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A Parent’s Guide to the Very Best Holidays

‘A Bad Moms Christmas’ has our resident mom and dad power-rank those special days of celebration

STX Entertainment/Ringer illustration

Shea: Katie, I’m messaging you right now because of the confluence of two events. First: It’s the holiday season. We’ve just celebrated Halloween, we are less than three weeks away from Thanksgiving, and also we’ve got Christmas (Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc.) and then New Year’s Eve/Day soon, too. So there’s that. Second: There’s a new movie in theaters called A Bad Moms Christmas. Have you heard of it?

Katie: I’m imagining Love Actually except with a lot more sweatpants, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, and glitter permanently stuck in the floorboards. Related: My town has a “Mamas” Facebook group that underwent some sort of ideological schism semi-recently that resulted in a splinter group called “Bad Moms,” and someone in that group just wrote a post suggesting a field trip to Reno to see this movie. Am I an unwitting victim of an elaborate viral marketing campaign?

Shea: Oh, man. The neighborhood Facebook message boards are so gnarly. There are people in our neighborhood who legit hate each other because of message board disputes about, like, what day the area pool should be closed for cleaning. It’s wild, and I for real love it. We’re very much embroiled in a kind of civil war right now because of the most recent fight, which was about whether or not it’s acceptable for kids to ride motorized dirt bikes and scooters in the streets. I am pro-dirt bikes, for the record. I’m the Captain America in that particular dispute.

Katie: I always envied the kids who had Hot Wheels. Dirt bikes seem to be the logical extension. Approve!

Shea: As far as A Bad Moms Christmas: It’s the sequel to last year’s Bad Moms. It stars the same people (Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, and Kathryn Hahn), except this time it’s Christmas. And so the reason I wanted to talk to you about it was because A Bad Moms Christmas, which might be good and it might be terrible but is probably somewhere in between both of those things, has this great line in it where they call Christmas “the Super Bowl for moms.” That, to me, is an insightful thing because—and I didn’t realize this until I had children of my own—all of the holidays are different when you’re a parent than when you’re a kid (or even when you’re purposely childless). So let’s walk through the big holidays and determine which one is the worst for parents and which one is the best for parents. And the only rule here, really, and this is just a common-sense thing, is that we’re allowed to speak only on the holidays that we’ve celebrated as both as a kid and a parent.

Katie: This is good timing, because my son turns 2 in a few weeks. I feel like age 2 is right around when the pressures of holidays begin to ramp up: When he was a newborn, I celebrated Christmas by taking a shower, and last year I was too busy trying to figure out the vast universe of starter sippy cups to have to lie to his face about Santa or establish cherished Thanksgiving dinner family traditions.

Shea: Exactly. So, given that it’s the one that we just celebrated, let’s start with Halloween.

Halloween

Shea: Is Halloween a good holiday for parents or is it a bad holiday for parents?

Katie: I live in an easy trick-or-treating neighborhood, so I’m currently a fan of Halloween. (Highlight of the other night was the neighbor chilling on a chair in his front yard roasting sausages over an open flame, blasting “Stairway to Heaven,” handing out mini Snickers, and smelling vaguely of weed. Call me?) My son is young enough to have zero opinions about costumes, so a cheap monkey suit from Target.com went over just fine. I even found a Pinterest project that is on my level. How was your holiday? As the cool dad in a family brimming with style and creativity, do you enjoy Halloween, or do you feel like you have to clear an impossibly high bar?

Shea: There’s no bar for me, because everyone who knows me in real life knows that I am useless in every context that is not internet-related. So like you, I also enjoy Halloween, though mostly it’s because it requires very little work on my part. That’s really how I figure out if a holiday is good or not: How much work will I have to do for it to be considered a success? So with Halloween, basically all I’m responsible for is (a) putting on a costume (that my wife, Larami, has arranged for us because she, the baby, and I dress on theme each year), and (b) making sure that nobody attacks us as we walk through our neighborhood. If I’m feeling especially spry, I’ll periodically fuss at our oldest kids, twin 10-year-olds, because I think they aren’t enthusiastic enough about the evening’s adventures. That’s pretty much it, though.

Katie: Do your kids get scared?

Shea: They’re scared of scary things, yes, but nothing that happens on Halloween in our area is especially scary. The worst thing we saw was there are still a bunch of houses in our neighborhood that are recovering from the Hurricane Harvey flood, so there was that debris everywhere. But that’s a different kind of scary. A scary that they don’t really understand yet. A question for you: Being new parents to a young child, were there any rookie missteps you all made? Because when Larami and I were first starting out as parents, we fucked up so many little things that nobody warns you about.

Katie: We did commit a possible party foul earlier in the day by sending him to daycare without a costume. The lady who runs it texted all the parents a photo and I noticed that all the other kids were in legit costumes and he was outfitted in a bunch of scraps from the dress-up bin. My son is possibly Oliver Twist?

Shea: Oh no. The only thing worse than being the only kid at school without a costume is being the only kid at school with a costume.

Katie: A truism that doesn’t end in childhood. Having originally grown up in the Northeast, I feel like Halloween is the culmination of an entire month’s worth of seasonal expectations. Are people in Texas required by Instagram rules and regulations to (a) “leaf peep,” (b) apple-pick, or (c) visit a pumpkin patch? Or does living in the Lone Star State free you from those oppressive societal constraints?

Shea: I don’t know what a “leaf peep” is, nor have I ever heard of anyone picking apples for recreation. That might just not be a thing that Mexicans do, though. We have been to a pumpkin patch before, except it wasn’t an actual pumpkin patch, it was just a bunch of pumpkins in the front lawn of a church that’s a few minutes from our house. Mexicans love church.

Katie: If your church ever serves “apple cider donuts,” I recommend hoarding them. Bring a backpack.

Shea: OK, so if we’re organizing all the five main holidays each of our families celebrate—Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, July 4th, and our own birthdays—where does Halloween fall in your Holidays As A Parent rankings? Don’t give me all of the rankings, just Halloween’s. For me, I have a low level of responsibility, it doesn’t involve any substantial pre-planning, it’s over relatively quickly, there are no gifts involved, and it always ends up with me getting to eat a ton of candy. That makes it my second-place holiday as a parent. Where does it fall for you, 1-5?

Katie: You know what? I think I’m going with 1!!!

Shea: Wow.

Katie: That “Stairway to Heaven” guy with the mini Snickers really put a skip in my step. I reserve the right to completely change my opinion when my kid gets old enough to make demands that result in me having to set foot in a Jo-Ann Fabrics or, like, attend a “parade.”

Thanksgiving

Shea: What about Thanksgiving? Where does it fall? What are the best parts and what are the worst parts?

Katie: OK, this is a tough one! I think, at this point in my life, I’m going to say … fourth place? I feel guilty saying so, but it’s just that Thanksgiving is the holiday that has been most drastically altered since I had a kid. For starters, my son was born ON Thanksgiving. I ate turkey and pie from a hospital tray and labored while the Packers played the Bears.

Shea: That seems like a not a great start. Semi-related: My twins were born on Father’s Day in 2007. Later that day, the Spurs won Game 1 of the NBA Finals, and then a week after that they closed out the series to win their fourth title in eight years and third title in five years. Larami was stuck in the hospital for a bit because she had to have a C-section due to some scary pregnancy complications. I just sort of puttered around and let the nurses do everything. At any rate, what I’m saying is you should consider possibly being a dad instead of being a mom because it’s about 500 million percent easier.

Katie: Smash the patriarchy!!! Thanksgiving USED to mean going back to my parents’ house, getting high school drunk with high school friends on that Wednesday, sleeping in, asking my mom when dinner would be ready, lying on the couch refilling my wine glass and talking shit about the Cowboys, sitting down to an elaborate meal eaten with The Good Silverware, falling asleep by 8 p.m., and waking up refreshed for three more days of partying with high school friends.

Fast-forward to last year. I now live 3,000 miles from “home” so instead of letting Kathy Bakes do all the work (love ya, Mom!), I AM MOM. I feel like I should be creating elaborate traditions and developing strong opinions on marshmallows in yams (?) and “spatchcocking.” (??) I assume I should be planning ahead (LOL) and breaking out the wedding china that can’t go into the dishwasher. (?!?!) But I feel stupid doing all of this for basically a party of two because my son would rather eat Go-Gurt pouches than anything else. [Lowers voice to a whisper] Last year I punted and bought a quarter of a rotisserie turkey from Safeway. Shea, does this get better, or is this just my life now?

Shea: Minus the Go-Gurt, I’m almost certain it’s just your life now. It’s the life of (I think) every mom, which is why I suggested you consider becoming a dad. And it’s also the central point of A Bad Moms Christmas.

Katie: Ugh. I wish I had gotten this sage advice before getting all pregnant again. I’m so doomed. All signs are currently pointing to “crash someone else’s Thanksgiving this year/forever.” Or make a reservation somewhere? My son is pretty annoying at restaurants, and also I feel like they always try way too hard with the stuffing situation and it winds up incredibly wack. What’s Thanksgiving Chez Shea all about?

Shea: For me, Thanksgiving is the no. 1 holiday as a parent. It’s the only one where I have basically no responsibilities. I’m not in charge of cooking the food. I’m not in charge of watching the kids (we do Thanksgiving at either my parents’ house or my wife’s parents’ house so the kids are always off running around with their cousins). I’m not in charge of anything except watching TV and eating too much food. That’s it.

Katie: So your Thanksgiving circa now = my Thanksgiving from 1983-2014. That’s a good Thanksgiving. That’s a no. 1 holiday, easy.

Shea: Exactly. It’s very similar to when it’s my birthday (which is my third-favorite holiday of the year), with the key exception being that I don’t have to pretend to like whatever terrible presents my kids end up getting for me. So for me, it goes:

  1. Thanksgiving
  2. Halloween
  3. Birthday
  4. TBD
  5. TBD

And for you, we’re at:

  1. Halloween
  2. TBD
  3. TBD
  4. Thanksgiving
  5. TBD

Katie: Oh, see, I’m ranking my birthday dead last. Every few years, including this most recent one, my birthday falls on Father’s Day.

Shea: Oh my God, that’s horrible. I’m so sorry for you. That’s like if your birthday was also the anniversary of a close friend’s death.

Katie: My husband is cool as hell and all and deserves to be shouted out, but not in mid-June!!! Determining who had to wake up with the baby was like nuclear brinkmanship except with fake snoring in place of macho geopolitical threats. OK, let’s move on to Christmas. Today in CVS, they were putting out the nutcrackers and weird ceramic figurines, and someone on that “Bad Moms” Facebook group already posted a schedule for visiting Santa. I feel like she should be banned. That kind of thoughtful advanced planning belongs squarely in the “Mamas” group.

Shea: The one thing I’d like to point out here is that, since Larami and I alternate where we spend each of our holidays, and since I’m Mexican and she’s black, what ends up happening is we get either Mexican Thanksgiving and Black Christmas or Black Thanksgiving and Mexican Christmas. They’re very, very different things. And without getting all the way into the mechanics of each, I’ll just say that Black Thanksgiving is far better than Mexican Thanksgiving, but Mexican Christmas is far better than Black Christmas.

Katie: Wait, now I want you to get all the way into the mechanics of each. Or at least give us a couple-sentence comparison.

Shea: Well, I think the main difference is that there is far more alcohol at the Mexican celebrations, which makes for a great Christmas (there are few things better than the smell of menudo in a house full of hungover people on Christmas morning) and a horrible Thanksgiving (we have not successfully made it through a single Thanksgiving without at least two of my uncles getting into a fistfight since, like, 1991). Also, they make dressing at Larami’s parents’ house. We don’t have dressing. We have stuffing, which is infinitely worse.

Katie: This reminds me that in about two weeks everyone is going to publish one of those predictable “how to argue with your family about politics at Thanksgiving” explainers. It’s like clockwork.

Christmas

Shea: Christmas is easily the worst of all the holidays for parents, and absolutely my last-place pick. There’s just soooooooo much responsibility, and sooooooooo much to do, and soooooooooo many different ways to screw things up.

Katie: Christmas used to be awesome on account of all the time off work. Now that perk is fully canceled out by the terrifying realization that my son’s nursery school is closed for, like, a week straight. Even worse, he’s still too young for me to be able to hold Santa’s Naughty List over his head for the entire month of December as a no-fail parenting tactic. On the other hand, he’s still too young to judge me with every unwrapped present, so maybe it’s a wash.

Christmas is my no. 3. My husband is Jewish, so if I want to get festive (and the thing is, I really do! I like strings of lights and snowflakes made out of cupcake wrappers, and I love ornaments, and I find all eggnog delicious, and I was raised on a steady diet of dour Catholic guilt) I have to spearhead it myself. Don’t mind me, I’ll just be in the kitchen listening to 17 different versions of “O Holy Night” on Spotify and crying into the cookie batter. Uh, so … what’s your Santa strat?

Shea: As far as our Santa strategy—and this is going to sound super duper Texan, but what we do is every year we take our three boys to visit him at Bass Pro Shop. And, again, I know that sounds odd, but trust me: It’s very fantastic. They set up this whole area at the back of the store where they make it look it legit like the North Pole. And the Santa that they get looks like he might actually be a real Santa; he’s got a real beard and a real belly and a jolly laugh. It’s excellent, and the boys love it.

We skipped it one year and took them to this fancy Christmas celebration at some giant church in the suburbs that was supposed to be great, and for a good while it was. But at, like, hour two of the event, they stopped everything and a pastor walked out holding a microphone on these giant speakers and started talking about how Jesus died for our sins and he got really, really specific with the way that they killed him, and it was just like, “Whoa.” I was just trying to sing along to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” not hear a retelling of The Passion of the Christ, you know what I’m saying? So we’re pro–Bass Pro Shop celebrators now.

Katie: I just Googled the nearest Bass Pro Shop. It’s far away, BUT there’s a Cabela’s really close, and they have a Santa! Life-changing information.

Shea: It really is. But yeah: Christmas is the worst. It’s the bottom for me. And that means July 4th is, appropriately, the fourth-place pick for me. It’s generally fun, but I usually have to help out somewhere around 10 percent with either the food stuff or watching the kids or cleaning up afterwards, and those are all things I am not interested in. I’m just really not that great of a parent. If it wasn’t for Larami, we honestly probably wouldn’t celebrate any holidays at all.

Katie: Conversely, my husband deals with the BBQ so I’m pro Fourth of July. (You should really try being a mom?) It’s no. 2 on my list. So far I have found it’s a holiday I can easily celebrate by just kind of sitting around. This may change when my kids get old enough to maim themselves with explosives or declare themselves vegan. Unlike Christmas, the holiday doesn’t last for a month. Unlike Thanksgiving, I don’t feel Pinterest-pressured into forever defining concepts like “family” and “friendship” via One Perfect Meal. My only goal for an Independence Day tradition is to perform an annual reenactment of this scene:

Lightning round time. Most underrated holiday as a parent: Easter. Lower expectations than Christmas but the food is just as good, the Easter Egg hunts are an efficient way to tire kids out, and sometimes the final round of the Masters is on TV.

Most overrated holiday as a parent: All the ones where the kids have no school, but your company is like, Ha ha, it’s adorable that you think we’d give you Columbus Day off.

Holiday about which I lack an opinion: Valentine’s Day seems like it could be stressful for various reasons but for now I’m safe to completely ignore it. If they don’t still manufacture those valentines that you stick a half-roll of Lifesavers into, I’m toast.

Shea: That all sounds right. So the final Holidays As A Parent rankings here for you are:

  1. Halloween
  2. July 4th
  3. Christmas
  4. Thanksgiving
  5. Your birthday (a conditional placement, given that it occasionally coincides with Father’s Day)

And mine are:

  1. Thanksgiving
  2. Halloween
  3. My birthday (which, incidentally, falls just a few days before Father’s Day; June is a great month for me)
  4. July 4th
  5. Christmas

So, cumulatively, Halloween is the best holiday for parents and Christmas is the worst. And the unifying theme seems to be that the more work a particular parent has to do for a particular holiday, the worse it is. And also the other unifying theme is that moms are more important and better than dads in basically every way.

Katie: “Mamas,” yes. “Bad Moms,” the jury is still out. Gotta go—according to this, I’m supposed to be planning my Thanksgiving already. Thanks, failing New York Times, for making me feel like a failure. Cheers!