If you've come to dread family get-togethers over the holiday season, you're not alone. Sometimes all it takes to turn a delicious meal into a sour moment is one word.
Perhaps all family get-togethers should have someone at the door checking the emotional baggage and reminding people not to be critical or judgmental. There are just some things that shouldn't be said at the festive table. Don't belittle anyone; there is no need to tell someone that the past year's misfortunes were his fault. And don't tell her that her divorce was something that you saw coming right from the beginning. No matter how strongly you feel, you don't have the right to tell your cousin and his wife that they are raising their children incorrectly. Talking of children, by all means congratulate your grandchild who made the school honor roll. But do not ask the one grandchild why she wasn't smart enough.
Holiday dinners are perfect opportunities to brag about your spouse's job promotion and welcome congratulations. After not seeing many of your family members for a year it's nice to bring everyone up to date. But give others the time and attention for bragging rights about their own accomplishments. Be sure to include everyone in the conversation without making it a competition, and don't gossip about anyone else. Even if you know someone's big secret, it is not your place to discuss it.
If a heated political discussion breaks out, ruining the dinner for everyone around the table, don't get sucked in. Have some less-divisive topics in mind to start a different conversation. A few other topics that are wise to stay away from include religion, personal money matters, intimacy, detailed and personal health matters and age. As with any police conversation, forget ethnic jokes, derogatory sexist remarks and insults about someone's disability. If you are the target of negative comments, stay calm and change the topic; don't feed into someone else's need to be a bully. Watch your language, too. Even adults may not want to hear the saltier descriptions of your life, and children don't need to hear that, either.
Another tip for a healthy and happy holiday dinner: Lose the cellphone. Unless you are a doctor on call or need to be contacted urgently, there is no reason you can't wait to pick up messages after the meal is over. Don't sit at the table playing games or reading Facebook messages while the rest are trying to have a fun family discussion. If you are one of those emergency on-call doctors or are in charge of your town's security, or such, and your phone does ring, politely excuse yourself from the table and take the call in the other room quickly and quietly.
The Etiquette Scholar website says the four steps to successful dinnertime conversation are stop, look, listen and watch. Stop and think before talking. Look your conversation partner in the eyes while you talk. Listen to what he/she has to say. Watch the other person's reactions while you speak.
Focusing on others is the whole point of the holiday season. And by utilizing these steps, you'll pave the way for fun, festive and stress-free family dinner.