Safe Conversation Starters at the Holiday Table

Family gatherings during the holidays are highly anticipated events for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is some level of anxiety over safe conversation starters — what to talk about at the dinner table that won’t set off a family feud. 

The spirit of the holidays might be ‘the more the merrier,’ but reality might be closer to‘the more opinions, the scarier.’ Unless you are angling for a lifetime ban from any family get-together, you don’t want to be that guy (or gal) who brings up the wrong topic at the holiday table. Elevate your etiquette game with some safe conversation starters — or savers when someone else commits a ‘convo faux pas’.

Start with a Compliment

Compliment the host on everything from the decorations to the food. Not only is it the gracious guest thing to do, it might even get you some bonus points that parlay into the biggest slice of pie or the “good Bourbon” on the top shelf. Show a keen eye by spotting a holiday decoration or ornament that looks like it might have a story to be told. Ask about it. Focusing on the feast easily brings out happy conversation and can yield some delicious recipe sharing.

Must See

Instead of “Anyone seen any good movies lately?” (which is not only cliché but too wide open), offer up your thoughts on a good movie or TV series you’ve seen recently. This will surely spark some interesting and lively conversation because these days so many people are watching and talking about all kinds of movies and series on Netflix or Amazon Prime. You might even learn that Grandma has been binge-watching “Breaking Bad” and thinks Mr. White is hot.

Where Ya Been?

If you know that someone at the table has recently been on a vacation or interesting business trip, ask them about it. People love to share stories about their travel stories – good and bad. Talking about a trip anywhere opens up so many other great questions, such as: If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be? Or What is the best trip you’ve ever taken?


Social media posts are excellent fodder for talking points – but try to stay positive and bring up posts that are amusing or cute (all those pictures of kids and pets).Even though you haven’t seen your cousin Jennifer in years and you live in opposite corners of the country, you feel closer because you get snapshots of her life on Facebook or Instagram, which is one of the best things about social media. Here’s a chance for you to get the full story behind those posts. People love to get social about their social media.

News You Can Use

Some so-called news we see and hear are so ridiculous or bizarre that people love to talk about them, and that’s just fine for holiday table chatter. Usually off-beat stories, celebrity news and “dumb-criminal” anecdotes are pretty safe.  Just avoid ones that skirt too close to politics or other sensitive topics or tragedies.

You Must Remember This

A terrific way to get people talking is “Remember when…” followed by any good memory of something that happened at a previous family gathering. Perhaps when Uncle Hank did a fantastic belly flop at the family pool party two summers ago, or little Bobby busted the piñata on the very first swing. Just be sure the trip down memory lane isn’t one that someone else would have liked to have forgotten.Think it through a little before you bring it up.

Save Someone or Yourself

No matter how hard some of us try, sometimes we end up putting our put in our mouth. It happens. Sometimes a good conversation starter takes a bad turn, and other times we allow ourselves to get baited by that instigator in the crowd who thinks controversy is fun. Take a deep breath and just get it back on the tracks. You can save yourself or someone else by going back to any of the items on this list of safe conversation starters. Good luck!

For other etiquette tips, check out this CNN article and