Of Meinrad and Mashed Potatoes: Keeping the Peace During the Holidays

keeping the peace during the holidays

Practicing hospitality is a Biblical encouragement that we, as Christians, should strive to execute. But it can be difficult to practice when it comes to holiday gatherings. Family and friend dynamics can make keeping the peace during the holidays a challenge in and of itself. For inspiration, we turn to St. Meinrad.

The Hospitality of St. Meinrad

Saint Meinrad was a man who took his hospitality very seriously. He was a hermit, living far back in the woods. He treasured his solitude, but his holiness and wisdom drew people to his isolated cave. He welcomed them all.

One day, two men came to visit. The Holy Spirit told Meinrad earlier that day that they were there to rob him of the little he possessed and would kill him.

When the two men arrived, St. Meinrad welcomed them into his home as he did any other guest. He prepared a meal and set it before them. The three men broke bread. After the meal was complete, the two thieves plundered the cave and, discovering that there were no valuables, beat Meinrad to death.

Holiday Tension

I am no Saint Meinrad. I love having people into my home, but I don’t love conflict. I am possibly the most conflict-averse person on this good earth. My M.O. for conflict is to hide in an out-of-the-way bathroom for twenty minutes. Not the best approach to keeping the peace during the holidays. I can see Saint Meinrad and Mama Mary having a solid giggle over the fact that I am writing this.

However, the holidays are fast approaching. I couldn’t be more excited. These beautiful weeks bring such diverse gifts such as travel, seeing far away family, and the wrapping paper aisle at Target. Recently, my daughter and I were flipping through a holiday catalog. We were dreaming of having a bigger house with a huge kitchen table so we could invite hordes of people to Thanksgiving dinner. We talked about the menu, the decorations, the smells, and the sounds.

We talked about the guests. My daughter named the people we would want to invite. Her list included people of every shade of the political, racial, religious, socioeconomic, and nationality spectrum. Each person is someone for whom our family is profoundly thankful. The dream of all these people sharing a meal at my table made my heart glow; then the thought of all of these diverse people starting to converse made my stomach churn. What if hot-button topics are discussed? What if someone shuns another?

This world is filled with brokenness and isolation and fear. It’s so overwhelming. It’s so disheartening. It’s so much easier to hide in the bathroom. Each of us loves someone with whom we disagree, whether it’s on politics, faith, or child-rearing. It’s likely that someone in your tribe has the ability to push your every last button. To that end, here’s a helpful list to help you weather any potential conflict and enjoy your own beautiful, diverse, loving family.

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Tips for Keeping the Peace During the Holidays

1. Keep it calm.

What drives you nuts with your loved ones? Is it a facial expression? Backhanded compliments? Insults muttered just out of earshot?

I’ve found it helpful to identify my buttons in advance and consider how I generally respond to them. It’s much easier to keep a level head in real life conflict if I take the time to identify those things that drive me the most crazy. After keying in on them, I can formulate a way for my heart and my mind to respond, not react. It also prepares me to maintain an attitude of love in those situations where I am most likely to allow my mean side to show.

2. Keep it away from the table.

One of the biggest keys to keeping the peace during the holidays to to protect the table. In the wardroom (the naval officers’ dining area), there are three taboo topics for discussion: sex, religion, and politics. We’ve found that to be a good rule in our home when we have guests. It also substantially lowers the risk of my flinging mashed potatoes at someone’s head.

If a guest insists on debating something controversial in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner, tell the person that you would like to hear his or her perspectives on the subject after the meal. If you’re the hostess, you can politely tell him that it’s a rule in your home not to discuss controversial subjects at the table. If you’re a guest, you can simply tell him that you would prefer not to discuss it at that moment. Either way, should the person push the issue, smile, reiterate the offer to listen later, and turn to another guest and change the subject. Then after the meal…

3. Keep it considerate.

People want to be heard. They want to feel like what they think matters. The vast majority of us have good intentions, but we vary wildly on how to make the world a better place. Instead of immediately closing yourself off to those of opposing viewpoints, ask your guest why they hold a certain position. It’s hard to listen if we’re marshalling our counter arguments in our head. So try to listen to understand. Remember the prayer of Saint Francis:

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek…to be understood as to understand.

4. Keep it on target.

No one likes to be ambushed. No matter what the topic is, keep the discussion relevant. For example, if you’re discussing the relative merits and demerits of raising chinchillas, don’t use the topic to manipulate the conversation into All the Offenses of Christmases Past. If there are personal issues that need to be addressed, a more private and directed approach is likely to yield better results than a sneak attack under cover of chinchilla husbandry.

It may not be you careening off the subject. Either way, suggest going out for coffee or bundling up for a private walk to air (and hopefully resolve!) grievances. A change of venue and some fresh air often provides a moment for each person to calm down and approach the conversation with a clearer head.

5. Keep it humble.

Keeping the peace during the holidays requires humility. Human beings love to be right, and even more, we love for other people to see and acknowledge that we’re right. This is part of what makes humility the most challenging piece to this puzzle. When we’re engaging in conflict – even respectful, civil conflict – we think we’re right (Why else would we stand by our position?). And beyond being right, we also believe we have the moral high ground. We may in fact have the moral high ground; however, we are not tasked with convincing anyone of this. That job belongs solely to the Holy Spirit.

Humility isn’t slinking away, pretending that we’re wrong. It’s leaving room for God’s endless wisdom, grace, and perspective in our relationship to others. In these situations, our Heavenly Father is just as busy parenting us as He is parenting the other person. He wants open ears and soft hearts from both sides, but he can use just one. Let it be ours.

What are your best tips for keeping the peace during the holidays? Let us know in the comments below!

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Tiff Mansfield is a homeschooling mom to three usually charming offspring, wife to a legit real world superhero, and a lover of good bourbon and giant feathery hats. You can find out more about her here.

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1 Comment

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    November 27, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    Thank you Tiff for these great tips! My holiday hosting anxiety often comes more from balancing everyone’s expectations and wishes than from controversial conversation (we have a lot of conflict-averse people in our family). From Christmas Eve dinner and mass schedule to the Christmas day brunch menu and WHO’S BUYING FOR WHO (!!) — it can get messy. And I usually think that I know best. I will be trying my best to make room for humility this season 🙂

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