Even before being parents and starting our Montessori journey, Alex and I often discussed about Christmas and how to handle it with our kids. We’re not religious, we usually work over the Christmas period, and we see it more like a consumeristic festivity than anything else. Don’t take me wrong, I personally love giving (and receiving) gifts, especially if I have something “just perfect” in mind, but I don’t feel the need to wait till Christmas in order to do it.
On top of that, after embarking on our Montessori journey, I started feeling like Christmas the way I know it (the tree, Santa Claus, the gifts) is not compatible with the kind of lifestyle we’d like for our kids. The whole Montessori philosophy is based on always telling the truth to our kids and deeply respecting them, which culminates in the Montessori motto ”Follow the child”.
So isn’t introducing fantasy characters like Santa Claus, the Three Wise Men, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny… a way of lying to our kids?
We’ve been thinking a lot about this in the past few years, and today I’d like to share a few of our reflections with you (thanks also to Montessori en Casa and her Reto Montessori webinars for always being such an amazing source of inspiration and self questioning for me).
Make what you want of your life and your traditions
First of all, you might feel judged by something I write in this post. Please, please, please, DON’T. I’m not judging you. In fact, I strongly believe that traditions (and life) are what you want to (or like to) make of them.
Parents should decide freely what to do with their little ones at home: if you are raising you child Montessori, but you want your Christmas filled with red Santa costumes and gifts under the tree, go ahead and do it (I had it in my childhood and loved it!), but make it a conscious decision, reflect on what it means for you and your family, don’t do it just because “that’s how you do Christmas”, think of possible consequences, of the meaning it’ll have for your kids, in what ways this decision might clash with the lifestyle you want to lead and, if so, how to handle it.
In this post, I’ll tell you what we decided to do as parents in our household, but again, please don’t let our personal decisions make you feel judged or criticised.
We don't want to lie to our kids
Alex and I came to the conclusion that if we introduced Santa Claus in Oliver’s life as a real person who flies on a sleigh, comes down the chimney at night and brings presents—trying to hide the truth for as long as possible in order to keep the magic alive—we would be lying to him. We simply don’t want that, so we won’t do it. Simple, right? :-)
The journey we embarked on through the gorgeous Montessori philosophy just happened to match exactly what we already felt—that lying to our kids about anything at all, in the long term undermines their trust in us and their feeling respected as individuals.
Let me give you a silly example: we’re driving, Oliver starts crying and I tell him “We’re almost home” when I perfectly know we’re still very far away. This is just one example of the many “white lies” that we tell our kids daily.
But in the long term, what kind of message do these lies send to my kids? That they can’t trust me and my words anymore. Telling him that Santa Claus exists and is real will eventually backfire when he finally learns the truth and that we, his parents who he trusts, contributed to the lie.
We want to respect our kids' right to believe
What if Oliver one day comes home from nursery telling us excitedly all about Santa? Because it WILL happen! Will we tell him he’s wrong, that it’s all a big, fat lie? No, we won’t. We’ll listen to all the stories he has to tell us, and wait for him to ask questions.
When he does (because he will!)—mom, does Santa really exist and come on a sleigh down the chimney to bring me gifts?—we won’t lie to him. We’ll tell him that he doesn’t exist, but that it’s a beautiful story full of magic and that he is free to believe it’s real—and it might even be fun!
We will ask questions, and encourage him to find his own answers (can a man really fit down the chimney? How can he go back up again? Can a sleigh really fly? Kids find creative answers when they want to believe!) and to feel free to disagree with anybody (including us) if he thinks they’re wrong.
No need to give up Christmas traditions
We don’t believe in Santa, we’re not religious, we don’t follow the typical traditions… does it mean that Christmas is off limits for us? Not at all. Christmas is full of beautiful, interesting traditions that are different in each and every culture, and I can’t wait to explore them all with our kids, and learn all the different ways to celebrate it in other Countries.
As for us, we won’t have a nativity scene because we don’t embrace the religious aspect of it, but we will talk about nativity scenes, we might have a Christmas tree and learn about its origin—did you know that this tradition, like the actual date we celebrate Christmas, have pagan origins that go back way before they were related to Christianity? In the same way, we’ll buy books and learn about the origin of the Nativity Scene, Santa Claus, the Three Wise Men, their meaning in our culture and other cultures…
There’s so much more to Christmas than holiday from school, gifts and fantasy characters—and that’s what I’d like to get my kids excited about!
What about gifts?
This is a tricky one. Alex and I have stopped giving each other gifts on Christmas day, because we want to give gifts when we find something we love or when we simply feel like it. This way, we also feel free from the consumeristic aspect of Christmas, from the run to the perfect present, the waste of money on a gift at all costs.
In this regard, I’d like to quote Cristina from Montessori en Casa who wrote in her thoughtful blog post:
It is no news that we live in a consumer society, but on the dates close to Christmas the consumeristic fever is fired and it seems like if we don't buy everything that we see we can't be happy. I have often been horrified when in some film or TV shows (including children's ones) I hear sentences like:"Oh no, all the presents have disappeared, we have to find them to save Christmas!"W-H-A-T? Are you telling me that we need gifts to "save" Christmas? If there are no gifts, Christmas is not worth celebrating anymore? What kind of message is that?The bad news is that we are so accustomed to this kind of messages that sometimes we are not even aware of all the brainwashing messages we receive around these dates—even worse when it comes to our children, who are building their scale of values and receive those messages as valid and positive.
I always loved finding presents under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning, so I might try and find a way to keep that tradition alive for our kids. In this blog post you’ll find a nice idea I’ve been reading in many blogs—which we might adopt in the future.
Respecting other people's way of Christmas
One thing that we realised, though, is that we can’t force our way of Christmas on others. Christmas is a great time to get together with family (especially when you live far away) for one simple reason: people have holidays from work!
My mother will be here for Christmas this year, she’s very religious, Christmas has a different meaning to her than it does to us, and although we won’t join her for the midnight mass or in celebrating the birth of Jesus, we want to respect her way of Christmas, and we want Oliver to learn about it, too, when he’s old enough to make up in his own mind.
And as long as other we all respect each other’s way of Christmas—we accept if they want to give gifts or have a special meal, and they respect that we don’t go to mass or pretend that Santa is real—I’m sure we can all enjoy our different ways of Christmas.
Don't feel judged, our way is no better than yours!
I feel like I have to repeat myself here, as I find this a delicate subject for many people, especially when it crosses their religious belief: we decided to celebrate Christmas this way—finding our own special things, not giving into the consumeristic aspect of it, making it an occasion to learn about different cultures in the world, and sharing it with family in a respectful way—and we feel like it works well with our Montessori lifestyle. But you don’t have to do the same.
I always say it, extremes are not healthy: there’s black, there’s white, and all the shades of grey in between. Enjoy exploring all of them and finding your own way of Christmas.
Merry Christmas, everybody!
I told you a little bit about our Christmas traditions, and now I’m curious to hear about yours. Whether you’re religious or not, Montessori or not, how do you celebrate Christmas with your kids? And how did you celebrate it before kids or when you were kids yourself?