My three sisters and I have been doing Secret Santa with our kids for years. Each child picks a cousin’s name. They love exchanging gifts! This year, I told my sisters that my family would not be joining them for Christmas because of Covid but that we’d still like to be part of the Secret Santa. (I could drop off our gifts in advance.) But after following up, I learned that my sisters decided to limit the exchange to cousins who would be there in person. I am hurt that my kids will be excluded and, worse, that my sisters made this decision without discussing it with me. They said the cousins like to watch each other opening gifts, so it made no sense to include my two. Thoughts?


You seem to have scored a hat trick of mean sisters! My main concern here is to avoid hurting your kids by excluding them from a happy family tradition and distancing them from their cousins. Nearly everyone is on Zoom by now. Your sisters should be willing to oblige their virtual participation.

Now, Secret Santa assignments have undoubtedly been made already. So, go to your children separately and tell them that they are the other’s Secret Santa. (Shh!) Have them make gifts or drive them to the store quickly. Then call the least icy-hearted of your sisters and tell her you will participate in the Secret Santa by video conference. (If required, explain that you will not have your children’s feelings hurt.)

It’s hard to imagine that three adults did not land on this Zoom solution themselves. I hope their decision was not punishment for your wise call to safeguard your family’s health over the holidays. But you can discuss all this with your sisters in the new year. For now, get cracking with your kids! Time is running out.

Credit…Christoph Niemann

I am a college freshman who is at home because of the pandemic. I have a neighbor who walks his dog around the same time I walk mine. We often run into each other. He always asks me where I go to college; he never remembers. When I tell him I go to U.C.L.A., he says, “My daughter got into Stanford, but not U.C.L.A. Isn’t that crazy?” How should I respond to his implication that U.C.L.A. is the worse school?


How rude! Sure, everyone says something thoughtless occasionally. But the fact that your neighbor does it frequently suggests that he’s not listening to you or may be experiencing a bit of early cognitive decline.

If you want him to stop, reply: “Did you mean to belittle my school right to my face?” He should remember you after that! But it may be more fun to make up a new college every time he asks and see if he ever notices.

My husband’s sister invited us to a holiday dinner. She said there would be 10 people there, including us. Two of the guests would be teenagers whom we don’t know: a boy who lives with a foster family and his sister who is a resident adviser at a local university. My husband and I are in our 70s and have asthma, so we opted not to attend. My husband called his sister to explain. She understood but felt strongly about including the teenagers. (My husband and I agreed in advance not to ask her to disinvite them.) Still, my sister-in-law never expressed regret or apologized for the situation. Am I right to feel miffed?


I’m sorry, but you are decidedly wrong. You and your husband are in your 70s with a known risk factor for serious Covid-related illness. You have no business going to dinner parties until your doctor tells you it is safe to congregate again.

And your sister-in-law didn’t spring the teenagers on you after the fact. They were always on her kindhearted-but-probably-ill-advised guest list. Two takeaways here: We don’t get to tell other people whom to invite. And stay home! Thousands of people are dying every day; there’s no reason to risk it.

During December, I ask family members what they want for Christmas. Most respond eventually, but some don’t. For them, I put forth minimal effort. (Think: Starbucks gift cards.) My mom says I should try harder to consider what they want. But I’ve got a job and two kids. I don’t feel like researching gifts for halfhearted thanks later. Am I the Grinch?


Quite possibly! Many people (over the age of 16) would feel awkward telling others what to buy for them. And I don’t think your mother is suggesting that you go to a silent retreat to contemplate your gifts, only that you spend a few minutes thinking about them.

Are these relatives readers, foodies, committed to a charitable cause? It won’t take long to match gifts to their interests. If your heart isn’t in it, maybe it’s time to tell them that you’d like to stop exchanging gifts. You’re allowed!

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.