How to Tell the Olds You’ve Outgrown Christmas

Posted December 22, 2017 5:08 p.m. EST

Q: I’m 12 years old, and every adult I meet assumes that I’m really excited about Christmas — mostly, about getting presents. But I’m not. I used to love it when I was little, but now I don’t really need (or want) anything. We aren’t religious in my family, so the Bethlehem part seems kind of random. When my parents’ friends say, “I bet you’re counting the days till Christmas,” what should I do? Tell the truth and look like a freak, or just go along with it? — Max

A: You’re not a freak, Max! You’re a slightly cool customer for 12, but I like that about you. You’re just being honest with your feelings. It’s great that you can tap into them. Now, whether to share them with others is a separate question.

Let’s start with Christmas. Aside from gifts and Baby Jesus, people find loads to like about it: the carols, the cookies, the decorations. (There are so many twinkly lights in my lobby, you’d think you were starring in “Gypsy” on the way to the elevator.) And we evolve as we age: Last year, you liked the gifts; now, not so much. You may yet discover something new to appreciate. (It can be awesome to give presents to people we love. Crazy, right?) So, ride the wave; life is change. But keep track of that little boy inside you who once loved presents. It’s good to remember all the things we were.

Now, as for sharing your feelings with adults, I trust you to know the difference between a real conversation and small talk. If your mom’s friend asks about your Christmas excitement in the same way she says, “You’ve grown a foot since last week!” just smile and nod. (Waste of time.) But more thoughtful adults will be interested in your perspective. And you may feel better once you realize how common Christmas ambivalence is.

If Only We’d Stuck to Dreidel

Q: I recently began dating a good guy. He brought me to his family’s Hanukkah party, which was lovely. The problem: His father held court all night and didn’t help his wife at all. To make matters worse, he ordered her around — telling her which guests needed what and expecting her to take care of them, which she did. As a woman, this bothered me, but I didn’t say anything. I’d only met them once before. What can I say next time? — Anonymous

A: As tempted as I am to daddy-bash, these people are practically strangers to you. We know next to nothing of their dynamic. So, let’s skip takedowns of the father and focus on helping the mother and, more important, making sure that your new beau doesn’t see himself (possibly in his father’s image) as master of all he surveys.

The next time the father cries, “Sheila, more wine,” say, “Josh and I will get it.” Then escort your boyfriend to the kitchen and see that he does. It won’t take him long to realize that his girlfriend will not tolerate his mother (or any woman) being treated as a servant. Later, once your relationship is more solid, come back to me for a primo daddy dig. I’ll start working now so it’s particularly withering.

Chilly Grandparents

Q: My son was just rejected by his first-choice college. (He applied early.) We’re disappointed but not worried: He’s a strong candidate. But I am concerned about telling my parents over the holidays. They can be cruel. May I tell my son that we should keep quiet about his rejection until we know where he’s admitted? My son is honest and won’t think this through. And my parents won’t know the difference. — Jean

A: I admire your Mama Bear impulse to protect your cub. But this is your son’s story to tell. I’d rather he hear a cutting remark (or two) from his grandparents than suspect that you’re ashamed of his rejection, which your plan may suggest. You are probably more central to his self-esteem than his grandparents are.

Sit back and let your son handle this. Don’t stack the decks by warning your parents or undertaking any elaborate ruse. Think of it as a handy test run for when your baby bird flies the nest in eight months and won’t have you to direct his flight path. (So much fauna imagery!)

Rough Chapter at the Book Drive

Q: Our local hospital runs a children’s book drive to make sure its young patients receive holiday gifts and to replenish the hospital library. I went through my older children’s abandoned books and picked out the most gently used. I packed them up, drove to them to the hospital and gave them to the woman organizing the drive. She looked at me as if I were donating half-eaten food. Was it rude to donate used books? If I could afford it, I would have bought new ones, but I can’t. — Anonymous

A: Your kindness requires no explanation. If the gently used books make poor holiday gifts, in the judgment of the sour woman running the drive, they will make excellent additions to the hospital library. Like begonias, some people thrive on shade.