Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

Happy little girl enjoying with Christmas gift, hands of Santa Claus give a child Christmas gift on Christmas time

But should he be in the preschool classroom?

It’s always a dilemma for me. December comes around and I wage the debate with myself (and sometimes other teachers) about what role Santa and all of his Christmas ‘friends’ should have with young children at school. Starting earlier and earlier each year, Santa and friends are everywhere. Parents come to expect the Santa crafts to come home; parent gifts and cards to be made; and child-crafted ornaments fashioned for the home tree.

I’m willing to concede that many skills can be integrated into seasonal activities. Making a Santa beard out of cotton balls certainly has some cachet in practicing fine motor skills as well as language skills, following directions, and a plethora of other skills preschool is designed to teach. But I get concerned that the joy of the season may be lost on families who don’t celebrate Christmas. I’ve seen families pull their children out for the weeks before the holiday because the focused activities don’t square with their religious beliefs or cultural traditions.

What if we planned to spend our time before the holiday break focusing our energy on the meaning of the symbols of Christmas. So what do we have…Santa, of course; Christmas trees; elves; candles; wreaths; reindeer (I think the story of Rudolph has much to teach us beyond reindeer games); bells; holly; stars; and lights all come to mind. All of these (with the exception of Rudolph, maybe) have Christian (and pagan) origins but there are reasons beyond their Christian (and Christmas) meaning that are also universal.

For examples, Santa is an historical figure (he was a real person) represents giving, love, and family. The evergreen tree represents long life. Looking at trees can bring about a discussion of ecology. The symbolism of the star can foster a conversation about space. I’ve looked at several websites that, although focusing on the meaning of these symbols as representing Christian practices, also provide some insight into the underlying meaning. Are there ways you can use the deeper meaning of Christmas symbols in your classroom? Here are a few websites where you might find some information:

However you choose to incorporate the holidays in your classroom I hope you can find many ways to be joyful…in kindness, caring, and community.

This article was contributed by Mary Perkins for the Early Childhood Express newsletter.