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Don’t Be That Guy This Thanksgiving

You’re getting together for a nice meal with your family. Just be normal.

America is facing a crisis. Families are going to have Thanksgiving together this year.

Nobody wants to admit that “we may die of Covid” was a better excuse for not getting together last year than “I’m stuck in O’Hare.” Nobody wants to admit that chicken tenders from the microwave and a Friends marathon was actually more fun and way less stressful than cooking a mutant breasted 27 pound bird for 12 hours only to find that it was still a little under done. Even the worst Friends episodes were better than Grandpa Mark’s retelling of the War of 1812 or whatever he was talking about after four Amarettos.

It is thus little surprise that seven out of ten young Americans prefer “Friendsgiving” to Thanksgiving with the fam. Surveys show two out of five young people anticipate biting their tongue during Thanksgiving dinner. It is unclear if they mean holding back on saying something or are actually looking forward to self-inflicted pain as a way to get through the day.

No, this year, because of the Thanksgiving Mandate, it could get ugly. This year it’s family of origin, not family of choice. Here are some survival tips.

For Everyone: Anything with three letters is off-limits: AOC, SNL, NFL, BLM, CRT, CNN, Fox, Joe, vax. Same for anyone known just by a single name: Kyle, Karen, Fauci, Beto, Greta, Brandon, Pete, #, Maddow, Hannity, and unless you have immediate family named “George” or “Floyd,” just no. Same with Loudoun County, unless you actually live there and even then it’s weather only.

Anyone without an advanced degree in the subject cannot discuss how supply lines, inflation, vaccines, or masks work. Microbiology in general is banned as dinner table conversation. Same for anything to do with law in Texas, Atlas Shrugged, Handmaid’s Tale, and 1984. Nobody reads To Kill a Mockingbird or Tom Sawyer now anyway, we just heard about the racist parts somewhere, so skip those, too.

For Younger People: This would be a good time to admit your old man was right when he told you for four years democracy was not dying in darkness, Trump was never going to set up labor camps for LGBTQ illegal immigrant POC refugees, and a few Nazi cosplayers with tiki torches were not the same as Kristallnacht. Set some boundaries for yourself. You are allowed only one eye roll and one snarky remark per holiday gathering, such as when your dad says, “So Trump wasn’t so bad after all” you can reply, if you must, “Neither was Hitler—at first.” But that’s it. 

Also youngsters, just let the heaving carcass of the turkey sit untouched on your plate; do not say “I guess no one remembers—again—I’m vegan.” Your parents haven’t seen you in a year, so ease them into that additional ink you spent your stimulus check on. Remember, for your parents your Medusa tattoo is to them what their Trump vote was to you. Save announcements regarding trans anything for later.

If you play nice on all those things you are allowed one bonus exchange over pronouns. And put your phone down. Do not fact check your parents in real time. Spend time not being offended. Pretend it’s organic or keto or paleo enough, Gwyneth Paltrow will forgive you. Basically, lighten up for an afternoon. Accept that your personal life is a side dish for this meal, so have a plan to deal with that. Edibles are a better idea than taking the dog for her fifth long walk of the afternoon.

Psychiatrists tell us traditions and rituals help sustain happiness and family bonds. Remember, Detroit losing and someone making light fun of anything that combines the words marshmallow and salad is a tradition. Calling your parents fascist-AF-misogynist-racists is generally not, even though you did it last year over Facetime. Same with ironic “I’m thankful statements,” so no to “I’m thankful the patriarchy didn’t murder Colin Kaepernick this year.”

Similarly, there is no need to remind the table that “kids in the third world are starving while we eat ourselves into a coma again, I hope everyone is enjoying dessert. I’m not.” Thanks in advance for not introducing the colonialist roots of Thanksgiving and the genocide of the Wampanoag tribe to your younger nieces and nephews over at the kids table. If you can’t handle when grace is being said, just close your eyes and think about how funny Pete Davidson almost is. Also, sorry, 1/6 did not change the world.

For Older Folks: Sorry, 1/6 did not change the world. Set some boundaries for yourself. Only one Dad Joke (suggestion: What did Yoda say when he saw himself in 4K? HDMI.) You are allowed two “I told you so”-s about Russiagate among like-thinking adults before the kids arrive from the airport, and only one in front of the kids. Be magnanimous in victory; serve avocados. Put them on everything. Millennials love avocados. Sigh and accept that your kids do not know any history predating Obama. Just let go of any pop culture references you do not understand.

One exception is Pete Davidson. If any of your children can explain why he is a celebrity, write down their answer and share it with others of us olds. Don’t panic, however, if they retort with, “So you explain why your generation thought Jack Black was funny.” Just be the bigger guy and say that no one knows. 

“When are you going to get a real job?” is better stated as “So, your Cousin Mandy said Indeed was a good way to find work in her field, but then again she studied engineering.” Don’t ask “Are you dating anyone?” unless you’re prepared to know more than you really want to know about pansexuality and fluidity over a carb-heavy meal. Instead, try and make your kids feel at home: Use terms like fulfilled, give back, and impactful, and say “research” to mean Googling something. Don’t claim music was better in your day. It was. Your kids will come around to admitting it in a few years but let that slide this holiday season.

For Everyone: For good golly’s sake, remember, they’re your kids. They’re your parents. Kids do stuff, probe boundaries, overreact thinking they’re the first young person ever to notice the Constitution uses only male pronouns, and think podcasts make them experts. Your parents mean well, mis-abled as they are having grown up without social media and irony. They’re good kids. They will figure out the people on late-night TV are comedians, not prophets, well before your second stroke. Your parents tried hard, packed you horrible lunches they thought were nutritious, and thought they were doing the right thing not letting you have the car that night.

Thanksgiving is just one meal built around food nobody likes enough to eat twice a year. It’s a Ron holiday, one for the fun Trans-Am Uncle Joe, so save witchy Nancy and the necro-animated Joe for another date and cut everyone some slack. You never know, next year you might not get to see them. Make it count and save the culture wars for the next phone call.

Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.

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