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What to Argue About with Your Family this Holiday Season

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This was supposed to be a light-hearted article about what to argue about with your family and friends through the holiday season now that there’s no need to argue about politics anymore. Well, so much for that.

Realistically speaking, non-political discussions are fun, but when things really get going, they don’t stand a chance. As Aristotle claimed, we are political animals, so no matter what you talk about, things will turn to politics sooner or later.

Most of us could write a detailed manual on how to deal with the lethal cocktail of family, friends, political opinions and alcohol. Here’s just a quick reminder: some things are worth standing up for, some things are not. Decide what matters to you, then stick to it and don’t apologize. You might be willing to make concessions for your great aunt Ethel who wishes that her immigrant caregiver “spoke English”, but not for your cousin’s husband who canvassed for Brexit and launches into Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech after two drinks. (Hey, us internationals have issues, too.) It gets complicated when the said husband is also the father of your godchild, and only you can decide whether it’s time to cut losses and move on. Families, they aren’t easy.

Once this is dealt with, you can move on to less overtly political, but highly combustible topics. Such as food.

There are few things that piss people off so much as criticizing their food choices. Think about it: vegan or paleo? What needs to be organic? The latest superfoods. That relative who considers herself the authority on vitamin D deficiency, because she’s read (or worse, written!) an article about it for the local paper. The endless debates on healthy fats.

The politics of food is fascinating and frightening. We would strongly suggest you find issues you can agree on, for example: food must be produced locally. This might alienate the pesky in-law who must have everything organic and is au currant with all the latest anti-oxidants, but isn’t really all that concerned about the circumstances in which her organic food has been produced and seems blissfully oblivious to the fact that her fruit salad has a carbon footprint of a small African country. If that’s the only casualty, consider yourself lucky.


image from the Daily Mail

Health is another good topic to argue about, but it can ultimately prove to be more deadly to the family fabric than straight up politics. Because just about everything about health is political – healthy lifestyle is closely associated with access to services, employment status, access to water, education. Instead of getting at each other’s throats (thus creating a potentially life-threatening situation) do something positive: start a family tradition of donating blood every holiday season, volunteer in a crisis centre, make a donation to an organization that provides health care for low income persons and those without insurance.

Season’s greetings. Yes, that one. Inevitably, every year, the internets will fill up with complaints from people who claim other people are stealing Christmas. (Perhaps some other holiday, too, but mostly Christmas.) Our best advice? Ignore them. Instead, take advantage of learning about traditions from other cultures that you don’t already know. While you’re at it, make sure you’re learning and celebrating rather than appropriating. The line is sometimes very very thin. Best to follow the old “when in doubt, consult the minority concerned” adage, relax, and enjoy. If people want to pick up a fight, gently remind them it’s not about political correctness, it’s about equality and respect.

Finally, music. (‘Tis the season to be jolly, after all.) Avoid the most politically engaged bands, and you’ve given yourselves hours of fun, sing-alongs and games. Best of all? It ‘s a topic that can easily be adapted to include all generations and all walks of life. Practice with us: So, Grandma: the Beatles or the Stones?

Happy holiday season!

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Barbara S

Barbara S