STAFF OPINION: Save yourself the headache

How to avoid controversial topics with your family this holiday season

By Mia Werner | November 25, 2020 7:58pm
Mia Werner is a reporter for The Beacon.
Media Credit: Annika Gordon / The Beacon

You’ve just taken your seat around the Thanksgiving table. While it has fewer relatives than in a non-pandemic year, there is still lively conversation amongst the attendees. Then you hear it.

“I just think Black Lives Matter is racist towards white people.” 

You see red. You want to scream, but you know that would be frowned upon by your mother. Instead, you wade into an hour long discussion of racism in America. You regret your life choices. 

As the holidays quickly approach, many begin to dread those nearly inevitable controversial discussions when the whole family meets. You may find yourself quarreling with a raving uncle or trying to tune out a tone-deaf grandpa. Eventually, any conversation may be dominated by head-swerves and eyerolls. In 2020, a year full of public controversies, it's important to note which topics may be best left untouched, for fear of a family brawl. Here are five topics to avoid this holiday season. 


Even months into the pandemic, a small piece of cloth continues to incite nationwide feuds about public health and personal freedom. Some Americans refuse to wear a facial covering, while others adhere to local, state and CDC guidelines on the subject. While you may hope everyone at your holiday gathering will have been masking up, there is a good chance that the subject could incite rage in some attendees. To avoid listening to an outburst about the “oppressive attack on personal freedoms” that are mask mandates, try to steer conversations towards lighter subjects, like sports. Better yet, find out who the anti-maskers in your family are and uninvite them from the holidays altogether. No COVID-19 for you!

The City of Portland

While it may have been where you chose to go to school, this was not a good year to be from Portland. We were continually in the news for being a safe haven for anarchy, with the President claiming that the whole city was overrun with rebels and being burnt to the ground. Despite these claims being completely false, the whole country had their eyes on us, as the city came out in droves to support Black Lives Matter. We also became a favorite violent vacation destination for the Proud Boys, a white supremacy group whom President Trump told to “stand back and stand by.” While the city is now back to its usual calm, perhaps its best to avoid any mention of it this holiday season, as it could only lead to a litany of other controversial conversations. When asked about school, pretend you dropped out. That’s sure to distract them!


While they shouldn’t be controversial, in recent years, vaccines have become an increasingly hot topic. Trepidation about whether or not to vaccinate kids has suddenly made national news. Now, as we race towards a COVID-19 vaccine, the conversation has kicked up again. This holiday season, you may hear relatives exclaim that they will not get a COVID-19 vaccine. While you could remind them that vaccines undergo a rigorous approval process by the FDA and the CDC, and have time and time again been proven to be safe for most people, perhaps it's best to not even wade into that water. Be comforted by the knowledge that once a vaccine is released, you will be much more protected from the choices of others thanks to the wonders of science. 


While it's no secret that the United States has a long history of racism, this year helped educate many white people on the struggles that BIPOC citizens face. Protests that were sparked after the death of George Floyd and others like him raged all across the country for months. While there should be no debate on the subject, many people still argue that the US doesn’t have a racism problem, and that things were being blown out of proportion. Counter-protests by white supremacist groups and the support of “Blue Lives Matter” made it clear a lot of people missed the point of the Black Lives Matter movement. If your family members fall into this category, perhaps it's better to avoid all discourse on race. However, if you do hear a family member remark that BLM is pointless, feel free to tell them that that is racist. Just have your getaway car warmed up and ready to go outside. 

The Election

The pinnacle of the democratic process in the United States is our fair and free elections. This November, we’ve seen an election unlike any other, undermined by a President whose fear of losing has defined his presidency. It took almost three weeks for Donald Trump to concede after the election was called for Joe Biden, claiming widespread election fraud. This is despite losing court case after court case and with very little evidence of actual election fraud. This holiday season, you may hear talk amongst your family of a “stolen election.” There’s a good chance you’ll be forced to listen to an outspoken uncle rant about the “Biden crime family,” and how Donald Trump won fair and square. If at all possible, avoid any talk of the election, one that will go down in the books as one of the most divisive elections in our history. That being said, take solace in knowing that come January, there will be a new administration. Feel free to wish people a very happy new year, as we leave a hellish election year behind. 

2020 has been quite the year. A global pandemic, civil unrest, an election that never seems to end. A happy — while smaller than usual — holiday season is what each and every one of us needs. As long as you remember to tip-toe around the hot button topics, perhaps we can end the year in less chaos than we started. That being said, if you’re feeling bold, it’s good to remember that your work as an ally is always important. Prepare your talking points and do your research, and maybe all hell won’t break loose around your table. 

Mia Werner is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at

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