and how you can better keep him or her in your life without making yourself crazy. If you can't think of any reason this person isn't totally crazy-making, give it a rest for a time and come back to this question. If you repeatedly come up blank on redeeming features and reasons to get together, you may well need to maintain a healthy, manageable distance from the other --at least for a time. 
  • Put love first. Whenever possible, let love guide you in your words and actions. This may mean swallowing hard and saying "I'm sorry." It may mean enduring some tedious family gatherings in the future -- one hopes when everyone has calmed down a bit -- in the interest of being part of a diverse, unpredictable, sometimes messy and rambunctious extended family with a long history of love.

Whether you spend this Thanksgiving with the whole family or postpone festivities until later in the season or opt to spend this particular holiday season away from large family gatherings, keep in mind that the people you love -- even if you're at odds with them at the moment -- are much more important than who won -- or didn't win -- this election. Presidential terms end and fade into history. But family and love are forever.