How to Make Waves This Holiday Season with the Best (Worst) Conversation Starters

"I like to begin conversations in a home I’ve never been to by asking whether anyone has ever died there"

Holiday Ice Breakers-inline

(Photograph: PBS)

They say the holidays are about peace on earth and goodwill towards men. But look. I’m sure that when those phrases was coined in time for 19th century hymnbook, they made a little more sense. However, the world is now in turmoil, so the only good will I have left is reserved for Harry Styles.

But we keep being told to avoid conflict over the season. We’re reminded that family is important and that the dinner table is an inappropriate place to argue, and that no matter what we do or say, we won’t change anybody’s minds or make the tension at Aunt So-And-So’s worth it.

And to that I say: who cares? If you want to make waves this holiday, go for it. Go in enthusiastic and prepared, and above all remember: if anybody asks you where you found these conversation starters, do not point them in my direction because I will be enjoying a quiet Christmas with my family where I intend to pass out on a bed of stuffing and turnips. I’m not going down with the burning ship.

Herewith, my best (worst) holiday ice breakers.


Say nothing but this word. Say it loudly, whisper it as you unwrap your gift, raise a glass and make your toast. Just know that regardless of when and how you say it, you will get a reaction. Heads will snap up, eyes will bulge, someone will begin choking on whatever it was they were trying to drink. And then, as opinions begin flying and the volume of your holiday event increases, you back slowly away, knowing that for the next 45 minutes to six-and-a-half hours, no one will talk about anything else, and you are finally free to scroll through Instagram without being told how rude your generation is.

On the Flipside: Avoid Talking About Politics

Here’s the thing. If your family believes that Trump is doing a great job, there’s nothing I can do for you and I’m sorry. Maybe just show up to dinner, quietly accept your gift cards, and weep silently under the notes of “Wonderful Christmas Time” as you remember what it was like to be young and small. But if you’re not sure, if you don’t know, or if you’ve got an uncle who loves to debate anything under any and all circumstances, avoid the topic altogether. As in: do not bring Trump up. Do not answer if anybody asks you what you think. When somebody mentions POTUS, say “Who?” repeatedly until you’re written off as a complete imbecile. Then, the topic of conversation will no longer be American politics. The topic will be why you know nothing of what’s going on in the world. And then you just sit back and let those concerned looks roll in.

Any Upsetting Pop Culture-Centric News

I say this as someone who’s been there and done it. Shortly after Christmas dinner in 2016, I read that George Michael died. And because I’m a person unable to be subtle or subdued in any way (but especially when very upset) I yelled as loudly as possible, “George Michael is dead!” The room went quiet, my aunts got sad, and after we spent about ten minutes silently reading the news on our phones, everybody left. It was terrible, and within two days everybody who’d been there came down with the flu. I don’t think the two are related, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if they were.

Your Intense Hatred of Elf on the Shelf

This is for anyone who, like me, believes Elf on the Shelf is merely the festive arm of the police state. Liberate your nieces and nephews, be the big cousin you wish you had. Slip a copy of 1984 under their pillows and remind them that surveillance, while often inevitable, doesn’t have to be accepted quietly. Then, remove the Elf on the Shelf, burn him atop the traditional yule log, and scream “liberation” as you realize too late that burning plastic is toxic.

Crystal Healing/Tarot Cards/Witchcraft/Ghosts

I like to begin conversations in a home I’ve never been to by asking whether anyone died there. Then, I like to follow that question with whether or not the residents have ever seen a ghost. And while I’m not saying doing this is polite, I am most definitely saying that it is the fastest way to begin important conversations about spirits, the afterlife and murder in general. It is also the fastest way to make somebody feel incredibly uncomfortable in their own house.

Or, you can take the less invasive route by placing your favourite crystals around your dinner plate. Burn the sage your aunt set aside for turkey seasoning, and make constant inquisitions as to who brought the heavy energy. If that fails, and your family is still engaging only in conversations about stuffing recipes, ask them about their favourite unsolved murder cases. And then spend more time than anyone ever should examining the theories behind each.

This is when you realize you are at my house. And for the last time, participate in our murder and ghosts talks or get the f-ck out. Happy holidays!

This article was originally published on November 24, 2017.

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