Is. St. Nicholas real?
Is Santa Claus real?
Who brings the presents and fills the stockings?
Is Jesus real?
Children ask questions that are difficult to answer. I tend to start story telling, celebrations and debates with phrases such as:
- This is what some people believe.
- This is a story from long ago.
- This is how some families celebrate.
As an example, today we celebrated the festival of Saint Nicholas. We looked at the world map and found Europe, and then looked at the map of Europe and found the Netherlands. We heard some facts about the real Saint Nicholas who lived a long long time ago. We learned that he was kind and generous, especially to the poor and hungry. We learned that he became a bishop, an important person in his church. We looked at a picture of how Bishop Nicholas might have looked and dressed long ago. We learned how people in the Netherlands remember Saint Nicholas on his feast day. The children leave out a boot, or shoe, or maybe even a clog (We have a pair of clogs that the children can try on!) on the Eve of his day, and then in the morning, on December 6th, the children look to see if Saint Nicholas has left them a treat – perhaps a small toy or something sweet to eat. We then left a boot outside the classroom door and waited for St. Nick to arrive and bring us a treat. Sure enough, he left each child a sweet treat – a cookie and a tiny candy cane. One of our children, from another European country, told us that St. Nicholas travels by boat – yet another tradition.
“But is he real?”
“Saint Nicholas was a real man. He was kind and generous, and liked to give people surprise gifts.”
“Is he still alive?”
“He lived a long, long time ago. We just remember him on his special day.”
“Does he still bring gifts?”
“Some families like to think that he does. Other families like to remember St. Nicholas by doing what he did – giving surprise gifts.”
And I am sure we will have similar discussions when we celebrate St. Lucia, and then on a later date take a ride on the Polar Express to the North Pole. The St. Lucia celebration follows a similar pattern to that of St. Nick. We’ll locate Sweden on the map, we’ll talk about what we know of the real St. Lucia who lived long ago, we’ll learn about how her feast day is celebrated in Sweden. We’ll dress up, share a special treat, enjoy candle light . . . and talk about celebrations in general.
When we act out ‘The Polar Express,’ we begin right at the start by saying that we are acting out a story. We talk about ‘acting’ and ‘pretend’, and how we will pretend that we are riding on a train, so we can imagine what that would be like. We will pretend that we are at the North Pole. Some children will get the chance to pretend to be elves, or Santa, and we will all get the chance to be part of the story and have a good time together. We’ll talk about traditions and celebrations some more.
And inevitably someone will ask, “Is Santa real?”
And again we will talk about family traditions and beliefs.
“In my family, the gifts under the Christmas tree are from our family, and Santa fills our stockings.”
“In our family, we give each other gifts at Christmas. We don’t believe in Santa.”
“In our family, we don’t get or give gifts. Christmas is about Jesus.”
“In our family, Santa brings the gifts under the tree and fills our stockings.”
“In our family, we get to open a gift on Christmas Eve.”
“You are all so right. Families celebrate in so many ways and have so many traditions. That’s what makes our family special. We share some special beliefs. Other families have their own special beliefs. What is important is that we know that most families like to celebrate and share special traditions, and that these celebrations are very special. It’s okay if other families believe something different. We can just say what our families believe without saying that what someone else’s family believes is wrong. I might say something like, “Oh, your family believes that the gifts under the tree are from Santa? Our family puts gifts from family members under the tree.”
So, hopefully you can use a similar technique when your child comes home in tears and says, “James said Santa is not real,” or something else that casts doubt on your family traditions or beliefs.
“James has family traditions that are different from ours. That’s okay. Every family is different. In our family tradition …..”
This is obviously much more of an issue as children grow into the kindergarten and elementary years. They tend to be more verbal, and very interested in debating and questioning. And they can be so passionate about their beliefs. These debates open up an opportunity for me, that I will take on Monday, to talk to our K/1 students about respecting other people’s beliefs and traditions. As a parent, you can also use these moments to talk about your family traditions and that it is okay for others to have different traditions and beliefs.
And now a confession ~ I wrote letters from Santa to my children until they were well into their twenties. One Christmas Eve I was just so tired, I didn’t write the letter. Everyone was so sad, but understood. It had been a lovely tradition, and one I hope will be brought back to life if and when we have grandchildren!
Traditions, celebrations, beliefs . . . they are all part of what makes us human!