Navigating Thanksgiving dinner with family requires tact, careful consideration

Thanksgiving might not be accompanied by catchy tunes or the sponsorship of an iconic patron saint, but it is a holiday centered on food, and you really can’t go wrong with that. We all have our favorite dishes that we look forward to because, for some odd reason, it just doesn’t seem right trying to recreate them any other time of the year.

It is this enormous feast, however, that can be a cause of worry for many college students reluctant to discuss their college experiences. The idea of communion abounds on this day — communion here meaning the exchange of food and love and all of that good stuff that makes our stomachs full and our eyes drowsy. On this November holiday, we share a table with close friends and family in a display of kinship and gratitude.

When you think about it, though, more than just food is  shared. The communal aspect of the Thanksgiving meal invites us to share with others ideas and thoughts along with stuffing and cranberry sauce. For this reason, going home for Thanksgiving break invites the dreaded question: “So what have you been up to all semester?”

This query spells danger for various reasons, all of which depend on the individual. Maybe you don’t want to tell everybody how your classes are extremely difficult and no matter how much you try, you just can’t seem to get a grade that meets your high standards. Or, it could be that you’ve been engaging in less-than-academic behavior that just doesn’t constitute acceptable table talk. It’s also possible you’re considering switching majors from something concrete and legitimate-sounding to a field of study that’s more abstract and less reassuring to the scrutinizing parental checkbook.

There’s no need to worry, though. Whatever the case, all you have to do is strategically focus on what you have been doing right. Steer the conversation into safer waters when the topics start to get a little choppy. Thanksgiving dinner can easily become an extended, face-to-face version of those nerve-racking phone calls home, during which you’re obligated to update your family on all of the details they miss when you’re not under their jurisdiction.

To prevent the spillage of nasty details, consider whether the topic at hand is really something you need to be sharing. I’m not condoning lying at all — just suggesting that not every aspect of our lives on and off campus has to be divulged. As college students, we are embracing a new responsibility in which we solve our own problems. It’s scary and not always possible — help from home is sometimes acceptable or necessary — but we should be making an effort to be self-sufficient. How else will we prove to our families that we’re actually maturing during our time away from home?

Honesty remains the best policy, but Thanksgiving is all about the meal — and one wrong comment can really ruin the entire evening. Prying questions into touchy subjects can be a one-way ticket to disaster.

If tough subjects are impossible to avoid, take solace in the fact that everyone else is in the same boat. After a semester of being at school, basking in the freedom of collegiate life, most students find it a daunting task to return home — even if it’s only for a few days.

Despite the potential danger of sitting down with your family on Thanksgiving, there is, of course, much to look forward to. Besides the carb-loaded extravaganza that awaits your stomach, Thanksgiving gives college students their first real break of the year.

Suffering through the last sweltering days of August and trudging through September, October and November finally brings us to an extended weekend where it’s possible to kick back and relax — unless your professors actually assign some sort of work over break. If that’s the case, it’s only appropriate that you honor proper Turkey Day spirit and leave it to the last minute. I heard on Animal Planet that turkeys are lazy or something, so don’t feel bad taking my advice.

For those of us who hail from somewhere other than sunny SoCal, your trip back home will also allow you the privilege of an actual season. Having grown up in beach cities all my life, the concept of a crispy orange leaf is sadly foreign to me. So those of you going home to this natural phenomenon should buy a pumpkin-spiced drink and enjoy the fiery tree residue.

Speaking of where we all come from, not everyone goes home for Thanksgiving. The all-important meal held at the end of November is also a time for roommates and close friends to invite each other over or even dare to attempt their own turkey feast. Though the latter is a risky effort I’ve yet to attempt, I’ve definitely brought several friends home over the years. It’s a fun experience and I highly recommend it. Bringing home out-of-state friends enables the opportunity to embrace new traditions. Maybe you have a vegan friend who you want to bring home, which presents the chance to try out some bold alternative Turkey Day recipes. Thus the regular holiday routines that are so easily followed without question are challenged.

As students just beginning to grapple with the technicalities of adulthood, we must remember what’s important about Thanksgiving: the time we share with our families and friends. From avoiding awkward table conversation to organizing dinner guest arrangements, Thanksgiving requires some serious planning. Who wants to have arguably the best meal of the year ruined? Save it for Christmas. That holiday always gets ruined anyway.


Nick Cimarusti is a junior majoring in English and Spanish. His column “Get Schooled” runs Mondays.