The crisp turkey skin makes an audible snap as the carving begins.
The secret-ingredient stuffing barely survives the first passing around the table.
But Uncle Joe is at cousin Trent’s throat over the latest Trump tweet, and your Norman Rockwell-like family meal has collapsed into an NFL sidelines free-for-all.
“Sometimes a lot of pent-up issues get brought out. It’s quite difficult for others; they want to enjoy the food. This happens in a family,” said Rik Cornell, a licensed clinical social worker and vice president of community relations at the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester.
Every family has issues. With that in mind, following are some tips to make the Thanksgiving meal one to remember, even if the mashed potatoes are lumpy:
Easy on the alcohol. “I don’t want to downplay the opioid epidemic, but we have a real serious problem with alcohol in this state. It’s big,” Cornell said. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and makes one quick to say something to which people can take offense. It can also lead to domestic violence.
If you need help, a quick internet search found an all-day AA meeting at the Concordia Lutheran Church, 211 N. Main St., Concord.
Behave yourself. Don’t worry about how other people behave, focus on your own behavior, said Tom Corner, a motivational speaker and author of “Borrowed Eyes and Feet: Finding Enlightenment After Rage.”
A lot of that involves attitude. If you are grumpy and assume the holiday will be a disaster, that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Attitude adjustments are as easy as making simple affirmations such as telling yourself that you love yourself and appreciate yourself, and you have a lot to be thankful for, he said.
“Smile because smiles really are contagious,” Corner said.
Avoid politics. In this age of political divisions and civil discord, discussions about Donald Trump or his Democratic nemeses are best avoided. After all, do you really think you will convince Aunt Virginia of the errors of a Supreme Court ruling? Do you expect everyone to agree with your interpretation of a presidential Tweet?
“There’s a lot of feuding. One’s mad at the other, everything is very black and white because of politics,” Cornell said. “It never used to be like that.”
So what to talk about? Possible topics with somewhat less risk for conflict: Mountains or ocean next year for family vacation? Who is greater: Belichick or Brady? Will Spike Lee get an Oscar this year? Time to get in (or out) of the stock market? The best place to shop on Black Friday?
Reach out. Of course, confronting problems and airing grievances are necessary for a healthy family relationship. But that doesn’t mean the dining room table is the proper setting for an intervention between squabbling siblings.
“Sometimes, it’s not what people are bringing up, it’s how they’re doing it, when they’re doing it or where they’re doing it,” Cornell said. If you need to work something out with a relative, do it before Thursday, he said.
“If you take that step and reach out, it’s kind of hard not to respond in a semi-positive way,” Cornell said.
Recognize loss. Holidays can be stressful when a loved one is either ailing or has recently died, Cornell said. Every family handles grief in different ways. Some set a place at the table for a missing loved one.
What’s important is to recognize the loss. “There’s a lot of sadness that comes with the joy of the holidays. It’s a normal part of life,” he said.
Change it up. Anything to avoid boredom and overindulging. Walk around the lake (or given the forecast, snowshoe around the lake). Board games or card games. A Black Friday excursion. An evening movie.
“Do something together,” Cornell said, “Change it up a bit. No sitting around the TV and not talking to each other.”