For years, our family hasn’t brought up college football at holiday gatherings for fear of bedlam over Bedlam.
Among my large, extended family, only three of us hold degrees from the University of Oklahoma, and one of those now works for Oklahoma State. Turncoat.
One Thanksgiving, my ribbing about how the Sooners were dominating the season sent one temper exploding. Mom thereby and henceforth forever banned college football discussions at family functions.
Every group has its touchy, try-to-avoid subjects.
In my family world politics and religion are fine, but OU-OSU football is off limits. Pro sports and golf have been declared permissible.
I may not be able to stop conversations or comments, but there are some actions to keep the peace when something seems to be brewing.
The kitchen two-step is a good move. When a cousin starts expounding on the best coach in history, time to check on the turkey.
Interesting how I always find Mom there holding a glass a wine.
Just as the topic of the Heisman Trophy comes up, we will go outside to play actual football, just like the old-school Kennedys. But after some huffing and puffing, we quickly realize this is a hard game and agree to go bowling.
A few people have suggested other cool-down techniques:
Car alarm: Claim to forget something in your vehicle and sneak out for a respite, maybe take a little extra time to bite your tongue.
Nap: Nothing wrong with finding a spare bed or kicking back in a recliner to tune out for a while. It’s not really a holiday until the snoring begins.
Park time: Offer to take the kids to a park. It’ll be good exercise, fresh air and usually fun to get out on monkey bars again.
Rather than trying to avoid sensitive topics, which is smart, have some things in mind that bring everyone together.
A few times, old boxes of photos and letters were put on the table to sort out. It’s a natural prompt for storytelling.
Those moments are when I learned about Mom at her Sadie Hawkins Day dance or how an uncle coached his youngest brothers in baseball. Grandma was posing with Christmas ornaments, and a great-grandfather was a frequent traveler to the Middle East.
An uncle had a photo taken with a former president and another earned an Eagle Scout badge. There were family vacations to see baseball spring training, Pike’s Peak and quite a few to Kansas City.
I heard about the oddities of long-dead relatives and musical talents of distant cousins.
Photos usually come from happy moments, so those brought out the smiles and laughs. It provided a chance to know about family members I never or barely knew.
Once, my family discovered everyone had been watching HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” That hit a freakishly right conversational note.
For an hour, we would theorize about who would ultimately sit on the Iron Throne.
Of course, no one read the books, so we didn’t have any annoying literary types complaining about the unfaithful story line.
That only happened when “Outlander” came out on Starz. I read the novels and became that bookish nuisance. I learned to keep those criticisms to myself.
Now, we have a roster of television shows to discuss. Most people have book clubs, my family has a TV circle to discuss favorite sitcoms and dramas.
For years, we went bowling as a low-stress thing to do. Considering we requested the lane bumpers, competitiveness was off the table.
With cinemas being pretty empty, a few of us went to a movie after dinner a couple of times.
Once, a family member sneaked in a six-pack to see “Junior.” It took an intoxicant to stay to the end. Mom was upset, claiming we were lucky the movie police did not catch us.
Card games have gone on for hours. It’s the way I picked up how to play poker and blackjack, betting with things like candy and cookies. A bonus was hearing about the various trips everyone has taken to Las Vegas; not everything stays in Vegas.
I have friends who show up at their family events with board games or crafts like cookie decorating.
Some families have deep divisions that hit more core beliefs involving religion, relationships or lifestyle. The political climate has done nothing to bridge understandings.
Even in the closest of families, no one can get along 100% of the time with everyone.
It takes a bit of preparation to be around some people, but it’s worth it.
Family holiday dinners usually don’t last long, maybe one to a few hours; it’s not that much of a time commitment. The good that can come from them — connections made, stories shared and common memories — outweighs inconveniences and irritations.
One day these gatherings will no longer happen because people will no longer be here.
It’s better to curb the conversation with some planning than one day regret not making it to that one last feast.