Last week Gabriel announced to the class that there really wasn't a Santa Claus. He smiled like a Cheshire cat after his announcement as his classmates indignantly exclaimed that he was wrong. Just as I thought we'd adverted the inevitable, today Natali told the friends at her table that Santa was DEAD. While I deeply respect whatever parents want to tell their children these days, I do have to admit that I really hate to see the Santa myth exposed so early. Of course, I did tell my own son, Wes, when he was six when he asked me- heart to heart, saying, "I just really NEED to know. Please tell me the truth, Mom." I did tell him the truth but I explained to him that believing was one of the really fun and exciting things about the holidays for many families and that he would really spoil it for his friends if he told. To my knowledge he kept quiet and he certainly maintained the fairy tale for his sister long after she was in first grade. It'll be interesting to see what he does with his own children. I hope he'll be indignant when one of her friends tells her before he is ready! Tracy and I have decided to respond, when asked, that those who believe receive. It's okay for Gabriel to believe that there is no Santa but as a result, he might not get a visit from Santa at his house this year!
As a born again Christian, I am always conflicted about exactly what to say to the children this time of year. I want to tell them the glorious story of the baby born to save the world, but I know that I have a responsibility as a public school teacher to also share with them the many religious and secular traditions of the holidays, which I try to do through a holiday read aloud each day. I always mention the story of Hanukkah. I overheard the music teacher explain the Dreidel
in music this week before they sang a song about it. One of the students in my class explained some of the symbols on the Dreidel that he said he had learned in Hebrew school. After Music he came up to me very upset and said that one of his friends had said that he didn't celebrate Christmas, but he wanted everyone to know that he celebrated both. My friend, Melanie, said that her children ask to be Jewish every year after they heard one of their friends explain that his family celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah and he receives a present every day of Hanukkah and at Christmastime! I also often do a few Kwanzaa activities each year although I've never had a child in my class that actually celebrated Kwanzaa. This year our class is more like a mini-United Nations and I wonder what other religious and secular holiday traditions the children celebrate in their homes and in their culture. I really hope they will share through their writing and through their comments as we read through our holiday selections.
What I really hope is that we teach tolerance and respect through this holiday season. I also hope that I model what I believe through my actions of love and kindness and giving. When asked, I will be honest about my own personal beliefs. We have so many things to teach our children, but probably one of the most important is how to get along in our pluralist society - acting on our own beliefs with passion, being a living model of what we believe, but at the same time respecting the beliefs of others. In the meantime, I hope that we never have to take down the beautiful holiday tree in the lobby of our school that has a picture of every single student because someone objects to holiday symbols of any kind, because to me, it represents our unity, and I do hope that, at least for one more year, we allow those who believe in the fantasy of the fat old man dressed in red another year of belief!