Metro-East News

It’s a divided country, but locals hope to keep things cool at Thanksgiving table

On the tail of a contentious presidential election, locals are mulling over how to avoid fallout from political discussions at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

While some say they will avoid talking about the presidential campaign between President-elect Donald Trump and failed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, others say they will be able to discuss politics and keep their cool as they chow down on turkey and stuffing.

Kelli Rouse, 30, works at a shop in downtown Belleville. She says she already successfully celebrated Thanksgiving with friends and family over the weekend — without any fights breaking out.

“There were some minor discussions, but people were still very unwilling to share their thoughts,” Rouse said as she strung up lights in the downtown shop. “The two (Trump and Clinton) are so far apart in differences in opinion, it’s best to try to find common ground and move on.”

But Darian Brown, 38, of Centreville, says he plans to avoid political discussions altogether and just stick to football.

Terrence Bass, 26, also says politics are off-limits with family. He voted for Trump, and says his family disagrees with his decision. Bass, who lives in Belleville, says he’s still debating whether to go home to Chicago for Thanksgiving.

“We don’t agree, so it’s best just to keep it off the table,” Bass said.

Setting personal boundaries before the big get-together is one way to avoid starting a family feud, says Dr. Lillian Merchant-Sullivan, a therapist at social services organization Caritas Family Solutions in Belleville.

“Family stress, especially around the holidays, is not unusual because we’re coming back with our families. Some people haven’t been with them in a long time. The issues are what’s going to be discussed, and how we interact with people under those circumstances,” Merchant-Sullivan said.

Setting and understanding one’s own limits and boundaries is key in deciding how to act when sensitive subjects arise, Merchant-Sullivan said. The important thing to remember, she added, is “we’re still a family and we love them.”

Sticking to positive memories and setting up activities is a good way to avoid crossing into rocky territory, the therapist said, especially following election season.

Lynn Foster, who was in town this week from Royal Oak, Michigan, to visit family, said her mother taught her three subjects to avoid around the holidays — sex, religion and politics.

“If you follow those rules, you’re all good,” Foster said.

Her sister, Carole Piontkowsky, is the director of Belleville’s Christkindlmarkt, the city’s downtown Christmas market. She says it’s important for each person to share what they are thankful for on Thanksgiving. And when in doubt, take a mouthful of food.

Picking “safe zones” is another way to make sure uncomfortable political disagreements don’t ruin the festive mood, according to the Dallas Morning News. Make the porch or the living room the place for political discussion, but ban it from the dinner table.

Remaining calm and humble is also key, the Dallas newspaper said, because “the only person you can control is yourself.”

Some holiday revelers suggest taking the opposite route this year by embracing the controversial subject, according to The Kansas City Star.

“Preserve your dignity. Love your family members, but don’t be obedient to them. Don’t let tradition override fairness and respect. Show them you love yourself by saying what hasn’t been said, and see if it works,” the newspaper quoted New York writer and comedian Graham Nolan as saying.

In the end, the Belleville therapist says she reminds families that holidays only last for a day.

“If you love your family enough, you’re going to watch what you say and make sure you have another year together, or even next week together,” Merchant-Sullivan said. “Thanksgiving is just one day. Sometimes we forget that. The holiday is just one day.”

Activities for keeping things positive during the holidays:

  • Look through a family photo album
  • Plan to watch football or a movie
  • Cook together
  • Take a walk after the meal
  • Plan to sing together or play games
  • Plan special activities for kids
  • Research your family tree
  • Volunteer

Sources: Dr. Lillian Merchant-Sullivan,