holidays

A thought on asking rabbis questions

Content note: This post is more Jewish-specific than usual. (As usual, anyone who wants to reblog one of my posts should go ahead and reblog it.)

animatedamerican

replied to your post

“Seders go better if you have substantial food for karpas”

Strictly speaking you shouldn’t eat anything between kiddush and motzi, and the karpas breaks that usual pattern; many still hold, though, that for that reason the karpas should not be anything substantial. If you or anyone else at the seder holds that way, eating something substantial shortly before candle lighting is a good alternative.

realsocialskills said:

I’m not concerned with that opinion, for reasons are beyond the scope of this blog. That said, I think there’s something it’s important for people in communities concerned with that kind of thing to know:

Strict opinions do not necessarily apply to everyone. This is true in every community, even communities generally regarded as extremely inflexible.

If you ask “Is it permitted to do x?” as a generic question, you will usually get the default theoretical answer based on sources. If you ask “given my particular circumstances, is it permitted for *me* to do x?”, you will usually get an answer that takes your circumstances into account. These answers can be completely different.

People who sound super-strict in public (even angrily so), often give very different answers in private when they know your circumstances. 

If the answer to a halakhic question you’re asking matters, it’s usually worth saying why. If you’re asking a rabbi, maharat, yoetzet, or other halakhic expert a question, they will give you a better answer if you give them more context.

So here, someone who asked “Can I eat substantial food for karpas” might get a completely different answer than “Every year I find that I am too exhausted from hunger to participate in the maggid. Can I eat substantial food for karpas?”. 

tl;dr If you’re in the kind of community where people ask rabbis halakhic questions, it’s often worth telling them what your situation is and why you’re asking the question. The answer to abstract questions is often very different than the answer to questions about a specific situation.

Dealing with boring seders

Content note: This post is more Jewish-specific than usual. Feel free to reblog if it speaks to you for any reason.

A lot of seders are boring, but the haggadah itself is interesting.

One way to deal with boring seders is to ignore the boring conversation and read the interesting parts of the haggadah.

Unfortunately, a lot of haggadahs are printed in ways that make the content seem boring. Cheap haggadot tend to have really lousy translations that make it seem incomprehensible. 

Understanding the interestingness of the haggadah can require some context. If you get a haggadah with good commentary, the story is likely to seem much more interesting. 

One way to find good commentary is to go to a bookstore, flip through some different haggadot, and see which ones look interesting to you. If you bring a good haggadah, you might be more interested — and might be able to make the conversation more interesting for others as well. Haggadot.com also has some things that might help.

Another thing you can do is find supplements and alternative texts. A lot of organizations, movements, and even fandoms have them. For instance, Keshet has a whole collection of LGBTQ haggadot you can print, and here’s a Hamilton Haggadah. If you search for “[group/movement/fandom you care about] haggadah” you will most likely find something. 

(Speaking of additions, here’s the original story of where the orange on the seder plate came from.)

(My other organization, Anachnu is actually working on a disability commentary, but it’s not out yet this year.)

Whatever text you’re using, here’s an approach to asking questions that are interesting to you.

Tl;dr Seders are often boring. The haggadah itself is interesting, especially with good commentary. Scroll up for thoughts on getting access to the good parts.

Some thoughts on asking questions at the seder

Content note: This post is more Jewish-specific than my posts usually are. Feel free to reblog it if it speaks to you.

Seders are supposed to be about asking questions, but that doesn’t always happen in practice. (For any number of reasons.)

Here’s one way to look for questions to ask about the seder. You can look at any piece of it and ask:

  • What is this doing in the haggadah?
  • What does it have to do with the Exodus from Egypt?
  • What does it have to do with the world the rabbis were living in? 
  • What does this have to do with the world we’re living in?

And if you’d like some examples, here are some of the questions I’ve been thinking about:

What’s the deal with dayenu?

  • There’s a whole long list of things that we seem to be saying “It would have been enough” about. 
  • Which ones make sense to you? Which ones don’t? Why?
  • Why do you think we say all of these things?
  • Is there anything you think belongs on the list that isn’t there?

What’s the deal with the four sons/daughters/children?

  • Why are we even talking about this here? Why talk about this rather than details of the story of leaving Egypt?
  • What do you think of the categories? Do these seem like real types of people or types of responses to you?
  • What examples can you think of?

Regarding the “one who does not know how to ask”:

  • What are some reasons that some Jews aren’t able to ask their questions at the seder?
  • What could be done about that?
  • Which questions do you have that you aren’t able to ask? (Or aren’t yet able to ask).
  • What might make it possible to ask them?

What does freedom mean this year?

  • Some parts of the haggadah say that we used to be slaves, and that we are now free.
  • Other parts say that we are still slaves, and that we hope to be liberated.
  • What does this mean to you? Why do you think the haggadah says both?
  • Do you think that there are ways in which we are both free and unfree?
  • What liberation are we still hoping for?

Why do we open by making promises we can’t keep?

  • The beginning of the story part (maggid) opens with ha lakhma anya (this is the bread of affliction.
  • As part of this, we say “let all who are hungry come and eat” and “let all who are in need come and offer the Passover sacrifice”.
  • We know that people are hungry who we’re not really inviting to eat, and that we’re not going to offer the Passover sacrifice at this meal.
  • What’s the point of saying this?

(And actually, wearing my other hat, I’m involved in a weekly Twitter parsha discussion). This week (Thursday 7:30 EDT April) we’re going to be discussing seder-related questions instead of parsha questions.

Tl;dr Passover Seders are supposed to be about questions. Scroll up for an approach to looking for questions, and some of the questions I’ve been asking.

Seders go better if you have substantial food for karpas

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:
One of the things that’s hardest about Seders is how long they can be. I pretty quickly become exhausted and by that time I haven’t eaten anything of the meal yet. Advice?

realsocialskills said:

One thing I advise seder leaders to do is to use substantial food for karpas instead of just having parsley dipped in salt water. I do that when I lead seders, and I’ve found that it makes for a much better discussion. People don’t tend to have good conversations when they’re hungry and exhausted, and making food available makes a huge difference. 

The point of karpas was originally to dip food in other food. This was apparently not a normal thing to do at that point in the meal, so it was supposed to be unusual and get the kids to ask questions. 

For some reason, that got reduced down to dipping parsley in salt water in a lot of communities. What I do is include more substantial kinds of dip and foods that can be dipped. (Eg: chips and dip, strawberries and chocolate syrup, etc. I know someone who sometimes uses fries and ketchup for karpas too.).

Is there a way you could make that happen at the seders you go to? Might whoever is in charge be open to that?  I’ve found that a lot of people dislike the way that the storytelling part drags on because everyone gets hungry and grumpy, and only do it that way because they don’t know there’s an alternative.

If you’re concerned with the halakhic or ritual structure of the seder, you shouldn’t eat matzah/matzah crackers and haroset until later in the meal. Other dipping stuff should be fine though.

One advantage to seder stuff is — if people will think it’s weird and question it, that’s actually a good thing! Because seders are actually supposed to involve doing weird things to get people to ask questions. So if someone says “but people will think it’s weird”, sometimes you can successfully convince them that that’s a good thing and not a bad thing by saying “then they will ask questions and we’ll be able to have a good conversation about it.”

If you can’t do that, might it be possible to sneak off for a few minutes and discreetly eat a snack?  

tl;dr The storytelling part of the seder can get very unpleasant when everyone is hungry and grumpy. One solution to this is to make substantial food available during the karpas, instead of just parsley and salt water, and then leave it on the table during the storytelling. That tends to make for a much more pleasant discussion.

“What do you want for Christmas?”

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:
What with Christmas coming and being autistic, I’ve been specifically asked what I want for Christmas by a relative and I’ve no idea how to say ‘I would like X please’ without sounding rude or demanding!

realsocialskills said:

One option might be to create an Amazon wishlist. (Or a wishlist on some other platform). Then you can say “I actually have a wishlist, would you like the link?” or just email them the link if the initial ask was in an email.

That way it doesn’t seem like you’re demanding a particular thing:

  • It’s important to some people to pick the gift themselves.
  • Some people like to buy some kinds of things but not other kinds of things. 
  • (eg: Some people might not want to buy political books they disagree with, or might have an aversion to pink things, or whatever).
  • Or might have ideas about what Good Gifts are.
  • (Eg: Some people might think that stuff you need and would buy anyway isn’t a good gift.). 
  • A wish list lets them decide which kind of thing they want to buy.
  • It also gives them information about your tastes and what kinds of things you like…
  • …which lets them pick a thing that’s not on your list, based on what they think you’d like.
  • (For whatever reason, some people are more comfortable giving gifts that are their own idea).
  • Giving people options makes it more likely that one will be comfortable for them.

It also would be good to put things on the list that cost different amounts of money because:

  • People usually have an amount in mind that they want to spend.
  • But for whatever reason, it’s considered rude to talk about how much gifts cost.
  • So, unfortunately, “How much were you thinking of spending?” is a rude question.
  • But if you put things on your list that cost different amounts of money, then you don’t have to talk about that.
  • They can just look at the list and spend the amount of money they want to spend.

tl;dr Sometimes people ask what kind of present you want, and it can be awkward to answer directly. Wish lists can help, especially if you put things on the list that cost different amounts of money. Amazon wish lists work pretty well for this.

when a seder is overloading

thelimpingdoctor replied to your post: Passover asks?

How do you deal with sensory overload in a situation where you can’t leave?

realsocialskills said:

Based on context, I think you’re probably asking about being overloaded at a large noisy seder.

There might be more options for leaving and taking a break than you might realize. I’m going to discuss those, then some thoughts on how to deal with it if leaving isn’t an option. 

Some options for taking breaks:

Helping in the kitchen

  • At seders, there are often (not always) things going on in the kitchen that people would welcome help with
  • If you find doing stuff in the kitchen less overloading than being at the table, excusing yourself to go help might be a socially acceptable way to take a break
  • Some examples of things people might welcome help with:
  • Cutting vegetables
  • Serving soup
  • Bringing out other things 
  • Washing dishes

Playing with the kids:

  • At a lot of seders, there are little kids who kind of run in and out
  • If these are kids you know, or they’re related to you, it may be socially acceptable for you to take breaks and play with the kids
  • This depends on the culture of your family or community; it’s fairly common for it to be socially acceptable, but it’s not universal

Pretending you have to go to the bathroom:

  • At a long seder, most people will excuse themselves to use the bathroom at least once
  • If you take a break for about that amount of time, that’s what people will assume you were doing
  • (You can also actually go to the bathroom even if you don’t need to use it - bathrooms can sometimes be a good place to take a break from sensory overload since people will usually leave you alone for a few minutes if you’re in the bathroom)

Options if you can’t take breaks or taking breaks doesn’t help enough:

Get oriented:

  • Sometimes sensory overload is caused as much by disorientation as by sensations
  • One way to become more oriented is to think through in advance what’s likely to happen
  • If you feel like stuff is more predictable, it’s likely to be less overwhelming and sensory stuff might be easier to manage
  • If this is a seder you’ve been to before, it might help think about what usually happens. Who will be there? How do they usually act? Who will ask the four questions?
  • It also might be a good idea to look through the hagaddah. Here’s one online.
  • If you’re feeling overloaded during the seder, it’s worth considering the possibility that you have become disoriented
  • If you look through the haggadah, figure out where you are in the seder, and how much is left, it might help you to become more oriented and less overloaded
  • It may also help to use a visual schedule, which shows you at a glance what to expect and in what order. Here’s one you can print, organized by cup.

Using solid objects to ground yourself:

  • If you’ve become really overloaded or disoriented, sometimes grabbing hold of something solid can help a lot
  • If you’re at a seder, the most readily available solid thing is likely to be the table
  • If there’s someone present you trust who is ok with it, holding someone’s hand can help a lot too in ramping down overload

Sit in a less overloading place in the room:

  • Sitting on the edge of the room is likely to be less overloading than sitting in the middle
  • Sitting on the end or near the end of a table is likely to be less overloading than sitting between several people
  • Sitting near the door is likely to be less overloading (especially if you get overloaded from feeling trapped)
  • If there are florescent lights in the room, it helps to pay attention to whether one of them is flickering
  • If you’re already overwhelmed going into the room, you might not notice right away, even though it will bother you later. If flickering lights bother you, it’s worth making a point of checking to see if the light is flickering when you decide where to sit
  • If the room is likely to be very loud, you might be more comfortable if you use ear plugs. You can get disposable ones for cheap at a pharmacy

Stimming:

  • Some people can stop overload by moving in certain ways
  • Most people can at least mitigate it a little
  • Rocking back and forth can help a lot (and it’s not that weird in a lot of Jewish settings, particularly if there are a lot of religious people present.)
  • If you have stim toys that usually work for you, it might be a good idea to bring them
  • If you’re worried about stigma, it might work better to use different things
  • (That said, if a room is crowded and noisy and overloading, it’s very likely that no one is actually looking at you)
  • If you wear rings or bracelets, you can play with them
  • You can also play with the silverware if the seder isn’t extremely formal. You probably won’t be the only one.
  • You can also stim with the haggadah. (by holding it in your hands, flipping the pages, looking through it, or even reading it.)
  • If you have a water bottle with a stem you can chew the stem
  • (You can also eat stuff as a way of getting to chew to reduce overload. If you do that with stuff like celery rather than stuff like chicken it’s less likely to make you uncomfortably full)
  • You might be able to bring seder-themed stim toys to use, particularly if you bring enough to share. (For instance, if you bring out plastic frogs for the ten plagues, probably no one will think twice about you continuing to play with them)

Participating actively also might help to handle overload:

  • Sometimes it can be less overloading to participate in something than to be passively present while something is happening
  • This isn’t true for everyone, but it’s true for a lot of people
  • For instance, if people are singing loud songs and it’s overloading, you might be more physically comfortable if you sing the songs too
  • (This doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for some people)
  • If it’s a big seder and people are going on and on and you’re overloaded, ignoring what’s going on and reading the haggadah might work. (In that setting, you’re probably not going to be the only one doing that.)
  • Asking questions and arguing might be less overloading than being in the room while other people are doing that

Talking to people might also be an option:

tl;dr Passover seders can be really overloading. Scroll up for some ideas about how to deal with that.

Be careful with real eggs

I don’t know very much about Easter, but I do know this:

If you are hosting an indoor Easter egg hunt, using real eggs is likely to end poorly.

Particularly if you are good at hiding eggs in hard to find places.

If you use real eggs indoors and don’t find all of them, the ones you miss will rot and create a very foul smell that is nearly impossible to remove.

If you use plastic eggs with non-perishable candy, your egg hunt is much more likely to end with happy people and no unpleasant side effects.

tl;dr Using real eggs in an indoor Easter egg hunt is likely to result in your house smelling like rotten eggs.

Things to do on Christmas if you don't want to celebrate it

For those who don’t celebrate Christmas, the 25th of December can be a boring, annoying, or lonely day in Christian-dominated cultures. Almost everything shuts down, and the atmosphere is dominated by a holiday almost everyone else is celebrating that you’re not part of.

Here are some things you can do on Christmas other than celebrate it:

Chinese food:

  • Chinese restaurants are often open on Christmas
  • You can go there and eat food

Gatherings unrelated to Christmas:

  • If you have friends who also don’t celebrate, Christmas can be a good time to hang out
  • Gathering on Christmas doesn’t have to be a Christmas party

Going to work:

  • If the place you work is open on Christmas, most people probably want to avoid working
  • Working on Christmas is a nice thing to do if you don’t celebrate
  • In some fields, it’s also a relatively quiet shift

Going to a movie:

  • A lot of movie theaters are open on Christmas
  • Some of the movies are Christmas-themed, but a lot of them are not

Netflix/Hulu marathons:

  • Netflix and Hulu both have lots and lots of things to watch
  • Most of which are not at all Christmas-related
  • Hulu ads might be, though. If you want to completely avoid Christmas stuff, Netflix is a better option
  • This can be a good thing to do in a gathering, if you have friends who also don’t celebrate Christmas

Reading books:

  • Reading a new book is a good way to fill time and be absorbed in something interesting
  • If you don’t have any books you want to read, here are some ways to get eBooks:
  • Project Gutenburg has a huge collection of free eBooks that are out of copyright
  • Oyster Books is an ebook subscription service with a free trial.
  • Amazon also has an ebook subscription service (but it has a lot of junk and is kind of hard to nagivate).

Wikipedia:

  • If you’re bored and need something to be interested in, Wikipedia can be a good place to go
  • If you click the random button enough times, you will probably eventually find a page that interests you

tl;dr Christmas can be boring for people who don’t celebrate it since most things shut down on Christmas in Christian-dominated cultures. Scroll up for some suggestions about stuff to do other than be bored.

Anyoneelse who doesn’t celebrate Christmas want to weigh in? What do you like to do on Christmas?

deflecting fight-pickers at christmas

Anonymous said to :

My mother sometimes likes to pick fights at family gatherings, especially meals. She brings up controversial political opinions/things she knows many of us are uncomfortable with (she is fairly ableist, homophobic etc). I will be staying with my parents for Christmas. Do you have any advice on how to deal with this? I have tried just saying ‘I don’t want to argue about this now.’ or leaving the table when I got too uncomfortable but was called rude for doing so.


realsocialskills said:


It might be ok if people call you rude. Sometimes there’s no way to effectively assert boundaries without anyone objecting. Sometimes there’s no way to insist that people stop saying mean things without being somewhat rude. Sometimes putting up with being called rude is more tolerable than putting up with obnoxious and offensive conversation. I don’t know if that’s the kind of situation you’re in, but the possibility is worth considering. 


I don’t know who said it first, but I think the most important principle is: You don’t have to attend every argument that you are invited to. The fact that your mother insists on saying offensive things and trying to pick fights doesn’t mean that you have to argue with her about them. You get to decide what you do and don’t want to talk about.


(Especially given that it’s an established rule of polite behavior that at this kind of gathering, one should not talk about controversial topics that are liable to result in unpleasant arguing. But that would be true even if you were not at the kind of gathering where that’s a rule - you don’t have to argue with people who say offensive things unless you want to.)


That said, you might get better results from changing the subject than from leaving or saying that you don’t want to talk about a given topic. (Or you might not. It really depends on your family.)


Changing the subject can be better because:

  • If you just say you don’t want to talk about the controversial thing, it can give a new hook for arguing.
  • Then it can turn into an argument about why you’re too PC to listen to the ~obviously-true~ bigoted opinions 
  • Or how you’re rude, or censoring, or ~causing tension~ (the tension is already there; caused by the people who insist on picking fights about offensive things. It’s not your fault. But it will sometimes be convenient to blame you.)
  • If you introduce a new topic immediately, there’s something to talk about that isn’t a fight
  • That can sometimes make the path of least resistance talking about the new thing rather than fighting about the old thing

Changing the subject to something your mother consistently wants to talk about that isn’t offensive:

  • Your mother: These people I’m arbitrarily bigoted against are terrible! My tax dollars shouldn’t be going for this. Why can’t people be decent like they used to be?
  • You: How are things at work? How are things going with your new client?

Changing the subject to something that other people present want to talk about:

  • Your mother: These people I’m arbitrarily bigoted against are terrible! My tax dollars shouldn’t be paying for this. Why can’t people be decent like they used to be?
  • You: Hey, did anyone see the sportsball game last night? How amazing was the ball thrown by that sportsball player on the team that half of you root for and the rest of you hate?

Changing the subject to something a particular person present is likely to want to talk about:

  • This can work well because it shifts the center of attention to someone else, and most people like attention
  • If you’re aggressively paying attention to someone who is interested in talking about something non-offensive, it’s much harder for someone to interject with something offensive, or to call you rude

Eg:


  • Mom: People I’m arbitrarily bigoted against are ruining everything. My tax dollars shouldn’t be paying for that! People used to be decent. 
  • You: David, how are you liking the exciting new thing you just purchased? I’m thinking about upgrading mine, do you think now is a good time?


Sometimes it works better if you explicitly say that you don’t want to talk about the thing while you change the subject:

  • Your mother: These people I’m arbitrarily bigoted against are terrible! My tax dollars shouldn’t be paying for this. Why can’t people be decent like they used to be?
  • You: Mom, let’s not talk about politics. It’s Christmas. Your tree is absolutely gorgeous, where did you find those new ornaments?

tl;dr Some people like to pick fights by saying offensive things. You don’t have to argue with them if you don’t want to. One way of deflecting the fight is to change the subject. (That doesn’t always work.) Scroll up for more details and scripts.

Celebrating Christmas alone

juliainfinland:

realsocialskills:

If you will be alone on Christmas and want to celebrate, there are several options:

Singing/music:

  • A lot of churches and other organizations have musical events around Christmas
  • For instance, in many areas, a group puts on a Handel’s Messiah sing along, where it’s lead by experienced musicians but anyone can participate in the singing
  • (You can find other musical events by googling “Christmas concert <your area>”)
  • You can also listen to recorded Christmas music (in fact, this time of year it would be difficult to avoid doing so. But it might be more enjoyable when you’re doing it on purpose and selecting songs you like).

Getting a Christmas tree:

  • Some people who celebrate Christmas are much happier if they have a Christmas tree than if they don’t
  • This time of year, there are a lot of places that sell both real and fake ones
  • If you aren’t up to or don’t want a full-sized tree, you can get a mini-tree or a potted plant pine tree
  • In some cities, places that sell Christmas trees also sell “Charlie Brown trees” that are a pine branch held up by a small stand. Those have the advantage of smelling the same way that full-sized fresh-cut trees smell (you can also get this effect by using wreathes or garlands)

Putting up decorations:

  • If you have a space you control, you can put up decorations
  • Decorations can be complicated and expensive, but they don’t have to be
  • You can get a string of lights for a few dollars in most retail stores this time of year
  • Places that sell Christmas trees also usually sell wreathes for far less money. If you have a door you control, you can put a wreath on the door. Or you can put it on your table.
  • You can also make paper chains, or other paper decorations

Looking at other people’s decorations

  • A lot of people put up really cool Christmas decorations
  • There are also often cool public light displays put up by cities
  • If you search “Christmas lights <your area>”, you’ll likely find information about where particularly awesome decorations are
  • This is something you can do leading up to Christmas as well as on Christmas itself, and you will not be the only one doing it

Crafting:

  • A lot of people like to make Christmas crafts
  • Craft stores, and even some non-craft stores, have a lot of easy Christmas-themed craft kits (and also supplies and ideas for harder projects if you are so inclined)
  • Some people like to craft ornaments; some people like to craft presents

Watching Christmas specials

  • Most shows have Christmas specials, and there are zillions of Christmas movies
  • You might enjoy watching these, both for their own sake and as a way of connecting with other people who are watching those movies this time of year
  • One pitfall is that a lot of these are about the importance of family
  • If you don’t have family you can be with or want to be with, it might be really unpleasant to watch sweet Christmas specials
  • There are also a lot of snarky parodies of Christmas tropes. If Christmas episodes make you sad, you might prefer to watch the Christmas episodes of shows like Futurama or The Simpsons.
  • Oscar the Grouch sings a song called “I Hate Christmas” that might also be enjoyable. (Video has captions).

Going to a movie:

  • A lot of movie theaters are open on Christmas
  • Some of the movies that play on Christmas are Christmas-themed, but a lot aren’t
  • If you want to get out of the house and do something and be around other people on Christmas, a movie might be a good option.

Fandom:

  • There are a lot of Christmas stories written in almost every fandom
  • You might like to read Christmas stories
  • (Here’s the tag on An Archive of Our Own for Christmas stories. If you go to the sidebar on the right, you can search within results for the fandom you’re interested in)
  • You also might enjoy writing a story
  • Or even just a short piece of headcanon about what you think that characters in a story you like do on Christmas. 
  • (Eg: Posting in the tag for your fandom “Minor Character and Other Minor Character liked to play pranks on Christmas as much as the rest of the year. One year they decided to paint the tree blue. That was the year they discovered that nothing gets blue cat pawprints out of the carpet.” Except better, and actually about the characters you care about.)

Food

  • There is a lot of iconic Christmas food (Wikipedia has a list of traditional Christmas dishes in various countries).
  • If you are in the US, it might feel more like Christmas if you eat something like candy canes or gingerbread men or fruitcakes or Christmas cookies
  • Grocery stores sell Christmas food this time of year, and so do a lot of take-out places.

Traditional drinks:

  • Some people have the tradition of making hot chocolate this time of year
  • There are lots of powder-based mixes at grocery stores
  • You can also make more involved hot chocolate by melting chocolate into milk on the stove. There are various recipes for this. (Here’s one with booze).
  • Some people like to drink hot apple cider. Grocery stores sell mixes for this.
  • Some people like mulled wine
  • Eggnog is another traditional drink. It’s sold in cartons near the milk in the grocery store
  • (All that said: It pays to be careful about how much alcoholic stuff you prepare and err on the side of making small batches. Having a large quantity of something alcoholic and perishable when you’re lonely on a holiday could get really bad really quickly.) 

Making Christmas cookies

  • Making cookies is a tradition that a lot of people enjoy, and it doesn’t require a group
  • This can be complicated and involved if you like complicated baking (there are any number of complex recipes online)
  • It can also be simple. There are simple recipes.
  • Stores also sell pre-made dough that you can cut out and bake
  • If you don’t want to make cookies (or don’t have an oven), you might enjoy decorating Christmas cookies
  • You can get pre-made plain sugar cookies in the grocery store.
  • And there are a variety of kinds of frosting in the baking aisle.
  • There are tubs of frosting, and there are also tubes of frosting you can use to write words/draw things

Sharing baked goods with your neighbors:

  • In some areas, on and around Christmas it’s considered socially acceptable to make baked goods and share them with your neighbors
  • This is generally more acceptable in rural and suburban areas than in cities
  • I’m not sure how to tell whether you’re in an area where that’s acceptable or not
  • But if it is, it can be a good way to connect a little

Gingerbread houses:

  • Most grocery stores and craft stores have gingerbread house kits that are fairly simple.
  • You can also make a gingerbread house out of milk cartons and graham crackers
  • Bakeries sometimes also sell pre-made gingerbread houses (these are usually very expensive)
  • Some cities have gingerbread house competitions or displays. You might like to compete or view the competition

Donating to a food drive:

  • Food pantries always need food
  • If you have the resources to donate food or money to a food bank around this time of year, it’s a good way to celebrate the holidays
  • It’s especially nice if you can donate festive food
  • And that’s especially true if you can donate holiday food that people who have special diets can eat (eg: sugar-free candy; gluten-free pie). Poverty doesn’t cure special dietary needs, and it sucks to miss out on seasonal treats because you can’t eat any of the donated ones and can’t afford to buy your own

Donating to a toy drive:

  • There are a lot of toy drives around this time of year
  • If you have resources to do so, it’s nice to donate toys so that kids can get presents
  • It’s especially nice to donate interesting toys so that kids can get good presents
  • Being poor doesn’t mean that kids only want generic dolls; poor kids are also into fandoms and geeky things and everything that anyone else is interested in
  • (No one wants to be given a boring donated toy and be expected to be grateful for it).
  • If you can, donate interesting stuff that you would have been happy to receive as a kid

Finding a place to start volunteering:

  • A lot of lonely people want to volunteer on Christmas
  • There are generally far more people who want to volunteer than organizations can actually accommodate
  • If Christmas is making you want to volunteer, it might mean that you want to volunteer when it’s not Christmas too
  • It might make sense to spend some time on Christmas researching organizations, figuring out where you might like to volunteer, and sending some preliminary emails

Making cards:

  • You can make Christmas cards around Christmas.
  • You can also make New Year’s cards on Christmas, and send them out the day after, if you are so inclined
  • (You can also buy cards. Some people prefer to buy them; some people prefer to make them.)

Writing a Christmas letter:

  • Some people like to write annual Christmas letters updating people in (or on the periphery of) their life about what they’ve been up to in the past year
  • This can be individual letters, or also one letter sent to a lot of people
  • These days, a lot of people do this by email.
  • If there are people you haven’t heard from in a while but still want to be somewhat in contact with, a Christmas email/letter can be a way to do this.

Snow:

  • If you’re in an area with snow, you might enjoy making a snowman or sledding
  • Those things are both fun for a lot of people, and traditionally associated with Christmas
  • You can also make a fake snowman indoors with fake snow. There are various ways to do this - one set of instructions here.

Buying presents for yourself:

  • If you will be alone on Christmas and want to get presents, you might be happier if you buy some for yourself
  • It’s too late for shipping most places, but you can order stuff that you know will show up after Christmas
  • Some stores have gift wrapping services, which you might use if you want to open a wrapped gift that was wrapped by someone other than you
  • If you want a surprise, you can buy a grab bag. (You might even be able to do this in a retail store before Christmas).
  • You can also order something that has a somewhat random element. Eg: you can order a Mystery Squishable from squishable.com and get a random stuffed animal that will probably be awesome. 

Hosting gatherings after Christmas:

  • If you have friends who will be in town for Christmas, they likely won’t be free on Christmas itself
  • But they might be still in town, and without structured obligations, for a few days after Christmas
  • If you know that you are going to get together with friends after Christmas, being alone on Christmas might not suck as much
  • (One way to do this is to plan a New Years’ gathering, but there are also other ways).

Hanging out with people who don’t celebrate Christmas:

  • Christmas in Christian-dominated cultures is a often very boring day for those who don’t celebrate it
  • If you have local friends who don’t celebrate Christmas, it might be worth seeing whether they want to hang out on Christmas

tl;dr If you want to celebrate Christmas, there are options for doing so even if you will be alone on Christmas. Scroll up for more concrete suggestions.

Anyone else want to weigh in? What do you like to do on Christmas? 

juliainfinland said:

I’ve spent nearly every Christmas alone ever since I moved out from my parents’ house. Really, I like it that way. :-)

I usually celebrate by having lots of peace and quiet (ahhhhhh), and by preparing special Christmas food. (This year, I’ll have a more-or-less traditional Finnish Christmas dinner with root vegetable casseroles, herring salad, and ham.) I also tend to do my Christmas baking (lebkuchen and cookies) on Christmas. :-)

If I can stay awake and at least semi-coherent long enough, I’ll attend Midnight Mass at the local church. If not, then I won’t.

Other things I intend to do over Christmas include reading, listening to music, watching some movies that have been piling up, and doing something about those arts and crafts projects that have been piling up even higher than those movies. If the weather is nice, I’ll probably take some walks and possibly even some photographs.

Also, mulled grape juice. <3

It's ok to have mixed feelings about Christmas and other holidays

On television and in books, Christmas is often potrayed as a magical time when everyone is nice and loving to everyone, and everything is amazing. (This is actually true of most holidays.)


Real Christmas is not like that, even for people who absolutely love Christmas. Christmas is a difficult time of year. The time leading up to it is often stressful, overwhelming, and expensive. All of that is mixed in with some things that many people find amazing and wonderful (and that other people don’t so much care for.)

One aspect of Christmas that is often stressful is getting together with family. Even if everyone really wants to get together on Christmas, some aspect of it will suck. Because family is hard, even when everyone loves on another dearly. Holidays don’t heal family dynamics or make everything easy; people are the same people no matter what time of year it is. It’s particularly hard if you have relatives who are mean to you or bigoted towards you, but family gatherings have difficult and stressful aspects no matter how wonderful a family is.


No matter how much you like Christmas (or any other holiday), some aspect of it will probably suck. That’s ok. It’s not your fault. It doesn’t mean that you’re doing it wrong. It doesn’t mean you’re the Grinch. It just means that life is complicated and that holidays aren’t always easy.


tl;dr Christmas and other holidays have difficult, unpleasant, and stressful aspects as well as the uplifting and enjoyable parts. It’s normal to have mixed feelings about holidays and to find some aspects unpleasant. (It’s also ok if you dislike holidays altogether.)

monkeyscomewithme:

monkeyscomewithme:

Celebrating Christmas alone

realsocialskills:

If you will be alone on Christmas and want to celebrate, there are several options:

Singing/music:

  • A lot of churches and other organizations have musical events around Christmas
  • For instance, in many areas, a group…

monkeyscomewithme said:

If you mean the free trees,I worked at Fred Meyer for 9 years and we did it every year (I left just this summer, so my info is as current as it can be). We closed at 6 on the 24th, and all the greenery would be stacked out the garden entrance with signs indicating it was free towards the afternoon. Definitely check with the local store, but I don’t think my store was the only one doing it.

monkeyscomewithme:

Celebrating Christmas alone

realsocialskills:

If you will be alone on Christmas and want to celebrate, there are several options:

Singing/music:

  • A lot of churches and other organizations have musical events around Christmas
  • For instance, in many areas, a group puts on a Handel’s Messiah sing along, where it’s lead by experienced musicians…

monkeyscomewithme said:

FYI, if you live near one, Fred Meyer gives away unsold trees and wreaths on Christmas Eve for free. I know it’s a last minute thing, but you can ask a garden or home associate.

realsocialskills said:

I’ve never heard of this and can’t find information online anywhere - have any of y'all done this successfully? (I want to make sure I’m not leading people to count on something that’s actually an urban legend.)

Celebrating Christmas alone

If you will be alone on Christmas and want to celebrate, there are several options:

Singing/music:

  • A lot of churches and other organizations have musical events around Christmas
  • For instance, in many areas, a group puts on a Handel’s Messiah sing along, where it’s lead by experienced musicians but anyone can participate in the singing
  • (You can find other musical events by googling “Christmas concert <your area>”)
  • You can also listen to recorded Christmas music (in fact, this time of year it would be difficult to avoid doing so. But it might be more enjoyable when you’re doing it on purpose and selecting songs you like).

Getting a Christmas tree:

  • Some people who celebrate Christmas are much happier if they have a Christmas tree than if they don’t
  • This time of year, there are a lot of places that sell both real and fake ones
  • If you aren’t up to or don’t want a full-sized tree, you can get a mini-tree or a potted plant pine tree
  • In some cities, places that sell Christmas trees also sell “Charlie Brown trees” that are a pine branch held up by a small stand. Those have the advantage of smelling the same way that full-sized fresh-cut trees smell (you can also get this effect by using wreathes or garlands)

Putting up decorations:

  • If you have a space you control, you can put up decorations
  • Decorations can be complicated and expensive, but they don’t have to be
  • You can get a string of lights for a few dollars in most retail stores this time of year
  • Places that sell Christmas trees also usually sell wreathes for far less money. If you have a door you control, you can put a wreath on the door. Or you can put it on your table.
  • You can also make paper chains, or other paper decorations

Looking at other people’s decorations

  • A lot of people put up really cool Christmas decorations
  • There are also often cool public light displays put up by cities
  • If you search “Christmas lights <your area>”, you’ll likely find information about where particularly awesome decorations are
  • This is something you can do leading up to Christmas as well as on Christmas itself, and you will not be the only one doing it

Crafting:

  • A lot of people like to make Christmas crafts
  • Craft stores, and even some non-craft stores, have a lot of easy Christmas-themed craft kits (and also supplies and ideas for harder projects if you are so inclined)
  • Some people like to craft ornaments; some people like to craft presents

Watching Christmas specials

  • Most shows have Christmas specials, and there are zillions of Christmas movies
  • You might enjoy watching these, both for their own sake and as a way of connecting with other people who are watching those movies this time of year
  • One pitfall is that a lot of these are about the importance of family
  • If you don’t have family you can be with or want to be with, it might be really unpleasant to watch sweet Christmas specials
  • There are also a lot of snarky parodies of Christmas tropes. If Christmas episodes make you sad, you might prefer to watch the Christmas episodes of shows like Futurama or The Simpsons.
  • Oscar the Grouch sings a song called “I Hate Christmas” that might also be enjoyable. (Video has captions).

Going to a movie:

  • A lot of movie theaters are open on Christmas
  • Some of the movies that play on Christmas are Christmas-themed, but a lot aren’t
  • If you want to get out of the house and do something and be around other people on Christmas, a movie might be a good option.

Fandom:

  • There are a lot of Christmas stories written in almost every fandom
  • You might like to read Christmas stories
  • (Here’s the tag on An Archive of Our Own for Christmas stories. If you go to the sidebar on the right, you can search within results for the fandom you’re interested in)
  • You also might enjoy writing a story
  • Or even just a short piece of headcanon about what you think that characters in a story you like do on Christmas. 
  • (Eg: Posting in the tag for your fandom “Minor Character and Other Minor Character liked to play pranks on Christmas as much as the rest of the year. One year they decided to paint the tree blue. That was the year they discovered that nothing gets blue cat pawprints out of the carpet.” Except better, and actually about the characters you care about.)

Food

  • There is a lot of iconic Christmas food (Wikipedia has a list of traditional Christmas dishes in various countries).
  • If you are in the US, it might feel more like Christmas if you eat something like candy canes or gingerbread men or fruitcakes or Christmas cookies
  • Grocery stores sell Christmas food this time of year, and so do a lot of take-out places.

Traditional drinks:

  • Some people have the tradition of making hot chocolate this time of year
  • There are lots of powder-based mixes at grocery stores
  • You can also make more involved hot chocolate by melting chocolate into milk on the stove. There are various recipes for this. (Here’s one with booze).
  • Some people like to drink hot apple cider. Grocery stores sell mixes for this.
  • Some people like mulled wine
  • Eggnog is another traditional drink. It’s sold in cartons near the milk in the grocery store
  • (All that said: It pays to be careful about how much alcoholic stuff you prepare and err on the side of making small batches. Having a large quantity of something alcoholic and perishable when you’re lonely on a holiday could get really bad really quickly.) 

 

Making Christmas cookies

  • Making cookies is a tradition that a lot of people enjoy, and it doesn’t require a group
  • This can be complicated and involved if you like complicated baking (there are any number of complex recipes online)
  • It can also be simple. There are simple recipes.
  • Stores also sell pre-made dough that you can cut out and bake
  • If you don’t want to make cookies (or don’t have an oven), you might enjoy decorating Christmas cookies
  • You can get pre-made plain sugar cookies in the grocery store.
  • And there are a variety of kinds of frosting in the baking aisle.
  • There are tubs of frosting, and there are also tubes of frosting you can use to write words/draw things

Sharing baked goods with your neighbors:

  • In some areas, on and around Christmas it’s considered socially acceptable to make baked goods and share them with your neighbors
  • This is generally more acceptable in rural and suburban areas than in cities
  • I’m not sure how to tell whether you’re in an area where that’s acceptable or not
  • But if it is, it can be a good way to connect a little

Gingerbread houses:

  • Most grocery stores and craft stores have gingerbread house kits that are fairly simple.
  • You can also make a gingerbread house out of milk cartons and graham crackers
  • Bakeries sometimes also sell pre-made gingerbread houses (these are usually very expensive)
  • Some cities have gingerbread house competitions or displays. You might like to compete or view the competition

Donating to a food drive:

  • Food pantries always need food
  • If you have the resources to donate food or money to a food bank around this time of year, it’s a good way to celebrate the holidays
  • It’s especially nice if you can donate festive food
  • And that’s especially true if you can donate holiday food that people who have special diets can eat (eg: sugar-free candy; gluten-free pie). Poverty doesn’t cure special dietary needs, and it sucks to miss out on seasonal treats because you can’t eat any of the donated ones and can’t afford to buy your own

Donating to a toy drive:

  • There are a lot of toy drives around this time of year
  • If you have resources to do so, it’s nice to donate toys so that kids can get presents
  • It’s especially nice to donate interesting toys so that kids can get good presents
  • Being poor doesn’t mean that kids only want generic dolls; poor kids are also into fandoms and geeky things and everything that anyone else is interested in
  • (No one wants to be given a boring donated toy and be expected to be grateful for it).
  • If you can, donate interesting stuff that you would have been happy to receive as a kid

Finding a place to start volunteering:

  • A lot of lonely people want to volunteer on Christmas
  • There are generally far more people who want to volunteer than organizations can actually accommodate
  • If Christmas is making you want to volunteer, it might mean that you want to volunteer when it’s not Christmas too
  • It might make sense to spend some time on Christmas researching organizations, figuring out where you might like to volunteer, and sending some preliminary emails

Making cards:

  • You can make Christmas cards around Christmas.
  • You can also make New Year’s cards on Christmas, and send them out the day after, if you are so inclined
  • (You can also buy cards. Some people prefer to buy them; some people prefer to make them.)

Writing a Christmas letter:

  • Some people like to write annual Christmas letters updating people in (or on the periphery of) their life about what they’ve been up to in the past year
  • This can be individual letters, or also one letter sent to a lot of people
  • These days, a lot of people do this by email.
  • If there are people you haven’t heard from in a while but still want to be somewhat in contact with, a Christmas email/letter can be a way to do this.

Snow:

  • If you’re in an area with snow, you might enjoy making a snowman or sledding
  • Those things are both fun for a lot of people, and traditionally associated with Christmas
  • You can also make a fake snowman indoors with fake snow. There are various ways to do this - one set of instructions here.

Buying presents for yourself:

  • If you will be alone on Christmas and want to get presents, you might be happier if you buy some for yourself
  • It’s too late for shipping most places, but you can order stuff that you know will show up after Christmas
  • Some stores have gift wrapping services, which you might use if you want to open a wrapped gift that was wrapped by someone other than you
  • If you want a surprise, you can buy a grab bag. (You might even be able to do this in a retail store before Christmas).
  • You can also order something that has a somewhat random element. Eg: you can order a Mystery Squishable from squishable.com and get a random stuffed animal that will probably be awesome. 

Hosting gatherings after Christmas:

  • If you have friends who will be in town for Christmas, they likely won’t be free on Christmas itself
  • But they might be still in town, and without structured obligations, for a few days after Christmas
  • If you know that you are going to get together with friends after Christmas, being alone on Christmas might not suck as much
  • (One way to do this is to plan a New Years’ gathering, but there are also other ways).

Hanging out with people who don’t celebrate Christmas:

  • Christmas in Christian-dominated cultures is a often very boring day for those who don’t celebrate it
  • If you have local friends who don’t celebrate Christmas, it might be worth seeing whether they want to hang out on Christmas

tl;dr If you want to celebrate Christmas, there are options for doing so even if you will be alone on Christmas. Scroll up for more concrete suggestions.

Anyone else want to weigh in? What do you like to do on Christmas? 

Short summary of Hanukkah

There’s an old joke about how to summarize every Jewish holiday: They tried to kill us. We overcame. Let’s eat.

That’s not actually an accurate description of every holiday, but it’s pretty accurate for Hanukkah (And Passover/Pesach. And Purim.) We talk about fighting oppression, and winning by a bare thread. Then we eat some symbolic food.

The particulars of the Hanukkah story are along the lines of: The Greek empire was antisemitic and banned Judaism. They tried to make all the Jews assimilate. They destroyed the Temple (in ancient times, the Israelites had a centralized worship system centered around a Temple in Jerusalem; this is no longer the case and hasn’t been for centuries) and sacrificed pigs in it to desecrate it. Then the Maccabees revolted. They won and got the Temple back. They wanted to rededicate it, and they needed to light the Temple’s light. Unfortunately, there was only enough ritually pure oil to last one day (and it takes several days to make more). They lighted the lamp anyway, and the oil miraculously lasted eight days, long enough to make more pure oil.

Lighting the menorah for Hanukkah is considered a way of publicizing the miracle. Jews light one candle to symbolize each night, and another candle just to be a candle. Some people focus on the miracle as the oil lasting longer than it naturally should have. Others focus on the miracle as surviving and maintaining Jewish culture in the face of oppression.

(Digression about the word “menorah”: The original meaning of the word “menorah” was a seven-branched lamp in the Temple in Jerusalem. That’s the thing the Maccabees needed to light. In Modern Hebrew, “menorah” usually just means lamp, and it never refers to the nine-branch thing Jews light on Hanukkah. The Modern Hebrew word for that is hanukiah. In English, “menorah” means the Hanukkah thing (except when people are translating the Bible or something). Some people might try to tell you that menorah is an incorrect word. They’re right in Hebrew, but wrong in English. In English, “menorah” is a correct word.)

There is also a custom of eating fried foods because the miracle involved oil. Two particularly popular foods to use for this are latkes and donuts. 

tl;dr Hanukkah is about celebrating Jewish physical and cultural survival in the face of oppression. It’s also about an ancient miracle involving oil. Two things people do to celebrate Hanukkah are light candles and eat fried foods such as latkes and donuts.

Coming out at Christmas?

anonymous asked:
I’m planning to come out at christmas before dinner. How do I do it without it becoming awkward or making the holiday all about me? Also I’m very bad with spoken communication when I’m put on the spot or nervous so I don’t know how to deal with the string of Straight People Questions I might get.
 

realsocialskills said:

I’m not sure what kind of situation you’re in. I’m assuming that you’re gay or lesbian, that you’re probably not out to any family members, that you don’t currently live with family, and that you’re talking about a big family gathering. Some of this might not apply if I’m getting some of that wrong.

Coming out will probably be at least somewhat awkward, no matter how well it goes and no matter how you do it. Coming out to people who aren’t expecting it is inherently awkward. If you’re not sure whether or not they will react positively, it’s especially awkward. Akwardness isn’t something you are likely to be able to completely avoid. That’s not your fault. It’s a problem with our culture. 

That said, making an annoucement at a family gathering is one of the most awkward and risky ways to come out. If you make an annoucement, then you become the center of attention in a group of people whose reactions it might be hard to gauge. Also, at big family gatherings, it’s fairly likely that people will be drinking, and alchohol can greatly magnify bad reactions. For most people, coming out by making an annoucement on a holiday is a very bad idea.

There are other options that might go better:

Coming out casually in conversations with relatives who you think are likely to react well. This allows you to talk like you’re already out, rather than making an annoucement:

  • If you’ve been closested from family for a long time, you’ve probably been using linguistic tricks (like avoiding pronouns) to avoid outing yourself
  • One way to casually come out is to stop doing this, and see what happens
  • Some people will react badly, others will ask questions, others will treat it as no big deal
  • When this works, it’s the least awkward way to come out

eg:

  • Aunt Jane: Sarah, are you seeing anyone these days?
  • Sarah: No, I don’t have a girlfriend right now.

or:

  • Aunt Jane: Bill, are you still seeing Susan?
  • Bill: No, we broke up. I’m with Jason these days.

This doesn’t always work, but it can work really well.

Another option: Coming out via email ahead of time:

  • If you want to let everyone know that you’re gay without having to have a lot of awkward conversations, email has several advantages
  • If you send an email, you don’t have to be the center of everyone’s attention all at once
  • People see it when they see it, and react individually if they want to react
  • Relatives who might have a knee jerk negative reaction will have time to process. Some of them might be less inclined to be mean and more inclined to put family relationships ahead of homophobia if they have time to processes.
  • Once the actual Christmas gathering arrives, your coming out will be somewhat old news
  • If anyone has a really horrendous reaction, you will know ahead of time and will be able to take that into account when making your Christmas plans.

Consider coming out to a family member who you trust first:

  • It will be a lot easier and more comfortable if you know that someone is on your side
  • The most reliable way to be sure of this is to come out to someone you trust ahead of time
  • In particular, if you have a gay relative, it’s worth telling them that you’re gay too and asking for perspective on how to handle things.
  • But even if you don’t. If you’re relatively sure that one of your relatives will treat you well when you come out, it’s worth coming out to them first so that you won’t be alone at the gathering.

If you think you need to come out in person by making an annoucement rather than some other way, consider doing it closer to the end of the gathering.

  • If you make an annoucement early in the gathering and it goes badly, then you still have the rest of the gathering to get through
  • If you come out later in the event, the stakes are lower
  • (Eg: after dinner is likely better than before dinner)

If you can, have somewhere to go: 

  • If you’re staying with family at a big family gathering, that can get really overwhelming really quickly
  • Especially if they’re homophobic
  • Especially if things get awkward after you come out
  • If you have friends who live nearby, it could be a really good idea to make plans to spend time with them. (Or, to have that as a backup plan for if things go badly).
  • If you don’t, spending time with friends online is likely to be important. So, if you can, make sure you have reliable access to an internet-connected device while you’re at the gathering.

tl;dr Coming out is likely to be awkward no matter how you do it. This is not your fault. Coming out by making an annoucement at a family holiday gathering is probably a bad idea. Coming out more casually or emailing ahead of time might be a better idea. It helps if you identify supportive people ahead of time.

 

Anyone else want to weigh in? What ways of coming out to family members have worked well for you? Which ways have worked poorly?

 

 

 

Celebrating fake holidays

Sometimes families can’t get together on holidays or birthdays, even though they want to.


One way of dealing with this is celebrating a fake version of the holiday at a different time. 


Eg:

  • Frances: I can’t get off work for Thanksgiving this year.
  • Jeremy: Me neither. I really miss you though.
  • Frances: The airfare is really expensive anyway that week; I couldn’t afford it even if I could get time off then. Want to celebrate fake Thanksgiving the week after instead?
  • Jeremy: Ok. Can you take care of ordering the turkey? I’ll make the stuffing and pies.

Or: 

  • Susan: I’m sorry I’ll be out of the country all month. Let’s celebrate your fake birthday when I get back?
  • Heather: Yeah, let’s have a party when you get back. 
  • Susan: Cool, I’ll make you my chocolate cake, and I’ll bring you something awesome.

If you do all of the things you associate with the holiday or a birthday, it might not matter as much that you’re not able to do it, or not able to do it with family/friends on the day itself. Celebrating the fake holiday on a different day doesn’t work for everyone, but it works really well for some people.

Conversations at family gatherings

slightmayhem:

realsocialskills:

 said to :

What are appropriate topics of conversation for family gatherings during holidays? I’ve heard that you’re not supposed to talk about politics or religion, but what can you talk about?

realsocialskills said:

That depends somewhat on your family. “No politics and religion” is a rule that applies in some families but not others. The real rule is “Don’t pick fights, and steer clear of topics likely to result in people getting angry in ways that are likely to damage relationships.”

Or, to put it in more concrete terms: At a family gathering, it’s considered rude to tell someone that they’re going to hell, or that their political views are destroying the world. It’s considered rude to say something that implies that you think someone is going to hell or destroying the world, even if you don’t say so outright. It’s considered polite to be careful to avoid topics that are likely to go in that direction.

For many families, this means avoiding the topics of politics and religion altogether at extended family gatherings. When family members have strongly held conflicting views on politics and religion, talking about those topics can easily lead to fights. For some families, it makes sense to call a truce for the holidays and just get together and eat food and do things that everyone likes. 

Fighting on Christmas/Thanksgiving/other holidays isn’t likely to change anyone’s religious or political views - it just makes the holiday unpleasant. It’s ok to call a truce and fight those battles the rest of the year, when it isn’t a holiday. 

Politics and religion aren’t sources of conflict for every family. Some families have largely compatible views, and are able to discuss these things without it turning into a fight. You’re the best judge of how that works in your family.

If you’re in a family in which politics and religion are topics best avoided, there are some other popular topics:

Sports:

  • I don’t really understand the appeal of sports
  • But sports fandom is really, really popular
  • Most families contain a lot of people who like to root for sports teams
  • And family gatherings often involve watching sports games of some sort
  • If you like a team or a sport, talking about sports is probably likely to go well

Television shows and movies:

  • TV shows are a popular topic of conversation
  • Particularly currently-running popular shows
  • If you find a show that others in your family watch, or a movie they’ve also seen, you can probably discuss that show
  • (If your family gathering contains a lot of people who have a religious objection to watching R-rated movies, focus on shows/movies that aren’t sexually explicit or graphically violent)

Work:

  • People often talk about work at family gatherings, for instance:
  • Projects you’re working on at work
  • Funny or awesome things coworkers did
  • Funny or awesome things customers did

Possessions:

  • People often like to talk about stuff they have, or stuff they acquired recently
  • eg: your new iPad, an apartment you moved to, a new brand of rubber bands you discovered that are particularly good at holding bags closed, really soft shirts you just bought
  • (Be careful about this if you have a lot more money than some members of your family who will be present), bragging about wealth is considered rude

Vacations or other stuff you did:

  • Families often talk about vacations they went on, or plan to go on
  • Or some other thing they did recently, for example:
  • People who ran a marathon will probably talk about that
  • People who planted a big garden at the school they work at will probably talk about that
  • (Again, be careful about talking about expensive things if you have a lot more money than many of your family members)

The weather:

  • Talking about the weather is a cliche because people really do talk about the weather a lot as a way of making conversation
  • Eg: 
  • “Do you think it’s going to snow?”
  • “It’s so hot.”
  • “I like the way the rain sounds on the roof.”
  • “It’s so much warmer here in Florida than it is in New York.”
  • “I’m glad Grandma finally installed insulated windows.”

tl;dr Talking about politics and religion with people who don’t share your views can end poorly. Family gatherings often contain people who have equal and opposite convictions. In many families, people call a truce for the holidays and avoid those topics. Some other topics to discuss: sports, TV/movies, work, activities you’re involved in, vacations, the weather, and stuff you have and like. (Be careful about discussing expensive things that many of your relatives can’t afford.)

slightmayhem said:

It’s also nice and takes up a lot of time to ask people about their relatives who aren’t present. people generally like to talk about their personal families. (so, how is your wife? how old is your son now- what grade is he in? is he still in a band?) When you’re not sure what to ask, you can ask people questions about themselves, and just let them talk a while. (be prepared, they will often ask a similar question back at you)