How does Santa define ‘good’?

Jerry Moore

WATERTOWN — When Christmastime rolls around each year, do you find yourself worrying if you’ve been sufficiently “good”?

How can we be sure that we’re listed in the Nice column of Santa’s renowned list? Just what level of naughty does Saint Nick let slide before he formally brands us as seasonal rogues? Are we allowed to declare mitigating factors that led us astray?

I swapped some text messages with of my sisters a few days ago. She assured me that Santa knew I had been “very good” this year.

I kidded her by replying that it was more like “goodish” — you know, somewhere in that general vicinity. “Good,” in an incredibly broad sense of the word. I qualify if you allow for a great deal of leeway in the definition.

But as we approached Christmas Eve, which is today, I grew concerned that my status on the Naughty and Nice List could spell trouble. Sure, I’d describe myself as acting good overall since last Christmas.

But what metrics does Santa use in making this determination? Just how close would he declare me to be to the border separating the two categories on his list? Are we in sync, or should I expect a lump of coal in my stocking come tomorrow morning?

The essential question is, how does Santa define “good”? Where does he draw the line?

What sources is he using to back up his decisions? And, most importantly, is there a process through which we can appeal any decision we believe he’s made in error?

These are vital issues that someone on the bubble needs to have addressed. What I need is an experienced lawyer, someone who is able to tackle the problem head-on.

I can’t imagine anyone better suited to handle my case than renowned barrister Horace Rumpole, the English bulldog of London’s Old Bailey. Oh, just think of what he would do to Santa’s Naughty and Nice List if he could get the Jolly Old Elf in the dock and pepper him with questions!

If only Rumpole (brilliantly portrayed by actor Leo McKern) existed outside the realm of a 1970s television drama on the BBC, I’d be set. But unfortunately, Rumpole is a fictional character who sprang from the creative mind of British writer John Mortimer.

So I’m without adequate legal representation on this matter. I’ll need to hope I behaved well enough to make the cut.

For reference on the nature of being good, we could examine two classic Christmas stories. They both focus on mean-spirited souls who saw the light and reformed their behavior.

Charles Dickens published “A Christmas Carol” in 1843. It follows hard-hearted businessman Ebenezer Scrooge as he’s shown the error of his ways on Christmas Eve by three ghosts. He realizes there’s more to life than just accumulating money, and he pledged to “honour Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.”

The other story, of course, is “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” published in 1957 by children’s author Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss). The book became a beloved animated television special first broadcast 55 years ago.

Perched on Mount Crumpit, the Grinch loathes all the Whos in Whoville — particularly their annual celebration of Christmas. So he concocts a scheme to steal all their holiday items.

But despite being left with nothing, the Whos cannot hide their love of the season. Christmas joy isn’t about having things; it’s about being together. Finally understanding this sentiment, the Grinch returns all the belongings and joins the Whos in their grand feast.

Both Scrooge and the Grinch were ideally named for their personalities; these words have become synonymous with misanthropes. This makes their conversion to humanitarians all the more dramatic.

What can we take away from all this? Ultimately, to be good is to do good. You can’t really separate one from the other.

I suppose this is what Saint Nick is looking for when he revises his list. Perhaps he’ll consider my reminder of this important Christmas lesson a worthy note in my favor!

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to They also may follow him on Twitter: @WDT_OpEd.

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(3) comments


Since it’s a done deal at this point, I hope Santa was forgiving to you, Jerry.

I would’ve suggested Saul Goodman since Rumpole is sadly no longer with us. Happily, Bob Odenkirk, I believe, has survived his close call.


Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do. Voltaire


Spoiler: this comment is a mean spirited downer. It reflects its subject matter. I think the theology is that none of us is good, some of us just get lucky and accept undeserved grace. Other than hating yourself, there's nothing you can do and nothing you do matters because this world doesn't matter. All that matters is agreeing with what you are told, no matter how nonsensical. Once you do that you might be afforded guidance in how to be good, and that may allow you to experience some undeserved oxytocin buzz before you die, as if it was you who was actually good not your altruistic and undeserved guide.

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