Traditionally, the three things you’re never supposed to discuss at dinner are religion, money, and politics. Sex is sometimes mistakenly put in the mix, but if you need a list to tell you discussing sex in front of Grandma and your primary school-aged cousins isn’t appropriate, you need to be on a list of sex offenders.
Religion is usually easily navigated, because my family are lapsed Christians, so we all agree, and don’t care enough to talk about it. One year my sister did suggest we shouldn’t be celebrating Christmas without the Christ, so we took her away her presents. Then she bit me and started crying, and for some reason got all her presents back.
Money is also a simple one, as everyone in my extended family is clever enough to always complain they don’t have any. If anyone does boast about doing okay, they’ll immediately be hit with loan requests, and my extended family are experts at inventing compelling reasons they need cash now, and why they can’t yet pay it back.
Politics is the one topic that always results in flying turkey bones, spilled gravy, and half the attendees storming out before pudding, but always miraculously reappearing when it’s time for presents.
Several times during every family dinner, I know I’ll be faced with an impossible choice. Defend my opinions, and be blamed for ruining everything, or keep silent for the night, and feel like a wimp for weeks.
When my uncle said, ‘There’s a reason it’s always a White Christmas’, I knew I should change the subject, but instead pointed out that Rudolph had a red nose, Elvis sang about a Blue Christmas, and Jesus was probably brown.
Last year a cousin said anyone who couldn’t afford presents needed to get a damn job and to have less children, which would only ever happen if the government cut welfare payments. Too easily, I could have steered the conversation to the safe waters of sport, weather, or sport, but instead told him the vast majority of people aren’t on welfare because they’re lazy, and that Christmas was about giving to those less fortunate, not giving another video game system to his obese son.
Experts suggest one area of safe conversation is family matters, but not if your family is anything like mine. Questions from last year include: how can you have a dry wedding that should be illegal, great Aunty how much do I get when you die, do you really need more cake, any idea who the father is, and can someone please move that van it’s blocking my Mercedes that I’ll never pay off I’m so poor.
Psychologists and other professionals far more qualified to write this column, suggest to salvage a Christmas that’s wrecked itself on the Scotch and rocks of political discourse, you should admit fault even if you don’t think you’re wrong, exactly like Kevin Spacey’s attempt at an apology. Or fill the dead air with alternate conversation, just like they do on the Footy Show after every commercial break. Or show compassion and understanding for opposing views, like Jesus.
If anyone did any of that at my family Christmas dinner, however, nobody would be back, because where’s the fun in that, and what is there to talk about until next year?
Xavier Toby is a writer and comedian.
His second comedy memoir ‘Going Out of My Mined’ is available now.