T-Day Tactics: Family Wars

No way is this accurate. It’s too cold in New England to be outside.

Some people I know go home to sad, small Thanksgivings, with just their immediate family and pet guinea pig. Others sit alone in the Blue Room with a cold turkey sandwich.

Those people are incredibly lucky. My family is the equivalent of a swarm of locusts, descending upon my small home in Virginia to parasitically consume all our food. We always have 20+ family members populating our home on Thanksgiving, eating and talking and arguing. When your family grows so large they form their own gravitational field, there’s bound to be inter-familial strife.

And no one knows this better than me. My family comes from all walks of White America, from yuppies to military brats to country hicks and hipsters. We have Christians and Buddhists, Hindus and atheists. My family has grown so large that my grandmother has a great-great grandchild. That’s my second cousin twice removed. I’m still not sure what the difference is between “removed” and “second” cousin, so I just threw them both in there for good measure. In short, my family’s insane. 

So I’ve developed some helpful tactics for dealing with them:

1. Getting seated at the kids table: At every large familial Thanksgiving, there is always a kid’s table. The problem occurs when all the kids grow up and you’re still sitting at the kid’s table. I am one of the youngest cousins in my family, so at twenty I sit at the kids’ table with my sister and my cousins’… babies. And while babies do make my uterus go all aflutter, they’re really not the most amazing conversation starters. Also, their tiny baby hands kind of freak me out. They’re just so small. 

I always bring a textbook. It doesn’t sound fun. But school book reading goes really well with mashed potatoes. This year, I’m reading What’s the Matter with Kansas?, a critique of conservatism in America. So far it’s very interesting. And it definitely pisses the Republicans in my family off.

2. Vegetarians: Seriously?! You’re not going to eat the turkey? On Thanksgiving?! Now that’s just un-American. If you don’t eat your turkey, the terrorists win.

Now, my family doesn’t do Tofurkey or any of that wimpy shit. Tofurkey is for pussies. We make a special vegan lasagna. And every year, I lace it with a tiny bit of ground-up turkey. Because again, this is America.

Wrap your turkey in bacon.

When the vegeterians get whiny, we break this out.

3. Politics: Like every other good American family, my family has its own healthy chapter of right-wing nutjobs  Christian conservatives. This leads to a good deal of arguments on Facebook about who’s a “Sandra Fluke slut seeking free contraception” versus an “unmedicated wingnut seeking to control the uterus and repress the female orgasm.” But on Thanksgiving, much like the Pilgrims and Indians Native Americans, the liberals and the conservatives can join together and eat a turkey, right?

Wrong. One of our favorite family videos, mixed in with baby tapes and weddings, is a long, fifteen-minute argument between two members of my family accusing each other of being a “brainwashed Fox News truculent ignoramus who went torture-trigger-happy in Guantanamo” and “a tax-happy, hedonistic lib who worships Obama as a messiah.” Obviously, these sort of arguments are to be avoided at all costs. There’s only one way to do it. Which brings me to…

4. Football: For some reason, everybody glazes over when the football goes on. I looked up the football times. If you care (which I don’t):

  • Houston Texans vs. Detroit Lions, 12:30.
  • Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys, 4:30.
  • New England Patriots vs. New York Jets, 8:30.

Yeah sportsball! While some of my family loves the footgames, I don’t, but I’ve found that TV is the Great Equalizer. Watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Put on some Disney. Nothing is more American than children’s consumer culture. And anything’s better than actually having to talk to each other.

5. Games: My family is ultra-competitive. We like to win. When I was seven, I remember my uncle beating me at checkers… and rubbing it in my face until I cried. But I don’t resent him. It made me stronger. It made me a winner.

We play foosball, ping-pong, chess, and our annual T-Day softball game. I have only one piece of advice: make sure to pick the winning team. There’s no such thing as a friendly game. Games are not fun. There’s a reason Thanksgiving isn’t a French holiday.

6. So you go to Brown? Does that mean you’re a lesbian? My grandmother is oft fond at looking at me and saying sadly, “Cara doesn’t have a boyfriend. But that’s because she goes to Brown. They’re all lesbians at Brown.” You can handle the perception that you’re a THC-toting, latte-loving, quinoa-eating, sapphic liberal in one of two ways: admitting the truth or getting defensive. I prefer admitting the truth. The look on your family members’ faces when you tell them about SexPowerGod is priceless.

7. Multicultural Mix: My American family seems to have a penchant for Europeans. My uncles (and my father) all married them. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always translate to the rest of the family. On my mother’s first Thanksgiving, a cousin came up to her and asked: “Do people eat tomatoes in Germany?”

My mother is British.

Cultural insensitivity aside, one thing’s for sure: Europeans got nothing on our American Thanksgiving. My British family reunions of tea, walks, and corgis pale in comparison to the chaos of T-Day. I’d say that we should try to accommodate the European members of my family, but hey: this is America. Suck it up and eat the turkey.

8. The Questions: I believe Ariel Pick did a fantastic job of covering this last year.

9. Religion: Every year, my family has their Annual Existential Religion Debate. It gets old. Real fast. If your family starts arguing about religion or the like, seriously back David Icke’s Reptoid Hypothesis: the theory that lizard people run the world. Nothing brings people to their senses like a crazy nutjob.


Nothing makes you want to pop a xanax more than family. But by the end of the day, everybody will have consumed so much turkey (or turkey-laced lasagna) that they’ll be too full to argue, talk, or care. That’s the real secret, folks. So break out your maternity eating pants, and get ready to have a food baby.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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