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Your Thanksgiving Dinner Conversation Survival Guide

Thanksgiving dinner table

Before you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, arm yourself with these conversation topics. Image by Flickr user vxla.

OK, so you’ve watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, helped set the table or played in an annual pick-up football game.

The extended family's sitting around a table filled with a smorgasbord of food. It's time to join them.

But wait.

Beyond answering the predictable question "What are you thankful for?", what are you going to your aunts, cousins, and grandparents about? Talking about your life just means you'll get stories about how things were better back in the day. And what will you do when Uncle Bob turns to you for an opinion about current events?

Don't panic. We've got you covered. Here's a list of conversation starters that will liven up any Thanksgiving table and turn the attention from what you're going to do with your life.

Let the awkwardness end and the talking commence. Happy Thanksgiving!

Topic 1: The Conflict Between Israel and Gaza

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What’s going on? Israel and Hamas - the extremist group that runs neighboring Gaza - have been exchanging fire and have been on the brink of all-out war. Still, they just agreed to a ceasefire.

Factoid: Israel is using the Iron Dome (see photo above) - a system that launches rockets at detected threats - to fend off rocket attacks. It’s currently working at a 90 percent success rate.

Discussion starter: “So, do you think the ceasefire will hold in Gaza?”

Cheat sheets: Our Unbelievably Helpful Gaza Glossary and Why Israel and Gaza Might Go to War explainer.

Topic 2: The Presidential Election

What’s going on? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that on Nov. 6, President Obama was elected to a second four-year term as over Republican challenger Gov. Mitt Romney.

Factoid: With 332 electoral votes, President Obama easily cleared the 270 Electoral College vote minimum for the second time. (He got 335 electoral votes the first time around.) He also won most of the swing states.

Discussion starter: "Why do you think Obama beat Romney?" or "How do you think voting (or polling) should be improved for the next election?"

Cheat sheets: All of our coverage of Election 2012, especially What the Election Means, and What's Next, in Plain English.

Topic 3: The Benghazi Attack

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What’s going on? The U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three others were killed on Sept. 11 when gunmen stormed the embassy’s compound, becoming a hot-button election issue as questions were raised over when Obama called the attack an “act of terror.”

Factoid: Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said on a TV news show that the attack was the spontaneous act of an angry mob, not a planned terrorist attack. That turned out not to be the case. Now she's one of the top choices to replace Hillary Clinton, who is stepping down as Secretary of State, and Republicans are opposing her.

Discussion starter: “Do you think the Benghazi story will keep Susan Rice from becoming the next Secretary of State?”

Cheat sheets: Our list of The Five Big Questions About the Benghazi Attack.

Topic 4: The Petraeus Scandal

Presidential chat

What’s going on? Four-star Gen. David Petraeus stepped down as director of the CIA on Nov. 9, citing the fact that he'd had an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Questions have arose over whether Petraeus revealed top-secret information to Broadwell.

Factoid: The affair was discovered after Broadwell sent threatening e-mails to a woman she saw as a rival for Petraeus.

Discussion starters: "Do you think Petraeus needed to resign?" or "Who do you think should replace Petraeus as the head of the CIA?"

Cheat sheet: See our Lowdown on the Petraeus Scandal.

Topic 5: Hurricane Sandy and Global Warming


What’s going on? As you surely know, a hurricane-turned-"superstorm" Sandy ravaged parts of the Eastern seaboard, especially in New York and New Jersey, and cleanup and recovery are ongoing. Some scientists have raised the possibility that Sandy could have been a product of global warming and that more destructive extreme weather lies ahead.

Factoid: More than 110 people were killed by the storm.

Discussion starter: “Do you think Sandy was caused by global warming?”

Cheat sheets: How Superstorm Sandy Affects You Now Matter Where You Live and Are Freak Hurricanes Really Caused by Global Warming?.

Topic 6: The Fiscal Cliff

Goddard Interns Experience a Little Mars on Earth

What’s going on? A series of government budget cuts and a steep rises in taxes, will coincide this January, unless the President and Congress take action. It’s believed the fiscal cliff would deal a crippling blow to the economy.

Factoid: The average household would have to pay $3,500 more per year in taxes.

Discussion starter: “Do you think we'll avoid the fiscal cliff?”

Cheat sheet: Our explainer What the Fiscal Cliff Is and Why You Should Care.

Topic 7: Black Friday and Walmart

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What’s going on? “Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving, is the biggest shopping day of the year. And a group of Walmart employees are planning walkouts and strikes at over 1,000 stores across the country.

Factoid: The average Walmart worker earns about $8.81 an hour, for a yearly wage of about $15,500 - which is below the poverty line. Workers want $13/hour.

Discussion starters: "Are you planning to go shopping tomorrow or avoid the insanity?" or "Do you think Walmart should pay its workers more?

Cheat sheet: Our Insider's Guide to Shopping - or Avoiding - Black Friday.

The Kicker

When dessert is served, why not suggest doing some good as a family? Here are a few ideas.


Send Obama a 'hand turkey' to ask for environmental protections >>


Sign a petition opposing the use of antibiotics in farm animals >>


Help end world hunger with Heifer International >>

Images used under Creative Commons licensing.

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Your Thanksgiving Dinner Conversation Survival Guide

Ryan Papaserge

Ryan is a copy editor at The Post-Journal in Jamestown, N.Y. Follow: @RyanPapaserge.

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