How To Be Santa – Part 2

I love Christmas so, so much.

And yet – I have so many complicated feelings about the Santa Claus thing.

Last year, I wrote a post called How To Be Santa – Part 1. It was mainly about the adult milestone of realizing that every family handles The Santa Claus Thing differently – when he comes, whether he brings all the gifts or just one or two, etc. Tamara and I talked a lot about that once we became parents and came up with a plan for our own family. 

For this post, I want to focus in a little about the concerns I have with The Whole Deal With Santa Claus. When I’m done with my concerns, I’ll explain why I’m still #TeamSanta and how we talk about the phenomenon with our kids.

And before I share my thoughts, I want to be clear: I think every person and family in the world should do whatever the heck they want related to the holidays. WHATEVER THEY WANT. These are MY thoughts, and they’re not intended to be a judgment on anyone else. For me, this is like when you spot problematic details in a beloved TV show and you point them out – like noting the impossibility of Monica and Rachel renting such an amazing apartment on Friends on the salaries of a chef and a waitress. You can point out that detail without passing judgment on anyone who watches Friends. And everyone should watch Friends because it’s the greatest thing ever and one of my favorite TV shows of all time. But, I digress.

My major concerns with The Whole Deal With Santa Claus are:

  1. use of Santa Claus as temporary disciplinary method; 
  2. the naughty/nice list; and,
  3. the economic disparity of the Santa experience.

Problem # 1: the use of Santa as a temporary disciplinary method.

This drives me nutty, and it’s because I’m a behaviorist. I have strong feelings about behavior modification, and one of my most fundamental rules as a parent is: Don’t make any threats that you are not fully prepared to carry out. If you’re out as a family for a fun activity, are you really going to make everyone go home if your preschooler doesn’t finish his sandwich? I’m not – so I don’t make that threat. I try to avoid threats completely, but I fail at this over and over. However, I am pretty successful with making sure my threats are actually things I’d follow through with in the situation, because this is something I believe strongly in my home life and at work.

There are so many times when I hear parents use Santa as a motivator/threat during the holiday season, and it’s totally fine – except that I always question if the threat is legit. Are you really saying that Santa’s not going to bring any or many toys on Christmas morning if your kid doesn’t improve their behavior? Because I’m skeptical. I think this threat is used as a temporary behavioral technique, and if you’re not really going to throw toys away ahead of Christmas, then I think you should avoid this tactic. Also – don’t we want our kids to be good so that they’re just good human beings? Not just so that some judgy guy who lives at the North Pole gives us a bounty of presents?

I’m in the trenches of parenting young kids right now, and I seriously mean no judgment on anyone who uses this tactic. Keeping young kids alive and well and not clawing each other’s eyes out is an art and a talent and damn near impossible, so do WHATEVER you need to do. But for logical and behavioral reasons, I formally object to the use of Santa as disciplinary means.

Whew. Onward.

Problem # 2: the naughty/nice list.

What does it mean, to be on the naughty list or the nice list?

Are there kids who are just *bad* all the time?  I really don’t think so, and I’ve worked with some tough kids. We are all a result of our experiences, and if there’s a kid who is anywhere close to 100% naughty, then I’m betting that there’s trauma and/or ineffective parenting in their story. 

Am I overthinking it? Honestly, I don’t think I am. Literally, we tell kids that Santa makes a list – categorizing who is naughty and who is nice. This does not line up with the language I use with my kids around behavior. We make choices, all day every day, and we want to make choices that are good rather than bad. Hitting your brother? Bad choice. Dumping out all the Legos when I told you not to? Bad choice. That doesn’t mean the kid making the choice is bad, and it doesn’t prevent him from making a good choice at the next opportunity. 

I’ll explain how we talk to our boys about Santa (because we do!) below, but to be clear – there is no talk of lists, naughtiness, or niceness in our Christmas story. 

Problem # 3: the economic disparity of the Santa experience. 

How do we explain, in our Santa story, why certain kids don’t receive presents or don’t receive as many presents on Christmas morning? (I haven’t even delved into the religious aspect of this, which always plagued me as a kid. If Santa brings gifts to all kids, wouldn’t he just bring some to the kids who were Jewish, even if they don’t celebrate Christmas? But, I digress yet again.)

There is sometimes a weird element connecting the naughty/nice thing with the amount of gifts underneath the Christmas tree. Not everyone utilizes this, but some do, and it really rubs me the wrong way. Are the kids supposed to imagine that when they are naughty, present #3 or #7 or # 20 is removed from the pile under the tree? Like, a present less for every naughty deed committed? Does that mean the kid with the highest number of presents (or, more likely, the highest cash value amount of presents) was the *nicest* kid this year? What happens when the kids go into school on January 4th and start chit-chatting, and your kid finds out that another kid got a toy that your family chose not to purchase? What conclusions do they draw, in that impressionable and imaginative brain of theirs?

When I was a kid, my family always “adopted” a few children or a family at Christmastime. There was an angel tree at our Church, and you removed an ornament that had written on it the name and age of the child you’d be buying for. My mother would let me pick, and I remember studying names carefully and usually choosing a child close to my own age, because their gifts sounded like the most fun to buy. 

I don’t remember a cognitive moment when my brain recognized the switch, the disparity.  How old are kids when that happens, I wonder? You’re 3 and 4 and 5 years old, and you try to be really good so that Santa brings you gifts. You assume (or are taught) that Santa brings gifts to all children who are good. Then, somewhere around 6 to 10 years old, you learn that your parents buy your presents, and that some kids don’t have any presents on Christmas morning, and you realize that this is why the angel tree exists – so that families who have more resources can adopt a child so that they can experience the joy of receiving a present on Christmas morning. 

When we don’t explain things to kids, they fill in the blanks all on their own, often in ways we wouldn’t expect. I don’t like thinking about kids comparing their Christmas morning reports and imagining that they are less good than their peers whose families are wealthier. I also don’t like pretending that every kid in the world gets gifts from Santa, since that’s not the case. 

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on

All of that said – Edgar is excitedly awaiting Christmas Eve. Every morning for the past week, he’s checked his stocking. (I think he’s wondering if Santa ever makes a surprise early visit.) He knows that on Christmas Eve, Santa will fill our stockings with small treats and treasures. And I like it; I like that there’s magic and mystery to the holiday season. And here’s why I’m okay with it:

  • There is absolutely no reference to a naughty/nice list. If we run into a reference in a book or movie, I correct it and explain that all children are good and Santa brings toys and gifts to children around the world because he wants to spread love and joy around the world.
  • Since there’s no list, there’s no discipline associated with Santa. You don’t have to be extra good during this month of the year, and it’s not any more important to make good choices in December than it is in May and August.
  • When Edgar is 6 or 7 or 15 and asks me what the real deal is with Santa, I’ll tell him: “The holiday season is magical. It’s a time of year when people are extra-motivated to provide mutual aid to others, to show love to their loved ones, and to spread joy and cheer. THAT is what Santa is – that special magic. Santa filled your stockings. Santa tries to find families who benefit from support and offer them assistance every December. And now that you’re in on the secret – it’s your job to find ways to be Santa, every December, every holiday season – really, whenever you get the chance.” Every time I use the S-word, I keep that eventual explanation in mind.

So really, I love the Santa thing. We should provide mutual aid and spread love and cheer all year long – but I have zero problem with the fact that we as a society seem to have more to give during this season. I’m happy to share the magic of the Santa story with my little ones – though modified so that it can be reconciled with this overthinking Christmas brain o’ mine.

Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on

Monthly Mantra: Everything Merry

One of my favorite Christmas movies is Elf. In one of the first scenes, Will Ferrell and the other elves recite the Code of Elves:

  1. Treat every day like Christmas.
  2. There’s room for everyone on the Nice List.
  3. The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

Last year, I thought a lot about Rule # 1. We spent Christmas Day at my sister’s house in Philly, and I noticed this magical thing about Christmas. It doesn’t work like this for everyone; I don’t even know if it worked this way for me when I was a kid! But now that I’m a grown-up with decent self-regulation skills and kids of my own – I have amazing reserves of patience, kindness, and generosity on Christmas Day.

I don’t get into arguments. Things that usually drive me crazy don’t impact me the way they would on a regular Tuesday. I am kinder than necessary. If I have to engage in some sort of conflict, I do it in a way that doesn’t disrupt the merry.

And it is lovely.

I know that a lot of it is a superpower related to my kids. I absolutely love Christmas, and so my priority on Christmas Day is for my kids to have a magical day. It doesn’t mean I excuse unacceptable behaviors or anything like that – but I am my best, most patient motherly self, with the kids and with everyone else, and that allows me to get through the day with a merry disposition all day long.

Every day can’t be Christmas. I do sometimes wish it could be Christmas all year long, but I know that if it was, the magic of the day would dissipate. However – isn’t it possible to take a little bit of that Elf rule – treat every day like Christmas – and spread it out over December 2020 like magical holiday fairy dust?  

I think it might be.

This holiday season is weird and challenging. Everything is different. And yet – this year, for us, was always going to be a little different. Last year, Tamara and I promised ourselves that this would be our first Christmas at home in our own house. And so, it is – but I also imagined this year including lots of precious time with extended family, and I’m afraid that won’t be able to happen. 

This year, I need the holidays and the spirit that comes with it all more than ever. I’m leaning in hard to Christmas joy. There are holiday things that I never do that we’re trying out this year, including outside lights and holiday cards. Will we do them again next year? No idea. But this year, I am craving the novelty of new projects and the joys that come with a merrily decorated home. 

My mantra for December 2020 is: everything merry. Or, in other words, be a freaking crazy holiday elf and treat every day like Christmas. May this mantra bring me endless patience and unbridled joy for every day of the last month of this crazy year.

Photo by Olya Kobruseva on
all the things

FRIENDS + Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving was really different, and that’s okay.

To be honest, Thanksgiving has never been my favorite holiday. I have wonderful memories of going to see the Thanksgiving Day parade with my dad and my siblings, and I always love spending time with extended family. But everything else is kind of meh. The food’s not my fave – I was a vegetarian for a long time, and even many of the sides, while delicious, are not my ideals. I also struggle a lot with my relationship with food, which has made the grandiose Thanksgiving meal complicated for me to enjoy ever since childhood.

Our little family of four was just us for Thanksgiving this year. Tamara cooked amazing food and we ate pie and it was lovely. We went for a long hike with the boys in the morning and we (sort of) watched the parade while peeling apples. But do you know what I really wished I could do for Thanksgiving this year?

Lay on the couch All Day Long with a mouthful of pie, watching the Thanksgiving episodes of Friends.

There will never be enough written about the Thanksgiving episodes of Friends. I know, from my middle school students, that the show has been making a comeback. But the kids today will never know the anticipation and the bliss of waiting for the evening Thanksgiving episode of Friends to come on. My best friend Christy and I used to call each other during the commercials to discuss what had happened so far and it was amazing. The show aired on Thursday evenings, so it was kismet that their Thanksgiving episodes ended up being some of the highlights of their ten-season-long series.

I thought about ranking the episodes, but that’s been done. Instead, here are my fave episodes, a few favorite lines, and a memory:

My favorites of all the Thanksgiving episodes:

“The One With The Football” – this episode is amazing. For me, it’s sort of Peak Funniness of Friends – from Season 3. The Geller cup is amazing, all of the subplots are hilarious, and I think this episode was probably one I watched at the peak of my obsession with the show.

“The One With The Rumor” – this might be the episode of Friends I quote the most. SO MANY GOOD THANKSGIVING QUOTES. If you ask for the sweet potatoes without saying  “YAMS!” in imitation of guest star Brad Pitt, then you’re not really doing Thanksgiving.

“The One With Chandler in a Box” – amazing episode. My all-time favorite line from the show is in this episode. The other characters are giving Monica a hard time for having a crush on her ex-boyfriend’s son, and she delivers the ultimate comeback, pointing at each person as she names one of their problematic romantic decisions: “Judge all you want, but: married a lesbian, left a man at the altar, fell in love with a gay ice dancer, threw a girl’s wooden leg in a fire, lives in a box!”

My favorite lines from the Thanksgiving episodes of Friends, which I repeat as often as possible on the holiday: 

“These are my Thanksgiving pants!”

Whats not to like? Custard, good. Jam, good. Meat, good!”

“Potatoes are ruined, potatoes are ruined, potatoes are ruined!”

“Got the keys?”

“Don’t you put words in people’s mouths, you put turkey in people’s mouths!”

“My two greatest enemies: Rachel Green and complex carbohydrates.”


A sweet Friends episode Thanksgiving moment:

We spent Thanksgiving 2016 in Las Vegas. It was my sister, who was living and teaching out there for a semester; my mom, who flew out with us; and me, Tamara, and four-month-old Edgar.

Edgar was little enough that we actually could watch the Thanksgiving episodes of Friends all day long, so we had it on in the background throughout the day. I think we actually had found some sort of Netflix playlist that played them all in order.

It was after dinner, and Edgar was snuggled on my lap while we all watched the Season 10 Thanksgiving episode, “The One With The Late Thanksgiving.” I had completely forgotten that this episode ended with Monica and Chandler getting a call from the adoption agency, letting them know that they were getting a baby.

It had been a long, hard wait for Baby Edgar, and I was an overtired new mom snuggled with her baby boy – a picture I hadn’t thought was possible a year earlier. I cried tears of joy and hugged Edgar and Tamara and was so incredibly grateful. I also got tweaks, thinking of myself at 19, watching that same episode at my parents’ home in Staten Island, with no freaking idea how much life would changed in the next 13 years.

Oh, Friends – I love you forever.

Friends' Thanksgiving episodes headed to movie theaters across the country  - ABC News


5 Things I’m Grateful For (November 2020)

Such a great month to be grateful.

  1. A week at a beach house in North Carolina with family. So great to spend time on the beach, to be with extended family, and (on rainy days) just to be in a house that is not OUR house. The boys got to play with their cousins, which was lovely, especially for Extrovert Jo Jo; Edgar has been enrolled in an outdoor nature pre-school, but Jonas hasn’t had time playing with anyone but his big brother for a long time. Also, so glad we were able to do this now; with the COVID numbers going up, I’m not sure we’ll be able to travel over the course of the winter. So grateful for our healthy and loving extended fam.
  2. The excitement of the holidays. I always get really excited to make Christmas special for the boys. This year, with things being really different – no trip to see the Rockefeller Center tree, no social gatherings – I’ve been trying to think creatively about how to make this time special for our family. We actually might hang outside Christmas lights this year, which is something I’ve never wanted to bother with previously. I’m sure there will be lots of moments of sadness this season about missing out on time with family. So any excuse for a little extra joy for me or the little ones is well worth it.
  3. Google Meet story time with Nana. We’ve been doing Google Meets with my mom so that she can read books to the boys. I usually set them up with a snack and she reads some of their faves – A Day At The Fire Station, Froggy Learns To Swim – and some new ones, too.
  4. Three good books – Nothing Can Hurt You by Nicola Maye Goldberg, The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy and When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole. All definitely page turners!
  5. A long weekend for the Thanksgiving holiday. I’m happy to have a day with our family of four, to put up our Christmas tree, to decorate and be merry – but also? I’m so pumped to just have four days in a row when I can just BE and don’t need to multi-task constantly.

Happy Thanksgiving to all! So grateful for all my blessings, tiny and tremendous, this year.

Photo by Taryn Elliott on