Before I began my Montessori training and the boys were very small, I perpetuated the Santa Claus myth with a vengeance. On Christmas morning there was a big, muddy footprint on the floor in front of the fireplace and on the mantle was a letter from the jolly old elf himself. The cookies and carrots so carefully left out on Christmas Eve had disappeared and there were two new Elf-made presents under the tree addressed to each boy in shaky North Pole hand writing. Needless to say, the boys were staunch believers.
The lies always bothered me – a little. How could I justify telling such fibs to my children when my husband and I expected them to be honest and truthful. In our own feeble defence, Santa was never used as a threat and the boys never received coal in their stockings. However, somewhere in my not-so-subconscious I knew that our investment in the myth was larger than the boys.
Then the lecture about Dr. Montessori's views on fantasy and imagination came along in my training, and I had to swallow a big lump of sooty guilt. I knew we'd probably made a mistake and that, at some point, the lie would come back to thump me on the head. I was right.
A few years along, my younger son lost a tooth and the "Tooth Fairy" forgot to place a coin under his pillow. Luckily, the boy didn't check under his pillow immediately and the Tooth Fairy thought she had enough time to slip the coin under it while he was in the washroom. This act of parental deception was witnessed, unfortunately, by his older brother.
A few minutes after returning to my bedroom, the older boy walked in with a thoughtful expression on his face.
"Mom?", he asked. "Are you the tooth fairy?"
I looked at the almost-9-year old boy and said, "Of course I am! I thought you knew that."
There was a long pause and then he threw himself onto the bed, wailing, "Now I suppose you're going to tell me that you are Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, too!!" He was heart broken – not so much because the characters weren't real but that we'd lied. His trust in us was broken and restoring it took some work.
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I’m writing this with the hope that other parents might learn from my mistake. Santa Claus is a big part of this country’s culture whether one adheres to the religious aspects of Christmas or not. It is especially important that at this time of year we remember our children look to us to help them sort out the world around them.
As Montessori families most of us strive to offer the “real” world to our children. We buy them real, child-sized tools, trust them to help with the household chores, and set up our homes to include the children in every room. It behooves us to think very carefully about how we present our cultural myths to our children because at some point, we will be asked if there really is a Santa Claus.
I don’t have a definitive answer. When talking to friends and colleagues, I found there are many different ways of handling the Santa Claus question. Some people tell their children that they don’t know “but it is fun to pretend.” Others tell their children that ”some people believe in Santa” and let their children fill in the blanks. Still other parents turn the question around and ask “What do you think?’ as a way of opening up a discussion giving the child the opportunity to work out their own answer.
Whatever you decide to say when the time comes (and it will) it is good to be prepared. The Christmas Holidays are busy enough times without being blindsided by the Santa question.