My family has a very large Christmas get-together every year in which there is a tradition where one of the cousins (aged 20-30) will dress up as Santa (Edit: "Santa" for this is very gender neutral - I am a guy, but anyone could be "Santa") , read out a bunch of announcements, put on a bit of an act and give presents to the kids. One of my cousins has happily taken up this role over the last 8 years, she does it very well and completely embraces the role.

This year, one of my Aunts that I am very close to was particularly upset about some personal issues with their daughter who could not make it this year (not Santa) and after some drinks she got the idea in her head that my cousin had been Santa more than enough and it was time for somebody else to have a go. I am easily the closest to this Aunt, and also known for being friendly/neutral with everyone so I am not surprised that I was the only candidate. She asked me 20 minutes before the presentation and I gave an immediate and hard no. It is not that I would not step up if I was really needed, it is just I knew that doing this would cause a huge amount of awkwardness among the cousins as the previous Santa would not say anything but would feel let down about her role being stolen, and nobody else wants to be Santa anyway, least of all me!

My Aunt got quite emotional, basically putting all her feelings about her daughter on my shoulders. She cried a bit, and got a bunch of others to back her up and tell me to do it otherwise she would leave the gathering immediately. So obviously I caved as I would rather stand up and do an awkward/lacking Santa impression than put a large sour mood on the gathering from my Aunt leaving "because I wouldn't be Santa". So forced myself to do it, and as with all things like putting up a show or speaking publicly, I absolutely hated it.

Afterwards there was some awkwardness with the cousins, but most knew I had been forced into it by my Aunt so it was not so bad. A few people thanked me for stepping up, and my Aunt came up to me and said I did well, but then critiqued all the very obvious flaws in my presentation. This was fairly upsetting for me, I know I am bad at public speaking, I am quiet, awkward and hate/suck at doing things where you need to have large exaggerated movements or fake being jolly and enthusiastic the whole time. I forced myself to do it for her, and I feel that if it is so important that I was Santa, then it is not really fair on me to complain about how bad it was, as although admittedly terrible, it was my best effort. Lastly, to my horror, she said that I had to do it next year too.

I will have plenty of chances to talk to her over the coming year. What can I say to her so the whole situation doesn't happen all over again next Christmas? She clearly still believes that the Santa role should be shared, and it will be a real struggle to convince her otherwise. My goals in order are:

  1. To get out of being Santa next year
  2. To make her understand why I think the old Santa should stay
  3. To let her know that being Santa this year was tough for me
  • 52
    Why does this aunt get to decide on her own who is Santa and who not? Dec 27, 2017 at 13:16
  • 1
    @AnneDaunted She doesn't, this is more a case of her insisting and everyone going along with it. Typically the Aunts, Uncles and Cousins ask around together for anyone who wants to do it
    – Jesse
    Dec 27, 2017 at 13:17
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    What does her daughter not attending have to do with who is Santa?
    – paparazzo
    Dec 27, 2017 at 14:59
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    @jpmc26 If you want to write an answer, write one. Do not use comments to answer questions.
    – Catija
    Dec 28, 2017 at 22:51
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    @Catija ...? I didn't answer the question, though. I pointed out that the situation could probably have been prevented in the first place, which is mostly irrelevant to the current situation. Or are you saying that I shouldn't have mentioned it at all?
    – jpmc26
    Dec 29, 2017 at 3:49

9 Answers 9


Try to evoke her sympathy

So this is a great Christmas get-together and everybody should have a good time. This is hardly something she could argue against. Try to evoke her sympathy by making clear that

  • you didn't enjoy being Santa.
  • your performance was lacking and you won't be able to improve, because of your weaknesses/shortcomings (being bad at public speaking, awkwardness etc.). She did you a favor by criticizing your performance, so you can use her own words against her. Make clear that these are your problems and structural ones you can't change.
  • the earlier Santa really enjoys playing Santa and everyone agrees that she is doing a great job.

Don't accuse her of something, make it sound as if it was an experiment worth performing, but it turned out to create a lose-lose situation. Reverting back to the old order is a win-win situation for all involved.

I suggested to not criticize or accuse her, because she may then feel this was a personal attack against her and be less willing to even hear your arguments. And she seems to have greater leverage than you do. By blaming yourself, while making clear that you don't enjoy it also, it's a good first try to make her change her mind. Even if it fails, you could still try different approaches.

You are just asking about this aunt specifically, so I didn't cover this point, but I want to mention it nonetheless: It's maybe worth trying to each out to the other aunts and uncles, so that they at least know you don't like it and may (tentatively) support a change.


Not all interpersonal problems can be resolved with everyone happy and hugging kissing one another, especially if the person making the trouble is a bully. The OP does not say if bullying behavior is typical for this aunt. If it is atypical, I suggest trying a heart-to-heart, private discussion in which he tells her just what he said here. He can even get down on his knees and plead with her to let him off the hook.

If she doesn't agree, or if she is typically a bully, I suggest writing a short note, copied to all the relevant people, saying that you stepped in to solve a crisis, hated the role, will always hate the role, and that you absolutely will not be Santa next year or any year thereafter, and that you refuse to discuss the matter further.

Then stick to your guns. If the aunt broaches the subject again, change the subject, walk away from her, or get up from your chair and leave the gathering. Yes, this will cause unpleasantness, but remember that bullies always win unless someone stands up to them.

Edit in response to OP's Comment

I would say this Aunt falls somewhere between your two cases. Certainly not typical behavior but in those 1% times of heightened stress she is known to behave like she did this Christmas.

In that case, give it several months for the stress to recede and than make your private plea. You made your case very well in your Question, and this is the case to make to your aunt. I suggested falling to your knees as a touch of humor; if you are uncomfortable with oversized gestures, or if she doesn't have a sense of humor, this might not work. An added argument for you to use is that your taking on the role of Santa again will make you unhappy, your cousin unhappy and her parents unhappy. Reiterate that you agreed to solve a crisis, but now there are months to find a solution that does not involve you, and you will not discuss this further. For this discussion, you might wear a T-shirt saying "I will never be Santa again."

  • 3
    I would say this Aunt falls somewhere between your two cases. Certainly not typical behavior but in those 1% times of heightened stress she is known to behave like she did this Christmas.
    – Jesse
    Dec 27, 2017 at 14:00
  • 1
    I like this answer a lot but there are just too many things that would just not work, or feel awkward with the dynamic between my Aunt and I
    – Jesse
    Dec 28, 2017 at 17:24

This feels like an XY problem... (not saying this question is an XY problem, just the situation that prompted it)

Your aunt is upset about her daughter and rather than addressing that, she had drinks and redirected her feelings into the "Santa" thing. You ended up having the rotten luck of being a casualty of her redirect.

People get a little weird around the holidays, and even weirder when they have lingering unresolved family problems, and much more weird when they pour alcohol on top of all of that.

It really sounds like your aunt was uncomfortable about her situation with her daughter and was probably having trouble getting into the holiday spirit because of that. Stirring things up with the Santa thing was her misguided way of trying to "get in the holiday spirit"

In interpersonal problems it's pretty common to see this sort of:

I'm upset about X, but I can't do anything about X right now. Maybe Y will make me feel better...

Usually Y has nothing at all to do with X, it's just a distraction. Something else to think about. But keep in mind that Y suddenly takes on a lot of the emotional charge of X.

Obviously you can't force your aunt to resolve problems with her daughter over the coming year. Hopefully that will happen, but there's likely little you can do there. Understanding what's going on and why things happened is a step in the right direction though.

Chances are pretty good that you won't find yourself in that position next year, but if you're worried about it some jokes about how bad you were at being Santa may help.

Oh, no no no, I won't be playing Santa again. I was as awkward as a dog in socks last time, remember?

A little self deprecating humor can go a long way in these situations. If you remember a specific line you flubbed, or a particular misstep, just mock yourself a little bit and laugh about it. Jokes have a way of allowing you to decline while keeping the mood light.

  • 1
    Just to clarify, "This feels like an XY problem.." seems to insinuate that my question is unfocused. I agree that my Aunt's attempt to redirect her issues onto the Santa situation was a great example of an XY problem. However, my question is not. A few words to specify might help
    – Jesse
    Dec 27, 2017 at 16:02
  • 2
    @Jesse that's what the following few paragraphs were about.
    – apaul
    Dec 27, 2017 at 16:03
  • 1
    @Jesse is that better?
    – apaul
    Dec 27, 2017 at 16:06
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    @Jesse - after reading the original, and the edited version, I didn't get the impression that the "XY" label (in either case) was insinuating anything about your question as opposed to your aunt, if that helps put your mind at ease about it. Dec 27, 2017 at 20:13
  • @PoloHoleSet ooh there is no worries, I thought the modification was very nice. With the original if you read it fully you could gather that the XY problem was not about the question itself, but someone skimming through just the first paragraph and link might have gotten confused.
    – Jesse
    Dec 27, 2017 at 20:41

Only an answer to your first question, but here it is.

With her behaviour she is bullying you. No need to come up with excuses, just tell her you did it once and that's the end of it because you really did not like it.

If she insists suggest she plays santa next year.


Like cHao clarifies in the comments, avoid conflict and take one for the team (where team = aunt) by being santa anyway, or stand up for yourself and make it clear you will not be persuaded to comply to her wishes. You say the tradition is "one of the cousins", but from your questions it's very clear it has to be you and not any other cousin (because either they don't want to, or it is not the 'right' one).

  • 9
    Not sure why this is getting down voted because it is an appropriate answer, although short and direct. You don't want to be santa, so tell her you wont. You didn't like being put in the position of doing something you were uncomfortable with, so tell her that you won't do it again. I get that the tradition is that one of the cousins does it, but it sounds like only one wants to do it but the aunt doesn't want that one. None of the other cousins stepped into that, so don't tell her to pick any of the other cousins because it just does to them what it did to you. Dec 27, 2017 at 15:35
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    This is where IPS is a little different from most stack exchange boards. There will not be any textbook that has this situation and the "right" way to proceed proven scientifically... and even if there was, this is your family that you have to live with. Step back and look at your options. You can't make all of them happy in any case. Dec 27, 2017 at 20:18
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    @ThomasCarlisle No. This answer does not fall into the "there is no one right answer" category. I may not be able to make everyone happy but suggesting I do something that can only make them unhappy is worthy of a down-vote. If you are suggesting I say something explicitly to piss someone off then it had better have a solid purpose.
    – Jesse
    Dec 27, 2017 at 20:30
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    @Jesse: Yes, it does. There's no kumbaya answer -- the way you've framed the question, they're not going to be happy unless you're Santa. If you want to avoid conflict, then be Santa and learn to like it. If you want to stand up for your own happiness, on the other hand, then at some point you need to realize and accept that your wants are opposed to theirs. Conflict already exists. It's now up to you to decide whose happiness is more important.
    – cHao
    Dec 27, 2017 at 23:11
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    No, in fact, 'injury' can not always be minimized. Nor should it be. When someone else is being a crybully, it's self-defeating to give a damn about what will make them cry.
    – cHao
    Dec 29, 2017 at 7:50

The other answers to this question are all good and interesting, so here's something a bit left field...

This conflict appears to have stemmed from an unspecified personal issue between your aunt and her daughter. Is there anything you can do to listen to your aunt's concerns about this, outside of the pressure cooker of a family get-together at Christmas?

That could be a great opportunity to support her and open up quite a personal conversation between you. It might not be easy to find the opportunity to bring up the subject, but I feel it would be good if you could.

During that conversation, you should perhaps try to get a chance to talk equally openly about how strongly you feel about being the centre of attention in 'santa-situations'. Don't focus on that exact situation, but be more general - offer up that vulnerability of yours and give her the chance to support you a bit as well.

If you have a good relationship with her then it might be a chance to support each other. Listen to and reflect back your understanding of her concerns and see if together you can come up with ideas of ways to improve her situation with her daughter. If she can also listen to you and you can talk together about how you feel about those kinds of public situations, then she might see how what happened on the day was making the best of a bad situation, but not a template for future years.

So much of this comes down to what your relationship with your aunt is like and how it's developed over the years. I can't make assumptions, but if your conversation with her helps improve the root situation with her daughter then the whole santa thing might become easier to resolve as a result.

So... no direct answer on santa, but perhaps a way forward in a slightly different direction that might get you to an answer before next Christmas :-)

  • We have a good relationship, I think talking about her daughters situation may help make her feel better and potentially be the best thing to do in the long run, but I might leave my own situation till a seperate conversation or I worry it may not come across in the supportive way I would be intending
    – Jesse
    Dec 28, 2017 at 13:23

What I'm actually not clear on is whether the aunt in question has anything to do with actually deciding who gets (or who's got) to be the family Santa. Is it her call? Or is it decided kind of by announcing yourself as a volunteer--which she has basically done on your behalf?

Either way, I think you'd best start by finding another Santa. Any cousins owe you favours? Get someone else to start letting it slip that it's their turn, and then when it comes up, let your aunt know that, as much as you'd love to do it, you are graciously deferring to them.

Otherwise come next Christmas with no Santa, you will be the family grinch.

  • There are some cousins who owe me favours and would be less opposed to being Santa than I am. However, this doesn't solve the underlying issue, so nice idea but I think I will leave it as a last resort.
    – Jesse
    Dec 28, 2017 at 13:28
  • This is a great answer, it deserves +1's. It makes the whole main problem go away, and lends truth to "the aunt doesn't decide who's santa, the whole family does" idea (that seems to be on very shaky ground). Sub-problems 2 & 3 can only be solved by just telling (or writing) them to the aunt, period.
    – Xen2050
    Dec 29, 2017 at 6:50

My comments have spurred interesting discussion, and I suggested looking at the options and will try to do that as an answer.

Option 1: Be santa next year

Aunt = happy
Cousins that dont want to be santa = happy
Cousin that has been santa and likes it = unhappy
You = unhappy because entertaining is not your thing

Option 2: Decline being santa next year (and Aunt picks someone other than the cousin that had previously been santa -- this is not within your direct control but you can perhaps influence it)

Aunt = somewhat happy
Cousin that likes being santa = unhappy
Cousins that dont want to be santa - one is unhappy because he/she will be put into the same position you were
You = unhappy (because you carry guilt for declining being santa which also caused one of your cousins to be put into the same position you were)

Option 3: Decline being santa next year (and Aunt picks the cousin that had previously been santa -- this is not within your direct control but you can perhaps influence it)

Aunt = somewhat happy (for whatever reason she thinks this cousin has been santa enough already and wants to mix it up)
Cousin that likes being santa = happy
Cousins that dont want to be santa - happy
You = happy (because you are guilt free because cousin that wants to be santa is, no one that doesn't want to be santa has to be)

Seems like option 3 is the clear choice, if you can influence you Aunt to accept the cousin that freely volunteers into the roll without creating a drunken scene making virtually everyone uneasy.

Which leads to option 4.... discuss with your Aunt what happened and how that made you feel and how you feel it impacted the others and why it cannot be repeated.

Thinking out loud on these options

The only thing missing from my options analysis is consideration for how the options affect the children. It is hard to imagine the children were not aware of the tension and uneasiness caused by the incident that occurred between the adult and which required catering to your Aunts demands to avoid a bigger blowout.

It should be top priority to make sure the children are not exposed to this again, and perhaps that should trump what your Aunt wants or how her mood is because of the relationship issues with her own daughter.

It is worth noting that in any of these scenarios, your Aunt or anyone else can throw a tantrum which changes the scenario entirely. Which leads to

option 5: Have an adult discussion with your Aunt to communicate what happened cannot happen again. Then, get her and all the cousins together to get agreement on how next year's Santa will be handled well before. Consider past traditions as flexible and not set in stone. Maybe even decide that it is best for the children if a professional entertainer is selected to be santa.

  • 1
    My question asks "how can tell my Aunt I won't". Providing scenarios for what happens if I do and don't decline, or if I discuss/tell her properly seems redundant as my question makes it clear that I already want to both decline and discuss it properly
    – Jesse
    Dec 28, 2017 at 17:21
  • 3
    @Jesse I've tried hard to help you deal with this tiny bit of family dysfunction but apparently my advise is not helping. The answer to your question, which you keep re-iterating as you downvote people trying to help you, is "You tell her you won't be Santa by just telling her you won't be Santa". Good luck and I hope you find the answer you are looking for. If not, you have an entire year to figure it out. Don't despair there is dysfunction in all families and I only wish I had the ability to see the dysfunction in mine when I was at your age. Dec 28, 2017 at 20:31
  • Strangely enough, the only lines that appeared to be of interest to me were the ones starting You = :-) Aunt is attempting to bully you into doing something you don't want to - tell her "no". This seems like a no-brainer to me.
    – user10819
    Jan 2, 2018 at 6:02

Let it rest. Assume she means well and is not blind, and thus won't ask you again next time.

If she asks you again next time:

"I appreciate the opportunity, but I'll pass this time."

Don't give her a reason. Among people who respect each other, a reason is not needed in such a situation. If she's at all sensible, this will be the end of it.

If she indeed presses on, clarify that her behavior is not welcome:

"You're making me uncomfortable, please stop."

If she escalates further, the best course of action is to simply leave the room for a couple minutes, reiterating one last time that you are not available. You could also state that you are sure the group will find a solution that does not involve you this time. Then disappear for a couple minutes - best take a short walk outside. This will give the adults (if there are any) ample opportunity to resolve the situation without bullying anyone into being Santa.


Write her a letter.

Do not talk about her, or her affect on you. Appreciate her intentions, but make clear that being Santa distressed you (not her efforts to make you Santa, but the actual event of being Santa), and you do not wish to (or will not) do it again.

Your question is eloquently written, use that eloquence.

Don't try to control the outcome, she is an adult, and according to you, a reasonable and kind one (or reasonably kind at least) 99% of the time.

She will most likely reach the right conclusion.

Doing this in writing provides;

a) the distance to avoid an emotional response that may escalate if communication and reaction are in real time; and b) if she reacts poorly, evidence of your effort to be the good guy.

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