What topics are off the table at Thanksgiving dinner?

A friend posted this story from The Onion about a family meeting using PowerPoint to determine what topics were safe to discuss at the holiday table.

From The Onion:

DELMAR, NY—In an effort to ensure a smooth and enjoyable dinner with their relatives, siblings Jason, Alyssa, and Leslie Conroy reportedly sat down together Tuesday evening for a PowerPoint presentation covering all of the conversation topics that will be off-limits during the family’s Thanksgiving gathering. “As you can see here, we’re unsure whether or not cousin Jessica is actually college-bound, so we’re going to avoid that subject and stick to the key talking points listed in this table,” said Alyssa Conroy, 26, during the siblings’ 48-slide presentation, which reportedly featured pie charts breaking down the state and national voting histories of extended family members, as well as Venn diagrams illustrating what each relative knows about their father’s upcoming surgery….”

(Please click the link. The rest is quite funny.)

So obviously this is a joke but probably not far off from the truth. Of course there are topics that families try to avoid during the holidays. So I am wondering:

  1. What family topics are OFF the table during the holidays? (Maybe it’s Obamacare? Here’s an article about how to win arguments about it.)
  2. How do you know what’s on or off the table? Is it a quick sibling meeting before the grandparents arrive or a quick phone call before you go to your parents’ house? Or do your parents tell you what not to say in front of the other relatives?
  3. Are there any signs or signals between spouses or other family members to alert them if they gone off the rails in topics?

40 comments Add your comment


November 22nd, 2013
6:15 am

Religion, politics, & insurance are not welcome. Especially if you want to promote Obamacare. chool grades of children…it just comes out as your need to brag. Past stupid actions-including previous relationships nobody liked or that at 17 you wrecked the car. Happy Thanksgiving!


November 22nd, 2013
6:16 am

My recent colonoscopy, for sure.


November 22nd, 2013
6:25 am

Stay safe. Just talk about the weather or home improvement/maintenance projects.

Duncan Hines

November 22nd, 2013
6:33 am

The Falcons.

Young Lady

November 22nd, 2013
7:18 am

Honestly there are no topics off limits at our house. But I know we’re not the norm in that we actually discuss everything.

Mother of 2

November 22nd, 2013
7:30 am

We can talk about pretty much anything, including politics. We don’t all agree, but have historically been able to manage polite debate about all sorts of sensitive topics. It’s important for us to show our kids how to have a discussion about any topic.

I actually respect the people who will be coming over for Thanksgiving, and enjoy hearing their opinions. I expect that Obamacare will be the primary topic of discussion this year.

I have a comment

November 22nd, 2013
7:42 am

No topics are off the table. We are family – we love, we argue, we disagree, we cry, we support….We are family. No outsider had better ever cross one of us because we might not be speaking at the moment but if you hurt one of us, you have us all on you like jelly on toast. That’s what family means.


November 22nd, 2013
7:44 am

What’s off the table for discussion? Mother Jane Goose


November 22nd, 2013
7:55 am

I don’t recall any “set” rules ever being established. Due to increased traffic, increased hassles, and a patience level being borderline non-existent I prefer to forego these family get-togethers during holiday time periods. We get together at other times of the year but the topics of conversation are what they are without limits unless something happens to get out of hand, I guess, but this has yet to occur.


November 22nd, 2013
7:55 am

Politics are NOT discussed at our table.


November 22nd, 2013
8:14 am

We talk about pretty much anything, but my son in law is very squeamish, so I try to stay away from anything that will make him gag.


November 22nd, 2013
8:15 am

We don’t talk about Aunt Louise’s loud wet flatulence; we quickly clear the room. And, then there is Cousin Ernie’s oozing puss wound on his neck that hasn’t healed in 15 years…we kind of got used to it.


November 22nd, 2013
8:16 am

Yeast infections would be a bad topic too.


November 22nd, 2013
8:17 am

I just keep my mouth shut. Everything goes faster that way.

Atlanta Mom

November 22nd, 2013
8:52 am

Politics are off the table at my house. And a look from me to my adult children (but they are only 21 and 22 ) will cease any discussion. This is important as they are very well read and they could have their cousins for breakfast on just about any political topic.


November 22nd, 2013
9:09 am

Nothing is off topic..We talk about anything and everything and if you don’t care for it, you just leave the room..


November 22nd, 2013
9:12 am

Religion and politics. My parents and I are polar opposites to my dad’s family in Alabama in both fields, especially the former.

ATL Born and Raised

November 22nd, 2013
9:31 am

Nothing is off-the-table. Fighting with each other is our favorite pasttime! Of course, Thanksgiving will consist of only me, my parents, and my brother since my father has declared our “outlaws” off-the-table for Thanksgiving. Much more pleasant without them, anyway.


November 22nd, 2013
9:53 am

My house, my rules. I allow anything until I sense that it is begining to stray into the area of making some uncomforatble or becoming an argument rather than a dicussion. If so, I shut it down immediately. I didn’t invite you over to listen to you fight. If you lack the basic manners to understand proper beahvior as guest and must fight, do it someplace else.


November 22nd, 2013
10:42 am

So, my younger brother and his family are coming. Religion and politics are off the table. We’re atheist. He and his family are Catholic. We’re liberal (not Democrats) and he and his family are conservative. And my brother’s not a well-read conservative. He’s a main stream media conservative. So, it’s impossible to have a discussion with him about politics because he gets too blustery. And then with religion he starts getting judgmental after a few beers. Lastly, he’s a physician and we’re scientists. My husband, specifically, does research into human physiology. My brother tends to think he knows more about human physiology than my husband and makes all kinds of crazy statements that aren’t supported by research. But, according to him, he’s the doctor and don’t we know how hard it was for him to get his medical degree. Of course he knows more.

(He’s not a “doctor”. He’s a physician. The word doctor means “to teach”. It applies more appropriately to professors and scientists. When’s the last time your physician actually taught you anything?)

Sorry, got on my soapbox for a second. Let me burn the damn thing.


November 22nd, 2013
11:36 am

Due to the viscious vitriole of the Tea Party members of the family they are having their own Thanksgiving since the moderate members of the family have declined to attend. Instead of 30 people there are less than 10. The rest of us are going to dinners at other family members.


November 22nd, 2013
12:16 pm

Religion is probably the only big one. 2nd would be politics.. but it is a distant 2. Totally agree with IRun in terms of her religious leanings, and the fact that people start getting a bit crazy after a few beers.


November 22nd, 2013
12:23 pm

I feel like a kid in a candy store knowing that I don’t have to be a part of my husband’s dysfunctional family dinner this year. Seriously, I did a happy dance when I found out that his parents are going to see his grandmother for Thanksgiving and we get to do our own thing.

My in-laws are crazy conservative Bible-thumpers who have no clue how dumb they sound when they start an argument. I am a Christian but some of the stuff that comes out of their mouths is the very reason Christians have such a bad rep and it simply makes me cringe. I will say though that most of the conflict is specifically about family members. We usually have turkey with a side of gossip and finish dinner with some good ol’ character bashing. Ahh such uplifting times. I can’t tell you how thankful I am to not have to be a part of that this year.


November 22nd, 2013
12:40 pm

I bought vodka for the feast. At least that can mellow out some folks. LOL


November 22nd, 2013
1:22 pm

My husband never gets the “hint” when I try to throw him a signal or mouth something to him, he makes it SO obvious! UGHH….most times it’s about the size & amount of my step-dad’s Thanksgiving plate, it’s usually piled high & running over & we all laugh (behind his back of course) how do I get my husband to get the hint of the inside joke? I’m going to tell him what my “signals” are before we get there this time!!


November 22nd, 2013
2:34 pm

kt—exactly talk to him before hand and let him in on the joke. Although somehow I am feeling bad for your step-dad in this situation.

Did anyone see The Big Bang Theory last night? Found that Thanksgiving to be quite entertaining.


November 22nd, 2013
2:51 pm

Kids that are failing. The reason we don’t talk about any child that is not doing well academically or as a young adult (not working) is because we have a large family and when everyone gets on it the person in question feels ganged up on. Imagine being 10 and all the adults in the family are harping on why you are sucking at math or “My god how can you NOT be passing English?”. Of course then the parents get defensive cause their child is feeling attacked. Sooo we don’t discuss it unless it is specifically brought up by the parent or the young adult in question. By young adult I mean the 18 and over crowd. When I was a kid, my cousin got retained in the 5th grade. You would have thought she robbed a bank with all the fussing that went on when the rest of the family realized she was in the same grade she was in the year before.

Hidden Agenda

November 22nd, 2013
4:32 pm

LBJ’s, Nixon’s, the CIA’s, and “Poppy” Bush’s involvement in the assassination of JFK. Oh wait, that’s actually all I’m planning on talking about.


November 22nd, 2013
5:12 pm

You talk at the Thanksgiving table??? Other than pass the sweet potato souffle??? What a concept!


November 22nd, 2013
5:22 pm

Wow…I am talked about even when I am not on the blog. HAHA!

We only have five of us and thus we can talk about pretty much anything. We do try to curtail my husband when he gets carried away with his Obama stories. Any eye roll works. Luckily, there is not much we can’t talk about with our kids. Things are different in our extended family though. Some are VERY opinionated and they do not like it if anyone crosses their ideas. My Dad is one of them. We were down, for a visit, this summer and he was saying something that was not exactly correct. My daughter is very sweet. She said, “Actually no Grandpa that is not true.” He did not take it well. I thought it was kind of funny, the way she approached it. She has spent less than 3 days in her life, with her Grandparents and not us. She does not know the ying and yang and she thought she should correct him. Not true….haha!


November 22nd, 2013
9:16 pm

We talk about everything. We are family.


November 23rd, 2013
1:43 am

We don’t talk about everything. We are family. ;)

I think we all have a pretty good idea of where we disagree, particularly on political and theological issues (we’re all Methodists but still disagree on certain hot button issues the church is working through). We love each other despite our differences and stick with safer topics so we can better enjoy our time together. We don’t see each other enough to spend that precious time arguing or pushing each others’ buttons.

Road Scholar

November 23rd, 2013
8:19 am

We talk about anything but show some manners and better judgement! Maybe keeping the excessive booze off the table may lead to less arguing!


November 23rd, 2013
8:53 am

I love the scenes in Sleepless in Seattle about this same idea–filling someone in on the people at the dinner table, and talking about forbidden subjects.


November 23rd, 2013
8:56 am

MJG, I have taught my kids to say, “Really? That sure hasn’t been MY experience!” With a wide-eyed, astonished look.


November 23rd, 2013
8:58 am

FCM, I loved it, too!


November 23rd, 2013
9:43 am

Ha! We talk about any and everything. I don’t always see eye to eye with my parents on politics (they are die hard democrats, but I can respect their position). They don’t get me either. Especially since I voted for Bush (shhh…..nobody understands how I could’ve done such a thing lol). Anyway, we have fun. We are people of faith. We can discuss religion, but rarely do. We do enjoy talking about the kids, life, and now that I have a 2 year old, we’ll be chasing and discussing her a lot:)!


November 24th, 2013
7:29 am

RJ, and rest assured some of the family will talk behind your back about how spoiled your child is, why isn’t she potty trained, and how a good spanking would end her running around! Just be prepared! LOL


November 24th, 2013
1:45 pm

The Onion is a satirical website. It’s not meant to be taken seriously.

Apple Pie Lady

November 25th, 2013
4:53 am

We don’t have to worry about ever going to our youngest son’s house for Thanksgiving.We don’t have enough money for them to want us around. They are afraid that their children might see what common people look like and that we drive a 2001 Civic. Last Christmas we were allowed 2 hours of their time 2 weeks before Christmas and they picked us up so their friends wouldn’t see our car parked there. The kids threw their gifts in the trash when they thought we wasn’t looking.Hadn’t been back since.