Can we all agree we have had enough stress this year! Now here come the holidays with stress of their own. So let me provide one piece of advice that will make this holiday season better if you employ it.

Because the pandemic continues to take its toll on families and the virus continues to make people sick, we have the same stress as last year-more disagreement on what to do. So here we go again, another year of vaccine and mask discussions that can make even the calmest families upset. Yet, people will be missing at our Thanksgiving tables because of the death toll of the virus. Others are currently sick and need to quarantine. And still others are vulnerable when families gather.

It’s easy to feel discouraged and want some normalcy again. And, during times of high stress, tempers can flare and families can find themselves arguing again. Major conflict has a way of ruining good times.

Consequently, we have to stay focused on the meaning of the holiday. It’s a time to give thanks, not a time to engage in major conflict. And that is my one piece of advice:  Stay away from major conflict!

To do so, follow these tips:

  1. Decide ahead of time the rules of engagement around vaccinated/unvaccinated and mask wearing. If you have these discussions ahead of time and agree on the rules for the day, this will lessen tension. Everyone will know what is expected. These could be hard conversations but will pay off on the actual day of celebration. The the goal is to come up with a plan.
  2. In order to determine the rules of engagement, go with majority rule or the host family’s wishes. Not everyone will agree on how to handle things. So you will have to come to consensus. Be accommodating and sensitive to the vulnerable and immune compromised. This is not a time to take a political position! Be aware of ALL your family members who will be attending the holidays and do what works for the least of these. This is a biblical concept I wish more Christians would employ. Take care of your brother or sister, meaning anyone in your family who might be at risk and vulnerable. I teach at a medical school and people are still getting very sick and dying from COVID. So be sensitive to those at risk.
  3. Ahead of time, determine to avoid politics, religious issues, and personal rights discussions. If this seems controlling, it is not meant to be. Rather, this strategy will avoid topics of division and shift the conversation to more agreeable items. With effort, families can find common ground and topics that won’t lead to arguments and stress. You will have to be intentional given all that is going on in our culture.
  4. Focus on gratitude. After all, this is the reason for the Thanksgiving season. Discuss those things for which you are grateful. Scripture tells us to think on things that are noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Challenge your family to find examples of gratitude in each of those categories.
  5. Build positive memories. Plan activities that take you outdoors or find games to play. I have so many fun memories of my aunts, uncles and cousins playing cards and board games. We were loud and boisterous with competitive spirits. Others were yelling at the annual football game between the Lions and the Bears. Still others went bowling even though many of us could not bowl well at all. However, there was lots of laughter. These types of memories and traditions  stay with you in a positive way, so build some of your own.

In sum, discuss expectations ahead of time and avoid major conflict at this time. We need some fun memories and good times given the events of the past year.

More from Beliefnet and our partners