13 Conversation starters to keep family dinner chats going

Nov 29, 2014 at 12:00 p.m. ET
Image: JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Getty Images

Nothing can tank a holiday dinner like conversation gone awry. Avoid awkward silences by breaking out one of these fun, thought-provoking conversation starters.

1. Name the first thing that pops into your head when I say (fill in the blank).

Get as creative as you want with this one. Consider it the Rorschach test of words, but not quite so serious. I mean, you could fire off, "Biscuit!" and listen to the hilarity that your family tosses out.

2. You must choose a new occupation to last the rest of your life. Money is no object. What job do you choose?

You might think you know your family, but have you ever really directly asked what they would do for a living if circumstances were ideal? Here's an easy way to find out.

3. The traveling circus is in town, and they want you to join their roving band of performers. What's your talent?

We imagine this will get downright silly. And, in full disclosure, the boys at the table may reference talents that involve bodily functions. Don't say we didn't warn you.

4. In the movie of your life, which actors would play you and your family?

Like winning the lottery, this is something we've all thought about, right? OK, I'll go first. In the movie of my life, Mandy Moore would play me, Jason Statham would play my husband (What? He totally looks Statham-ish), Blake Lively would play my sister and Sally Field would play my mom.

5. You're throwing your own holiday dinner. Name three famous people (past or present) that just have to be there.

Here's your chance to throw your dream dinner party. Who do you invite? Do you throw it back and go with historical figures? Or do you keep it super-current with a dinner table full of celebrities?

6. If you were to pick up and move tomorrow, where would you go?

Some people don't move around throughout their lives. Rather, they choose to plant roots and live where they know and love. That's what makes this question great, though — it'll get people to think outside of their comfort zones.

7. Have you ever seen a ghost?

It's amazing the sheer number of people who have spooky ghost stories to share, and some of those storytellers may just be in your family. Bonus? You'll get a head start on next Halloween.

8. If you could trade places with anyone at this table for a week, who would it be and why?

Here's a perfect opportunity to subtly point out something you admire about a relative without getting too mushy. Or, you know, you could also choose for entirely superficial reasons. It's all in good fun, so hypothetically steal your jet-setting sister's life away.

9. Quick! You're entering the witness protection program. What do you want your new name to be?

Maybe you'll make homage to your favorite TV characters or maybe a family member has known what exact name she'd want forever. This is also great fodder for new family nicknames.

10. If you could choose between never needing sleep or being able to be in two places at once, which magical ability would you pick?

The mothers at the table will likely wish this was not an either/or question. You can also come up with different either/or magical powers.

11. You've decided to spring for your dream trip. What is one place you've always wanted to visit?

For many of us, extensive traveling — especially to far-off places — doesn't exactly fit into the budget. This is nice bit of escapism, and you never know where the conversation could lead. My sister and I once asked our grandfather this very question and, when we agreed with his answer, it ended up in a family trip to Australia.

12. If the entire world was listening to you right this second, what would you say?

You might want to get your recorder out for this one — we can almost guarantee the kids at the table will come up with some hilarious (and surprisingly insightful) responses.

13. You've just stumbled upon a time machine. You hop in and punch what time period into the dial?

Seriously, think about it. Would you go prehistoric? Perhaps you fancy a year in the future. This question is fun for "kids" of all ages.

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