Breaking bread seems to make us want to break noses.
There are undoubtedly deep-seated psychological reasons for this. Perhaps we should place a therapist at the head of every dinner table, share how we're really feeling, and have a group hug afterwards...
Oh, very well. Here, then, are some suggestions for a harmonious dinner, with guests, in your house.
- Remember that it's your house. You have the right to set some rules and boundaries, and you don't have to vacillate under pressure. "This is my choice" is a perfectly good answer when you turn a conversation from a sensitive subject, or choose to seat venomously warring cousins at separate tables.
- Manage time - don't call the guests to the table until food is actually ready to be served. Waiting is a great incubator for idle thoughts and conflict. And have an activity scheduled to begin just after dessert - again, leave no time to sit at the table.
- Use tall centerpieces to break up lines of sight across the table if you feel a conflict might brew. It's hard to argue through or around an immense floral spray.
- If you serve alcohol, serve it sparingly, because it loosens inhibitions against "in your face" argumentative behaviour.
- Put the dinner table - or tables - in view of the Christmas tree. It's a soothing element.
- Play favorites by talking with the quietest guests. The effort to to this can forestall those who are argumentative.
- Keep party favours - small wrapped gifts for each guest - in reserve. If necessary, distribute them to defuse developing tension.
- Above all - keep calm, and don't be drawn into conflict. It takes two to argue. An individual talking without response will realize the silliness of his situation in short order.
If you're not the host, the last point will be most operative - you can't really control the overall flow of events, but you can control yourself.
If a guest begins to become confrontational during time spent socializing away from the table, you can have a preplanned strategy to cull that person from the 'herd'; lead him or her somewhere else, without referring to their poor behaviour. If distracted long enough, most people will forget what they had been talking about previously.
We wish you a Christmas season of joyful times and happy memories!