The holiday season provides many opportunities for families to gather. For some people, these are joyous occasions marked by warmth and nostalgia. But for many others, family gatherings often bring stress, conflict, and heated emotions.
The suppressed anger we can bring into such get-togethers is like a gopher that goes underground. Even though you can’t see him down there, he’s doing a lot of damage.
This underlying resentment, frustration, annoyance—whatever you want to call it—doesn’t just go away on its own. Have you heard the saying, “Time heals all wounds?” That’s not true. Grace heals wounds, and that grace can only be extended as people take off their masks and get sin out on the table.
But is the Thanksgiving table or Christmas Dinner the best setting to address such pain? I propose it’s not. Pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes don’t typically pair well with deep, heart-to-heart discussions that dig up past hurts.
So how should we approach family gatherings where tensions run high? Here are three ways to nurture peace during the holidays while also setting the stage for healthy conflict resolution to unfold in the coming year.
1. Avoid being the “fixer” of the family.
Although “fixers” may have good, biblically informed intentions, their unsolicited attempts to help only create resentment and conflict. I’ve tried being a “fixer” before. Sadly, it almost always leads to additional damage.
A wise person once told me, “The gate to life-change is locked from the inside.” The best thing we can do is to show compassion, be good listeners, and demonstrate patience.
God has to do the work in a person’s soul in order for lasting change to happen. As you go into family gatherings this holiday season, be intentional to identify any personal agendas or expectations for change you may subconsciously be holding over people.
The moment a person feels like they’re “a project,” they will pull away. Focus on pursuing Christ—not an assignment to fix someone—this holiday season.
2. Show a genuine interest in others.
I like to ask random questions that generate fun conversations. Sometimes, the best way to really bond with a person is to become a student of their likes, dislikes, pet peeves, favorite pastimes, etc.
By showing a genuine interest in the more playful part of a person’s life, we win the right to speak into the harder spaces.
Now, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also be serious with people around the holidays—especially when important issues are brought up. Scripture calls us to speak the truth in love and to be salt and light.
We shouldn’t hide our convictions, but we also shouldn’t assume every person is open and receptive to them. In the Parable of the Sower, the message doesn’t change, but the softness of the soil does.
A person’s heart has to be tender and open before they will receive a challenging word. And often, the best way to till the soil of someone’s hearts is to love them by showing a genuine interest in their lives.
In a world filled with chatter, social media posts, and strong opinions aired online, we have to be extra patient with people around us. The runway is longer when it comes to building rapport and establishing credibility.
When we show a genuine interest in others, it causes them to feel safe around us, something that will provide opportunities for deeper conversations down the road. This leads into my last point.
3. Save controversial issues for another day.
My personal advice is to avoid bringing up controversial issues at holiday gatherings. I think those moments are for bonding, smiling, getting along, and showing love to one another—as much as it depends on us.
If there is a family conflict that needs attention, schedule that conversation for another day, one that’s less emotionally charged. Remember Hezekiah’s advice that “a word spoken at the right time is like gold apples in silver settings” (Proverbs 25:11).
Timing is everything.
Seeking joy during the holidays
As I’ve processed pain in my own family background, I found C.S. Lewis’ book Surprised by Joy a profoundly helpful read. It allowed me to grasp how the Lord used trials in Lewis’ life to strengthen him.
It also allowed me to see the potential joy God bakes into our temporary struggles. As James writes, we can consider it great joy when we face trials of various kinds—including family trials (James 1:2). God uses these hard moments to steel our resolve and strengthen our faith in Him.
As you prepare for this holiday season, ask the Lord for wisdom in how to navigate minefields that can be present at family gatherings and to “bear with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). This advice is so helpful as we approach family conversations around the kitchen table or the Christmas tree.
Strive to bring a prayerful, loving posture into holiday gatherings this season. This is the key to building pleasant memories.