It’s a truth universally acknowledged that every December will bring at least one Australian newspaper headline claiming an early learning service has ‘banned’ Santa Claus or ‘cancelled’ Christmas.
Behind these stories is often a strong inclusion philosophy (perhaps misunderstood) that aims to create end-of-year celebrations that embrace all families. How can you make that happen without ending up as tabloid fodder this year? How do you create a peaceful and joyous atmosphere at the year’s end when everyone is feeling fractious?
We’ve gathered advice from many sources, including ACECQA and the EYLF, to help your community have a jolly time, no matter what approach you take.
Frequently asked questions
To begin, here are some FAQs based on questions arising in public educator forums about Christmas celebrations:
Are we allowed to have a Santa Claus?
Yes! There are no rules, regulations, quality areas or laws preventing any service from including Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairies or any other traditional characters in celebrations during the year. By the same token, there is absolutely no requirement to have a Santa at your year-end celebrations, either. There are critical reflection questions further on in this article that may help you decide.
Do inclusive Christmas celebrations upset non-Christian families?
When in doubt, ask. Families who aren’t religious and families from other faiths usually accept Christmas as a broader cultural celebration. This is a time to consider the ways you’ve communicated your inclusive philosophy and how well you know and understand your parent community.
How can I include Indigenous perspectives in Christmas celebrations?
You can include indigenous people’s perspectives at Christmas in the same way as any other time of the year – by reaching out to your local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community representatives and getting advice. If you aren’t sure who the Traditional Custodians of the land in your area are, start with this map and then google the nation identified for your area to find an organisation.
Critical reflections on Christmas celebrations
Reflection questions are any questions that help you form a better understanding of your approach and its alignment to the National Quality Standard and the curriculum frameworks for early childhood or school-aged care.
We’ve adapted some of the overarching critical reflection questions from the Early Years Learning Framework (pages 14-15) to help you and your colleagues explore your approach to Christmas celebrations.
- What are my understandings of each child’s needs and expectations at Christmas time?
- Are our Christmas plans age appropriate for each child? Have we considered the impact of additional noise, decorations, visitors, and performances?
- Are there theories, philosophies and understandings shaping and assisting my approach to Christmas, or am I doing things this way because it’s what we have always done?
- Who is advantaged by our Christmas celebration plans? Who is disadvantaged? How can I be sure?
- What questions do I have about Christmas celebrations? How can I get answers?
- What am I challenged by at Christmas in our service? What am I curious about? What am I confronted by?
- When I find a gap in my knowledge – like whether some families would be unhappy about Christmas events – how can I get the answers?
- Are there other theories or knowledge that could help me to understand better what I have observed or experienced about Christmas celebrations? What are they?
- How might those theories and that knowledge affect our Christmas celebration plans?
The trouble with Santa…
Christmas celebrations don’t just fall foul of news editors determined to run an easy story. There are some problematic aspects for educators generated by some of the Christmas traditions for children.
Children hear over and again that Christmas is a kind of Judgment Day for the past year’s behaviour. Have you been naughty or have you been nice? If you aren’t ‘good’ you won’t get any presents!
It may be said by adults in jest, but the message children hear can be serious. This is prime territory for critical reflection, perhaps in the context of any behaviour policy your service has adopted. Can you share with families your educational philosophy about judging children’s behaviours?
Telling the truth
SPOILER ALERT: Santa is a myth and we are lying to children when we say he is real.
The decision to endorse the jolly man in the red suit is personal to each family. Some may refuse to lie to their children about Santa, others will adore everything about the ‘magic’ of Christmas. This means it’s important to communicate your service’s position, and how you support families in their beliefs, clearly in advance of Christmas. It’s also a good idea to have a strategy ready for the moment when young Nigel breaks the news to Nellie that everything she’s dreamed of for weeks is a big fat fib perpetrated by her trusted adults!
Gifts and greed
Many people are uncomfortable with the Christmas focus on receiving gifts, rather than giving to others, and enjoying the company of family and friends. In your celebration plans, how are you approaching the idea of presents and giving? Is this an opportunity to connect with a local charity?
Feasting and food groups
‘Let them have it this once, it’s Christmas!’ Sound familiar? If your service doesn’t have a clear policy on nutrition and treat foods, Christmas is a good time to start making some notes for one. Many early childhood and OSCH celebrations will involve parents and ‘bring a plate’ for catering. Some services give families a list of celebration style foods to choose from, which means they maintain their nutritional approach and avoid foods likely to cause allergic reactions, too.
A great thing about Australia’s Christmas is that many beautiful fruits are in season so whatever else you provide, make sure you set up some jewel-like platters of pineapple, mango, strawberries, blueberries, peaches, apricots, melon balls, and passionfruit halves.