Sidestep Conflict During Holiday Gatherings Through Peacemaking

The holidays can be a time of joy, connection, and celebration, but they can also be a source of stress, tension, and conflict. This is especially true when family members with different personalities, beliefs, and values come together.

Being a peacemaker during the holidays is important for maintaining harmony and preventing disagreements from escalating into major conflicts.

Let’s take a look at conflict within families and the dynamics of family gatherings. Then, let’s explore some tips on being a peacemaker within your celebration:

Common Sources of Conflict

According to a study by the American Psychological Association, 69% of Americans report experiencing conflict with family members during the holidays. The most common sources of conflict are:

  • Politics and religion: 37%
  • Money: 35%
  • Lifestyle choices: 33%
  • Extended family: 29%
  • Children: 27%

The study also found that conflict is more likely to occur when families are under stress, such as when dealing with financial, health, or relationship problems.

A 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 55% of Americans say that the holidays are a stressful time for them. The most common sources of stress are:

  • Financial pressure to buy gifts: 48%
  • Feeling obligated to spend time with family members they don’t like: 34%
  • Feeling pressure to live up to unrealistic expectations from family members: 31%
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the number of holiday commitments: 29%
  • Feeling lonely or isolated: 28%

The Dynamics of Family Gatherings

The dynamics of family gatherings can be complex and often depend on various factors, such as the personalities of the family members involved, the history of the family, and the specific context of the gathering. However, some general patterns can be observed.

Power Dynamics

One of the most important dynamics in family gatherings is the power dynamic. This refers to the way that family members have different levels of influence and control over each other. Power dynamics can be based on a variety of factors, such as age, gender, socioeconomic status, and personality.

For example, in a traditional family, the father may be seen as the head of the household and have more power than the mother. Similarly, older siblings may have more power than younger siblings. Power dynamics can also be fluid and change over time.


Another important dynamic in family gatherings is the formation of coalitions. This refers to when two or more family members team up against another family member or group of family members. Coalitions can be formed for a variety of reasons, such as to protect themselves, to gain power, or to achieve a common goal.

For example, two siblings may form a coalition against their parents if they feel they are being treated unfairly. Similarly, a parent may form a coalition with their child against their spouse if they are going through a divorce. Coalitions can be both positive and negative. They can help family members feel supported and protected, but they can also lead to conflict and division.


Family gatherings often involve rituals. These are symbolic activities that have a special meaning for the family. Rituals can help to create a sense of identity and belonging, and they can also be a way of expressing love and affection.

For example, many families have a tradition of saying grace before meals or opening presents on Christmas morning.


Family members often play specific roles in family gatherings. These roles can be based on age, gender, or personality. For example, the eldest child may be expected to take on a leadership role, while the youngest child may be expected to be more playful and carefree.


Communication is essential for successful family gatherings. Family members need to be able to communicate openly and honestly with each other to avoid misunderstandings and conflict. This can be difficult, especially if there are unresolved issues between family members.

However, effective communication can help to build stronger relationships and create a more harmonious family dynamic.

Tips for Being a Peacemaker

Being a peacemaker during the holidays is an important role at family gatherings. Peacemaking efforts help greatly in maintaining harmony and preventing disagreements from escalating into major conflicts. To make the gathering more enjoyable for everyone present, here are some tips for being a peacemaker:

  • Practice empathy and understanding. Try to see things from other people’s perspectives and be understanding of their feelings. This does not mean you have to agree with them, but it does mean you can respect their opinions and beliefs.
  • Be a good listener. When someone is expressing their feelings, listen attentively and without interrupting. This will make them feel heard and understood, which can help to de-escalate tension.
  • Avoid taking sides. When a disagreement arises, avoid taking sides or getting involved in arguments. Instead, try to focus on finding common ground and solutions that work for everyone.
  • Use “I” statements. When you need to express your feelings, use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. This will help to avoid accusatory language and keep the conversation focused on your feelings and needs.
  • Suggest a break or change of activity. If a conversation is getting heated, suggest taking a break or changing activity. This can give everyone a chance to cool down and come back to the conversation with a fresh perspective.
  • Be willing to compromise. Compromise is essential for resolving conflicts. Be willing to give up something to reach an agreement that works for everyone.
  • Focus on the positive. Remember what you are grateful for and try to focus on the positive aspects of your holiday gatherings. This can help to keep things in perspective and prevent you from getting bogged down in negativity.
  • Be a role model. Children are always watching and learning from adults. Be a role model of peaceful behavior and conflict resolution. Show them how to handle disagreements respectfully and constructively.

Remember, being a peacemaker is not always easy, but it is an important role to play during the holidays. By following these tips, you can help to create a more peaceful and enjoyable holiday season for everyone.


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