The Santa Talk Confession #2

In confession #2, actress and writer, Melanie Thompson of Los Angeles, tells us about cheesy holiday movie moments in real life, a very brief Santa "talk" with her mother, and fond memories of Super Mario.

CUT Recordings in LA hosted a book party for The Santa Talk by Ryan Swanson. CUT set up a confessional booth in the back of the studio for attendees to share Santa and Christmas memories.

The Santa Talk Confession #3

In confession #3, crisis prevention counselor, Alex Abramovicz of NYC, shares a powerful reflection on Santa Claus and loved ones passed. We love you, too, Alex.

CUT Recordings in LA hosted a book party for The Santa Talk by Ryan Swanson. CUT set up a confessional booth in the back of the studio for attendees to share Santa and Christmas memories.


I Talk With Toby Hemingway About The Santa Talk

Toby Hemingway is an Aussie who likes rugby, holidays, and most importantly, he likes people. He knows what they like and his store, Hemingway & Pickett at 3208 Sunset Blvd., shows it in every item they carry. At my favorite local shop for everything from books to bags to rare photo prints and jewelry, Toby makes everyone who comes into his shop feel like you live around the corner--which, as it happens, I do.

Toby took a second out of his busy holiday season to sit down with me and talk Santa, Australian Christmases, and The Santa Talk for his podcast Greetings from Silverlake, episode 4.

Santa Talk Confessions: Part #1

On December 7, 2013, CUT Recordings in Los Angeles hosted a The Santa Talk book release and reading. In the back of the studio, we set up a "confessional booth" for those in attendance to share Santa and Christmas memories.

In the following confession, my buddy and Two And A Half Men staff writer, Nathan Chetty, muses on sheer shorts, princess kids, and the moment he inferred the truth... - Ask Me Anything!

I was on today at 10am in the west, on the off chance I could be helpful to someone. (see it here at )

It was really cool to hear from people facing the same Santa questions that my brother faced seven years ago. I'm grateful for the serious questions and for the not-so-serious--the number one question of the day was a statement from user CATALANOpunch: Totally mis-read this as Ron Swanson...

Thanks to everyone who participated. 

Designing Thanksgiving


One of the reasons I write is that I hardly ever say what I mean on the first try. I joke that I'm always five minutes away from success: five minutes after I talk to someone, I realize what I should have said.

The actual words that come out of parents' mouths when confronted by their kids about Santa aren't always artful or smart. They're hardly ever composed. Most parents fumble and stutter and say uh and like more than usual. They repeat themselves. They say uh and like more than usual...

But Santa talks are an opportunity for parents to explicitly say what it is they want their kids to understand about their holiday traditions by practicing it. Because the words are sometimes just out of reach--even for the best of us--the best way to pass on anything is to show rather than tell. Doing makes it attractive; telling is just promotion.

So, the Christmas traditions you'll be the most successful passing on are the ones you do joyfully. To be full of joy, you have to like what you do. You do, don't you? You like the holiday traditions you're trying to pass on, right?

I ask because, while interviewing adults for THE SANTA TALK, I ran into a lot of people with lukewarm feelings about the holidays. I realized how important it is to make the holidays what you want them to be--or at least closer to what you want. Traditions don't die because people love them. They die because people get stuck in a rut of sameness and, over time, they start to dread that sh**. Instead of fine tuning the holiday machine, somebody finally says enough is enough and scraps the whole thing.

Heading into this Thanksgiving, Lauren and I weren't totally sure where we stood on the holiday. We've spent eight or nine of them together now, but we've never actually talked about anything more than what our obligations for the day were. We like Thanksgiving fine, for the most part, but we'd just never actually talked about it.

Although things are extremely busy at work for both of us, I proposed taking some time this weekend to design our Thanksgiving in the same way I advocate designing Christmas in podcast 2 (Chapter One) of THE SANTA TALK.

It starts with asking ourselves what the holiday is about. Thanksgiving means ________. We had to figure out our blank. Thanksgiving is a celebration of what?

We came together pretty quickly on: -Gratitude. -Family. -Service to others. We were both relieved to find out that the other liked the holiday and that Thanksgiving meant roughly the same things to the both of us.

We try to stay informed about the broad strokes but we're pretty apolitical. Neither of us care about the historical underpinnings of the thing. Sorry, liberal arts education. Gotta pick my battles these days.

We celebrate gratitude, family, and being of service by doing ________.

Now we had to figure out our what. What do we do? This was trickier. What do you do with a day off when you could/should be doing some work so you don't get slammed come Monday? Forget all that, Lauren told me. "What makes you happy?"

Well, I like to go for a walk or jog in the morning and I like to go early. Great.

-We'll start the day with a walk after we wake up.

I want to eat healthy, too. I hate the the idea that I have to gorge myself on food I only really love the smell of. Also, the Thanksgiving menu is problematic since I stopped in eating meat a year and a half ago.

Lauren and I thought about it. We wondered what the risk/reward would be for bringing a dish or two of our own to the celebration. We made some inquiries with Lo's family. It turns out, bringing a dish is not only cool, it's welcomed. Less work for the cooks. We made a few calls around town. Joan's on Third and Whole Foods both sell damned good, ready-to-go food that we'd be proud to bring just about anywhere.

-After our walk, we'll drive to JoT or WF and pick up a vegetarian dish and a side. And we'll bring enough for everybody.

Service opportunities abound in our area, from answering phones at non-profits to collecting clothes for any of a dozen drives. This year, we thought we'd do something for a charity that's both meaningful and convenient (it's located on the way to our destination)--The Marine Mammal Center in San Pedro. This year has seen an explosion in the number of sick and starving sea lions washing ashore on California beaches. At various times over the past year, the MMC has had more animals in need urgent care than its facilities comfortably allow.

-On the same trip to get the food, we'll pick up some simple items the MMC is always in need of--vegetable oil and paper towels.

Now all we had to do was to confirm what time my future in-laws were hosting dinner, give some thought to the workload we each have, and the day was set.

We'll walk around the reservoir in the morning, pick up food and supplies, shower, drive to dinner, drive to the MMC, drop off our stuff, come home do some work. We are both really looking forward to this Thanksgiving! It won't go to plan. Things never do. But we can start the day joyfully and that makes all the difference.

What's that? Having kids makes your day harder to schedule?...

I have a friend named Roger who is fond of telling me that I "don't know sh** until I have kids of my own." Roger is referring to my schedule but mostly what he's referring to is my fear life (think dark side of fantasy life). I don't have the myriad fears that keep him up at night. I don't worry about what my kids might lose, what they won't get, if they're safe, if they are coping, if they will behave, if that cough is a chest cold or an infection, if they'll eat. I know how easy Lo and I have it when it comes to falling asleep and making plans.

We've all heard someone, at some point, say the words, "If I knew then what I know now..." Well, Roger, I know. I know how easy Lo and I have it, making plans for two. But I'd bet that any shape or size family can take at least a step toward designing their holiday. It doesn't have to be an overhaul. It can be a conversation over coffee that gets you all on the same page. Avoid fighting. Stay elastic. The holiday will be a little smoother.

Drive mindfully to your destinations. Happy Thanksgiving.


Friends of Micheltorena Elementary School Fundraiser

There's a public elementary school near Lauren and me where the students' art covers up gang graffiti and where half of the playground has been turned into a community garden that the students tend. In a neighborhood where there is a lot to look at, Micheltorena School is a star.

It didn't happen overnight nor without the hard work of friends. If you're anywhere near Silverlake, Los Feliz, Echo Park, Hollywood, or Koreatown, you have no doubt seen the change Micheltorena school has made to its stretch of Sunset Blvd.

On December 14th, HEMINGWAY & PICKETT will host an auction to raise funds for Micheltorena with the help of local artists at it's first annual H&P Holiday Ornament Show. Local artists have created unique Christmas tree ornaments for sale. The Santa Talk books will be available. ALL PROCEEDS GO TO... You know what, I'll let this kid tell you--


Share Your Story with The Santa Talk

Do you have a Santa story to share or questions about a scenario you're facing or something you're going through? We'd love to hear from you. The Santa Talk is a living project, always looking to include voices and stories.

Please share your experience with other parents in the comments below or reach out to the author on our contact page

Listen to chapters of The Santa Talk on iTunes and follow the author on Twitter @writtenbyryan.


Meme of the Week - 3/4 Christmas Caption Contest

Merry 3/4 Christmas, everbody!

The winning caption was submitted by NATHAN CHETTY of Los Angeles, Calif.

 "Check out autumn's hottest tourist trap, Cornu-phobia, a combination Thanksgiving dinner theater and haunted hedgemaze and you are sure to be a trypto-fan! Consider yourself lucky if you make it past all the haunted pilgrims, undead Indians, and the extras of  Planes, Trains and Automobiles . If you do, you will be met with a wonderful dinner of Spamduckin (which is a Spam inside of a duck inside of a munchkin from The Wizard of Oz ) and a performance of David Mamet's memorable play,  Glen Cranberry Glen Sauce ."

"Check out autumn's hottest tourist trap, Cornu-phobia, a combination Thanksgiving dinner theater and haunted hedgemaze and you are sure to be a trypto-fan! Consider yourself lucky if you make it past all the haunted pilgrims, undead Indians, and the extras of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. If you do, you will be met with a wonderful dinner of Spamduckin (which is a Spam inside of a duck inside of a munchkin fromThe Wizard of Oz) and a performance of David Mamet's memorable play, Glen Cranberry Glen Sauce."

Image credit: Anonymous (via

Where'd Santa Come From?

If you're asked a direct question, have a direct answer! If you're asked a question that catches you off guard, stall! Knowing the answer to this question also ensures that the Santa you celebrate (if you so choose) is personally suited to your Christmas.

So,  who and what is Santa? Well, one simple breakdown can be found on youtube, via the incomparable, CGP Grey. If you're not already a devotee, Grey makes efficient and thoroughly watchable brief histories, how-tos, and explanations of everything from continental drift to Santa (and, in this case, how Santa drifted across continents).

The problem with Grey's explanation is brevity. To keep it short, the video focuses on a few select, though strong, influences and makes no mention of, for example, the Christian St. Nicholas. Do a little research on your own and Grey's version either crumbles or is made rock solid, depending on what else you read. There's more approximation than scholarship out there when it comes to Santa.

Personally, the message I take from the Christian St. Nicholas (absent from the video above) is the one I hope to most closely embody in spirit and action during the holiday. The story of St. Nicholas is contained in The Santa Talk Podcast, Episode #2 - Chapter One where I give a slightly different, somewhat contradictory take on Santa's origins.

Nutshell: St. Nicholas anonymously donated the dowries for three daughters of a pious laborer in fourth-century Greece. Without said dowries, these women would have been destined to lives of prostitution or servitude.

The what: on the eve of each daughter's twelfth/thirteenth birthday, under cover of darkness, St. Nicholas delivered sacks of gold to the man's cottage, entering through an open window. On the eve of his youngest daughter's twelfth or thirteenth, the laborer locked the house and hid in the shadows to see who was throwing gold at his house. Depending on what account you find, St. Nicholas either a) climbed onto the roof and dropped the gold down the chimney or b) deposited the gold in a stocking hung out to dry.

In any case, when confronted by the laborer as to why he had committed this act of unimaginable kindness, St. Nicholas responded that he had done nothing -- that God had inspired him to be of service. So inspired, St. Nicholas reasoned, any person would have done the same.

Knowing your Santa will help you determine what aspects of the holiday your figurehead stands for and reminds you of. For me, anonymous charity is where it's at. Have you ever done something kind for someone that you never told anybody about? I have.


How to Talk to Kids About Santa, Part 1: The Extra Adjective


The purpose of THE SANTA TALK is to prime you for the moment your son or daughter wants to know the truth about Santa. If you're a parent of one of the 32 million American kids between the ages of four and ten, chances are good that you'll have the great fortune (yeah, I said great) to answer their questions in the relatively near future.

Don't worry -- this is an amazing opportunity! Your child's question is an invitation to participate in a memory that may last a lifetime and a chance for you to explain what you love about the holidays. In this blog, I'm gonna talk about what's at stake for kids and about how you can affect the outcome of your future Santa talk today.

One of the things that happens as we get older, gain some perspective on the world, and eventually become a lot like our parents (I have to call my folks after this) is that we forget what Santa Claus once meant to us.

We sometimes forget that we each, once upon a time, had a superhero to call our own, one that tended to us, personally. I know that all sounds pretty fantastical today. The idea that someone was out there, doing the impossible to make our dreams come true, braving the elements, defying time and space to get us the things we need sounds crazy...right? Maybe not. Superheroes, according to your kids, come in all shapes and sizes.

A cool thing happens when you talk to a kid about Santa. Maybe not right away, but give it a little time, ask the right questions, and kids reveal a man who embodies something special, something they experience personally. They describe his rituals, his methods, his quirks even. They describe someone who sounds an awful lot like...well, I'll let them tell you.

Six-year-old Emily was among the first ten kids I interviewed after I began The Santa Talk project in 2006. By that point, I'd already seen how different families celebrate Christmas in sometimes dramatically different ways and I wanted her to describe her version of Santa. To do that without raising doubts in her mind that the Santa she knows may not be everybody's Santa, I shoehorned the question into a scenario she might reasonably encounter. She had not yet had the Santa talk with her parents. She was a believer.

Me: Emily, if a new student came to your class and she had never heard of Santa-- 

Emily: Never heard of Santa?! 

Me: Nope. She came from another country, far away.

Emily: She never got presents, either? Ooooh, she musta been bad.*

Well played, Emily. (*Author's note: at that time, I hadn't yet begun coaching mites hockey and I'd forgotten that kids are like genies: they never give you exactly what you ask for. No, that's not right. Most of the time, they give you exactly what you asked for and only then do you realize that you asked for the wrong thing. Moments like this one proved a fact I would come to rely on over the course of this project: the kids were my best teachers.

No matter how I thought things would go, these interviews always took an unexpected turn for the better. I'd show up with my little sketch pad and pen and leave with a picture so much richer than anything I could have painted on my own. I learned to leave my expectations in the car. The most I could do was to know what I wanted to ask and stay flexible.) I retracted the make-believe scenario I'd posed to Emily and tried again. Take two--

Me: Emily, will you describe Santa for me?

Emily:  Hmm. Well...he's funny and loving, umm...and nice. And he goes, "Ho-ho-ho!"

Me:  You have a great Santa voice, Emily! So, okay, now I know how he acts and I know what he sounds like. What does Santa look like?

Emily: You know!

Me: Let's pretend, I don't. 

Emily: (exasperated sigh) Santa has a white beard that goes to (she indicates mid-torso) and a red jacket and pants with white stripes and boots. And the same hat.

Me: What do you mean by the same hat? 

Emily: Same as his clothes. And he has glasses like (pointing to my glasses) but rounder. He's clean, and he likes milk and cookies but I don't put out milk.

Me: Why don't you put out milk? 

Emily: I hate milk! 

Me: What do you leave for Santa instead of milk?

Emily:  Go-gurt.

Me: You said Santa is clean. How do you know Santa is clean?

Emily: (shrugs) He washed the plate.

Among other examples of "clean," Emily went on to tell me that Santa wraps presents beautifully and, despite entering the house through the chimney, has never once tracked soot on the carpet and must therefore wipe his feet or take off his boots.

I thought this was an odd and fun detail. But I'd heard what I thought I came for,--namely, to hear how Emily and her family celebrate the holiday as she understands it--and I left it at that.

A couple weeks later, I interviewed a boy named Brandon. Brandon was five and an only-child at the time. When I asked Brandon to describe Santa, he told me, in so many words, the same things Emily had: jolly, kind, loving, red suit, white beard, black boots, etc. The basics. He didn't say anything about Santa's cleanliness but, when I moved on to a question about Christmas morning, Brandon stopped me, adding--

Brandon: Santa brings presents to people without houses, too.

Now, that was interesting and meaningful because I'd just had a conversation with Brandon's dad about doing some volunteer work at a local homeless shelter. He was a regular volunteer at a skid row shelter, donating a few nights of his time each month. What was Brandon saying? I kept Brandon talking about it for a bit, eventually asking--

Me: How does he do that? How does he get all the presents to the boys and girls? 

Brandon: He brings a pile of presents and Santa's helpers give them out. 

Me: If they don't have homes he can count, how do you think Santa knows how many toys to bring?

Brandon: He watches over them! And he gets their wish lists.

When I finished with Brandon, I checked with Brandon's dad and one of his regular duties is to help the paid outreach workers in the office, particularly in their efforts to keep records of the homeless families that pass through. In other words, he watches over them. I asked if Brandon knew this was one of his regular duties and he said he thought he did. I then asked if the shelter had a program to provide homeless children with Christmas presents. He said that they once did but not for a couple years--not since Brandon was three, which just happened to be the last time Brandon visited. "But he wouldn't remember that, I don't think..."

This phenomenon is remarkably consistent. I heard it again and again from children. Sometimes it was in describing his look or his affect. Sometimes I heard it in how they themselves behave to win Santa's favor. Somewhere along the way, kids ascribe your best attributes to Santa. I call it The Extra Adjective and children who know the truth about Santa do it, too.

Now, consider that when a child loses Santa, they might think they're losing someone from their lives who: is clean; gives to the homeless; knows what they want more than anything; forgets stuff but always makes up for it; knows what time they fall asleep; likes it when they're polite; makes them feel safe; and someone who does a dozen other special things just the way you do. I heard all these descriptions of Santa from children I spoke with. Santa sounds like someone that matters. Losing someone like that could be a little scary.

Parents, if you want to take the sting and the fear out of the Santa talk, be someone who, when the idea of a Santa Claus in red velvet fades away, is every bit as great as the man they thought was bringing the elf-made goodstuff.

What Extra Adjective suits you today? What Extra Adjective would you like to describe Santa/you? It's okay. It's never too late to make a start.   

Next post, we'll talk about the small stuff you can do today to affect your child's Extra Adjective. And the first installment of Meme of the Week!

Listen to The Santa Talk by Ryan Swanson as a free podcast on iTunes.