[Originally posted on December 6th, 2011.]
December 6th is the annual feast of St. Nicholas, who died as the bishop of Myra in 352.
We began celebrating his feast day when my oldest child was 3 and I wanted to decide which Advent traditions to begin with my children, and how to approach the slightly-tricky business about the mysterious man who comes down the chimney during the night to bring presents. (Especially since we don’t have a chimney.)
One of the reasons I admire Montessori philosophy is that it respects the importance of the distinction between truth and fiction, and the importance of helping children to have clarity in making this distinction. Children have an innate desire to know this difference.
I know that some people get the impression that Montessori education excludes imagination, fantasy, and fiction… it doesn’t. It just says to the adults: help them to know what is real and what is not. They want to know. This emphasis on distinction fits squarely with my long-held belief that speech is a gift intended to be used for truth only. I cannot lie to my children. I cannot tell them that a jolly old fellow will be sneaking into our house during the night to bring them presents for being good this year.
Before you tell me what a sour-puss I am and remind me of how much I loved anticipating Santa as a child, let me also say that I don’t tell my children he’s not coming. If they ask how gifts got into their shoes last night, I may just say something like, “how do you think those gifts got there?” And we enjoy reading plenty of fiction; I just make sure to ask often, “do you think this is a real story or a made-up one?” (Can you tell I have a strong melancholic temperament?!)
St. Nicholas was real. He was known most for his generosity to the poor and his desire to help them in secrecy. We honor him by reading some of the great books about him, watching videos perhaps, learning about how his legend has spread around the world and how other cultures celebrate him. We learn about the meaning of the candy cane and the episcopate. We make treats to share with our neighborhood friends. We play new games together. It is a fun day for the children. Christmas Eve will be all about going to Mass and opening gifts we have chosen or made for each other and visiting extended family. (And I explain to the older children that pretending Santa is real is a fun thing that many families do, so we should help keep this secret from our friends.)
Perhaps when my children grow up and have kids of their own, they will decide to return to a Santa theme, and I don’t care at all. We should each craft our own style, our own traditions. Today I have a house full of happy kids, new games to play, a daughter wearing her first tutu, and a delicious candy-cane-shaped coffee cake. It is a good day!