Surviving the Holidays During This Presidency


My apologies in advance.

I was going to use this space to share some wise and pithy insights on how to navigate the holidays after one of the most divisive, toxic election cycles in our nation’s history, and most incendiary Presidency. I was hoping to offer practical ways of restoring a little sanity and brokering some peace around the table for you and your family to close out the calendar.

I got nothin’.

Like you, I’ve seen stuff I didn’t want to see this past year. I heard some really terrible things from people I thought I knew. I’ve discovered realities about folks I love and once felt at home with, and I’m not sure that will ever be as true again. I suppose that’s what upheaval does; it brings deeply buried things to the surface and forces you to see them, no matter how ugly they are. We’ve all seen ugliness this year.

And to be honest, to flip a switch now and to try and simply dine with the ugliness and act as if everything’s okay isn’t possible or even healthy, but the alternatives aren’t much better either:

We could vow a moratorium on holiday political discussions; some sort of temporary cease-fire, but that would mean pretending the junk isn’t there just out of sight. It would be engaging in the worst kind of pretending with the very people we’re supposed to be most authentic with. It would be building a pretty facade to hide the disgusting mess inside.

We might go in all guns blazing, and let every word fly, every disappointment be heard, every error be pointed out, every grievance be voiced. We might declare a no-holds-barred clearing of the air, but in close proximity to so much that is still so raw, that might create a wreckage too great to survive.

We could withdraw and avoid, opting out of gathering altogether, buying ourselves some necessary time to heal and rest and see clearly, though that too might rob us of the last holiday for this version of our family, as death doesn’t wait for us to get our sh*t together.

And that’s the problem here. There is no good answer. There is no perfect plan that will fix all of this or mend the wounds or bridge the divides or turn back the clock. There is no path that gets us to the place our families used to be, there is only the broken, jagged, treacherous road to where we are going—and that’s not at all clear or inviting right now.

And maybe we just have to walk it now without managing it or anticipating it or figuring it out. As always, time is the only thing that gets us to tomorrow, so trying to be there now is pointless. 

For a long time I’ve strived to be a person with a bigger table and to be a pastor fighting for the Church with a bigger table; to be about learning other’s stories and hearing their hearts—but to be honest right now I don’t find understanding or hospitality too easy to come by with some people. Right now I want to disconnect or avoid or confront—and that’s a problem.

I know that this is supposed to be the time when we all give thanks and make peace and nurture goodwill and cultivate hope, but these things are far more difficult than they’ve been in a long time. Maybe they are for you too.

I imagine you’re in a similar spot, either less or more acutely than I am. You may have greater consensus in your family or you may have massive rifts that seem insurmountable. You might be fully ready to put it all behind you and fully embrace your loved ones these days, or you may be (out of choice or circumstance) certain that reconciliation and co-existence right now are impossible.

To one degree or another I imagine we’re all asking the same question right now of our families, that we’re asking of our friendships, neighbors, churches, schoolmates, and co-workers: How the heck do we deal with the stuff we’ve seen and the things we know and the pain we’ve incurred?

This would be where I’d really love to tie everything up neatly with some priceless nuggets of truth, so that we could all get on with our holidays and celebrations and reunions—but that’s not happening.

All I can do is acknowledge that we’re all in this uncertain, ugly, messiness together, and that we all will be sitting in the paradoxical tension of giving thanks while in some ways lamenting those we give thanks for, of celebrating life while grieving what we no longer have.

Friend, however you choose to navigate these holidays, know that it’s the right way. Give yourself permission to pretend or confront or abstain as you need to, and forgive yourself later if you decide you chose poorly. You’re probably going to get it wrong or at least feel like you did.

But remember too, to save a little of that mercy for those who sit across the table from you or those who choose not to. They’ll be doing the best they can too.

These are difficult days (and holidays) for all of us.

Still, be encouraged.

Order John’s book ‘A Bigger Table’ here.





20 thoughts on “Surviving the Holidays During This Presidency

  1. The same thought has crossed my mind. My immediate family is pretty level-headed, but some of my extended family is very hardcore conservative. To make things more interesting, I’m bringing my same-sex fiance to family Thanksgiving this year.

    Personally, I plan to sit at the kids’ table. I can handle the drama of “Who’s caught the most Pokemon?” Anything more, not so much. Fortunately, my fiance is on-board with that too. 🙂

  2. Somebody’s going to have to just eat their feelings with a nice side of cranberries at my family table… That would be me. Everyone has their rifles already locked and loaded because of deer season; liberals are in their sights too. I’ll make my escape to the kitchen to start washing dishes. No thanks on the pumpkin pie and after-dinner discussion. And I’ve already packed my Rolaids.

  3. So many of my own thoughts are reflected in this piece. It’s difficult to press onward when so many friends, family and colleagues appear to have completely different views than my own. But press onward is the path I’ve chosen for the time being. Thanks for a most insightful statement.

  4. Trumpites are wild-eyed zealots just like Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. As one of my professional colleagues and close friends ( “W”) once told me: “If you look at the sweep of world history, you will quickly see that most of the death, mayhem, raping, pillaging, etc. throughout human history was instigated by “zealots.” They may have been religious zealots like the Grand Inquisitor of Spain, war zealots like Alexander the Great, or zealots of greed like Cortez—-all zealots for a particular cause. At family Thanksgiving Day gatherings and Christmas gatherings, Democrats, Independents, and nonvoters are going to face Trumpite zealots—like Uncle Fred. This is the same kind of confrontation that atheists experience when the are members of overwhelmingly Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical families.

    One of my on-line friends is Bruce Gerencser, an atheist who was the head pastor at Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches for 25 years, particularly IFB churches. Bruce has some blog posts that are pertinent to the issue John has raised. You may read one of them at the following safe link:

    You may Google the following title to read another one of Bruce’s posts on this subject that JOHN P. has raised

    “How Fundamentalist Christians Ruin Christmas”

    Both articles are pertinent to handling Trumpite zealots at family holiday gatherings—because Trumpite zealots and fundies are a lot alike.

  5. This is helpful, though I don’t live near enough family to have the meal together, thank you, JP. This might also help others:
    It’s true that fundamentalism and Trumpism go hand in hand. There is a real pull to extremism right now. I think we are all trying to figure out how not to go there. I think we are seeing on a grand scale the old adage that narcissists divide. It is true that light cannot have fellowship with darkness. The tension lies therein.

  6. I’ve been practicing my responses:

    Uncle Fred: How you feeling about the election? Guess that crooked Hillary got what she deserved!

    Me: Well, your guy won. I hope he does well.

    Uncle Fred: Does well? Now he will make you liberals squirm…

    Me: Well, I’m hoping that he governs for all people, but it’s up to him. This is great pumpkin pie.

    Uncle Fred: And we can finally undo all the damage from Obama!

    Me: These are great cranberries.


    And at the end of the day, as I leave:

    Me: Great to see you Uncle Fred. Happy holidays!

  7. I am so glad I discovered your writing through this process. You consolidated my feelings on the day of the Trump win, and this article as well hits the nail on the head. I have found myself biting my tongue more in the last two weeks than at any other time in my life. To support such a man for President of this great country burns me to the core.

    Two of my male friends, whom I have known for over 20 years, have been making very aggressive comments about various groups, as they are Trump supporters. I finally had to block them because their negativity was infiltrating my life on Facebook and sending messages I could not condone. This was difficult for me, as it wasn’t just about their suddenly unfiltered selves rising to the surface, but about who they really are vs. what I thought they were. I have felt as if there was an enemy living in my camp, within my inner circle, in a place where I never thought such illogical thought could live. I’ve never been in a situation where I was so fundamentally shaken by the unacceptability of somebody elses’ views.

    As Thanksgiving approaches, I find myself worrying about the conversation, just like everybody else. I’m literally stressed and anxious, and wishing it could just be over.

    However, upon reflection, I realize that Trump winning is exactly what needed to happen. You can’t fight bigotry and hatred if you don’t know it’s there, simmering under the surface. This country and our countrymen (and women) are about to rise to the surface. In a weird way, this rhetoric and Trump’s deplorable conduct is going to change our nation by bringing about a revolution. I continue to hope and pray this Thanksgiving, that this revolution is an intellectual one, rather than a civil war; only time will tell.

    • While they were putting a new tire on my van this morning, I sat in the waiting room readings a firearms magazine. They had some really neat firearms in there—but of course—they were very pricey. The radical right has a litmus test to tell whether a blog poster owns firearms or not—just in case they have to go and shoot him for being too liberal. It goes something like this:

      Bob: I do disagree with you. Just remember that we liberals own guns too!!!

      Bill: I can tell you don’t own any because of what you just said.

      Bob: Well, how do you know that.

      Bill: I know that because no self-respecting owner of one would ever use the term “gun” to describe them. People who own them, are NRA members, know about them always call them “firearms.”

    • My thoughts exactly. I just didn’t know that all the hate and bigotry was simmering below the surface, and I got blind-sided when it blew up like a dormant volcano.

  8. We’ve actually canceled our vacation because my brother and sister are ardent Hillary supporters and just will not let it go. They’ve targeted me as a Trumpite and now expect me to explain everything he does, says or whatever. The irony is I didn’t / don’t like either candidate but want to give the next president a chance.

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