Maria Shriver Shares Traditions for a Deeply Connected Thanksgiving with Her Large Family

Going home for the holidays stirs anxiety in some, but the mother of four says it's a "big deal" for her to bask in the positivity that comes with being around family

Maria Shriver
Photo: VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty

Maria Shriver is all for the wholesomeness that comes with the holiday season.

Speaking to PEOPLE exclusively at an event held by Ancestry at the New-York Historical Society on Tuesday, Shriver detailed her love for bringing her family together during the holidays.

“I always write about Thanksgiving being my favorite holiday because it doesn’t involve gifts,” says the NBC News special anchor and Kennedy niece. “It involves kind of this shared sense of family, this larger sense of family. … It’s just kind of deeper and quieter and people are talking and connecting.”

For gatherings of the large clan — which blends movie stars, political scions and more — Shriver, 63, says she opens an invitation to “whoever is alone” and that she takes comfort in being with her siblings on holidays.

“I have four brothers, so I always have to get at least one of my brothers to come,” she says. “That’s important to me because we used to always go home to my parents, when they were alive, in Washington. … My brother Bobby will come with his family, so that makes me feel, you know, grounded and protected.”

Going home for the holidays stirs anxiety in some, but the mother of four — Katherine, 29, and Christina, 28, and sons Patrick, 26, and Christopher, 21., whom she shares with ex Arnold Schwarzenegger — says it’s a “big deal” for her to bask in the positivity that comes with being around family.

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From left: Patrick Schwarzenegger, Christina Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver, Katherine Schwarzenegger and Christopher Schwarzenegger in 2016.

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“I know a lot of people who are like, ‘Oh my God! I don’t want to go home!’ But I am like: ‘It’s gonna be great. And it is going to be positive. And it’s going to be fun,’ ” Shriver tells PEOPLE. “And I am a big believer in setting the intention for it and then manifesting that.”

And once her family is gathered around the dinner table, Shriver says she doesn’t try to moderate or censor topics of discussion — not even shying away from politics, that usual holiday taboo for other families.

“No, I talk politics. A lot,” she says. “But we also talk sports, we talk a lot of sports; we talk a lot about Alzheimer’s — you know, all the things that I am passionate about.”

She adds: “I’ll talk about politics like, ‘Did you see the debate last night?’ Not just to talk about politics, but if there is something going on, I’ll talk about it. But I won’t just bring it up to start a fight.”

While talking family with PEOPLE, Shriver said if she could speak to one of her ancestors, she would pick her great-great grandfather Patrick Joseph “P.J.” Kennedy, the first of many Kennedys to be elected to higher office in the U.S.

“I would ask my great-great grandfather if he had any inkling of what he was getting started,” she says.

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