It’s the time of year that the question of Santa becomes a popular topic in the Montessori community; the main question being: is Santa compatible with Montessori?? Well, I don’t think that’s really the main question. If you are asking this question because you work in a professional Montessori environment, then I would have hope you already know the answer. That being said, I suspect the following is more likely to apply: you are asking yourself this question because you have a child and you are leaning towards a Montessori lifestyle. Let me be clear about one thing: Montessori has no rules. It is not rigid, or all-or-nothing.
You’re probably reading this because you follow my family life on Instagram and know we try to raise the children with Montessori principles in mind most of the time. I have hope that you will now realise though that we are very relaxed about it, and don’t force principles where we aren’t comfortable or finding them easy to manage as a family. It’s no different for us at Christmas, either.
While my husband and I were raised in different cultures and celebrated Christmas quite differently to each other as children, one common denominator was that gifts did “magically” appear in our houses for us to open and enjoy with glee. Fond memories, absolutely! But I don’t believe this moment of expected surprise was the pinnacle of the celebration for either of us.
Lots of people think the Montessori+Santa thing is black and white but I’m here to say it doesn’t have to be. I have read time and time again on Facebook groups people claiming parents who do not include the Western traditions of Santa magically gifting toys are “ruining” Christmas, “taking away the magic” or even “missing the point of the season”. Wow. Those are quite some claims! Ones which make me wonder how I got to this point, with a 4 year old (Benedykt) in early December who speaks about Christmas so excitedly on a daily basis that he can barely get all his words out coherently. Even on the way home from nursery yesterday, Sylvester (2) was almost screaming with delight exclaiming,“I see Christmas lights- I see MORE Christmas lights!!”
So how do we, as a family, address Santa? First thing’s first; we don’t call him that. The overweight white-haired guy in the red suit is referred to as Father Christmas in our house (or Mikołaj when my husband is discussing him with the children). There’s no reason for this, other than that’s what I’ve always known “him” as, and I just therefore feel that “Santa” is over-commercialised and I don’t enjoy using the word. Similarly, the Polish pronunciation of “Santa Klaus” just doesn’t really roll off the tongue.
Most of you know I talk pretty straight-up to my children, regardless of their ages. I tell them the truth in the most appropriate language for them; I rarely overthink explanations of anything as I am a great advocate of “honesty is the best policy”. Some might suggest that omitting somethings and rather just simply allowing your children to make their own assumptions(and not correcting them) is ok. If that suits your family, then don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do that. For me, I just find it hard within myself to let my boys believe that a man will be flying through the night and landing on our roof with 12 reindeer, enter the house through the chimney to leave gifts. It is… so farfetched.
I recall having so many issues with this narrative as a child I mean; how does one even fit safely through a chimney? How does he exit?What about if the gifts are too big? Nevermind the flying reindeer and the possibility of getting to all of the houses in the entire world in one short evening.
Young children really need to first be grounded in reality before exploring the possibilities within fantasy. I know Benedykt would be bursting with similar questions about chimney function because it is so unrealistic. Maria Montessori suggested to avoid any confusion or distress fora toddler, we should await the moment their brains are ready for fantasy (the ability to distinguish it from fact and appreciating it as not real). Because all children develop at different rates, she advised avoiding elements of fantasy all together until the second plane of development (6years+). However, becauseI speak about Montessori applied in the home, you can follow your child to see when they’re ready for grasping fantasy (it could be from the age of 4).
The difficulty with introducing concepts like “Santa” to children in the first plane of development (0-6) is that they will struggle to distinguish fact from fiction. As adults we know the difference and it is often difficult to appreciate the thoughts of an immature mind.
I’ve read that some people don’t “do Santa” as a family because it brings back bad memories for them as a child as the very thought of a man coming into the house in the night terrified them; or they’ve never forgotten the moment that their dreams clattered into reality when they caught their dad shifting “the” presents around in the night… well, I have no such negative memories but still, up-keeping the charade just doesn’t fill me with joy.
So for my boys I’ve always made these 2 things explicit:
· Father Christmas is just a normal man who works in a shop. At this time of year, he dresses up and sits in a tent, and we visit him, and he gives out gifts.
· The gifts they subsequently receive throughout the season are not from anyone other than us, or other family/friends (there’s multiple days because on 6th December is when some Polish children traditionally receive gifts, and then again a small gift on 24th, as well as the traditional 25th Christmas morning in England!)
The outing to visit Father Christmas in the shop is possibly the highlight of Benedykt’s year. It is the most magical and exciting experience for him and since he was 2, he has never forgotten the joy of this day. He’s never forgotten the gifts he’s received from Father Christmas in the shop, either, which tells me he’s very appreciative. That’s one reason why I like todo it this way. The children can thank [the man dressed as the character of] FatherChristmas in person on the day of receipt, and they can also thank me and their father and all their other gift buyers personally, too. I don’t feel like we have any absence of magic when it comes to gifts.
We teach the children that Father Christmas is a character that pops up around Christmastime, just like the other characters that we see around in Christmas decorations, lights, media i.e. snowmen, reindeer, elves. We don’t go out of our way to ignore them; we very much appreciate all that as a family.
Another thing that’s important to me is teaching the art of gifting.This is the perfect time of year to help my children appreciate the magic of giving a gift to other people. Personally, especially since being a mum, I’ve realised that actually seeing the reaction of my children when they get a gift from me is the most magical feeling ever. I want them to feel that magic, too. So, every year I will ask the boys to nominate a person they would like to gift something to. It can be anyone, their choice. They can then choose what to give the person, too, and later experience the recipient’s reaction.
These things are the things that we value as a family at Christmas, and I don’t want the commercial notion of “Santa” to overtake these wondrous simplicities. Christmas is magical because of the way it brings families and friends together; I don’t need a special character to bring magic for me.
To help you to navigate this season with your young family, I recommend this book:
It helped me work out my own way and feel confident about how to proceed in the future.
Feel free to DM me on Instagram if you have any questions!
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