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The family politics of Christmas dinner

For the last few weeks of term, many students fantasise about Christmas dinner. Whether you are from a turkey, chicken or nut roast family, 25 December marks the culinary event of the year.

For those of us who do not pass out with joy at the mere sight of pigs in blankets, there are certain familial rituals that have to be observed during the annual feast.

With all relatives from the furthest stretches of the extended family, or at the very least grandparents, being present at the Christmas meal, a certain level of polite conversation is expected of everyone. In the case of some relatives, especially the ones only ever seen at Christmas, even this basic level of conversation can be taxing.

For a student, there are two types of questions that will inevitably be asked. The first are the most common and most dreaded: “what are you going to do after you graduate?”, “what have you learnt that will get you a job?” and “have you looked into [insert company name] as a potential employer?” These questions not only cause long awkward silences, but can also very easily become the catalyst of the worst possible scenario, a Christmas family argument.

The best option, if not the easiest, is to be optimistically honest – turn “I have no clue and I’m terrified” into “I’m still exploring my options really.” If you have googled or thought about a job at all then technically this is not a lie. Smiling and reaching for another portion of mashed potato in turn means you cannot reply to any further questions, at least for another year.

The second type of questions to be expected from academic relatives are more along the lines of “do you do [insert student hobby]? I used to!” These are comparatively harmless, and usually just an excuse for the questioning relative to regale some “hilarious” old stories from their own student days. Again, the best response to this is smiling and eating, maybe including some interested non-verbal noises as well.

At the end of the day, the dinner lasts a maximum of two hours, but storming off and shutting yourself in your room halfway through the turkey being carved will taint your grandma’s mental image of you for months to come.

For many modern families, opportunities for reunion are few and far between, and should be appreciated. While Christmas may last only a day, your relatives are your family 365 days a year, and the ramifications of a slight at the dinner table will carry forth into the new year and beyond.

Remember, however big, small, awkward, obnoxious or noisy your family is, it is Christmas; for at least one day, just  grin, bear it, and be nice.


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August 2022
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