“Don’t tell the kids, but we’ve got Santa Claus all wrong. Countless Christmas songs tell us that Santa is basically the Judge Judy of juveniles. He decides who’s been naughty or nice, and doles out presents or punishments accordingly. But historians say Kris Kringle was originally created to keep ‘adults’, not children, off the naughty list. Being crafty codgers, we ducked Santa’s surveillance, turning the spotlight on kids and dramatically changing Christmas celebrations.” D. Burke, CNN
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: The real story behind Santa Claus, By Daniel Burke, CNN
“How did we achieve this very important historical victory? Picture this: It’s the early 1800s, and America’s Christian leaders — most of whom were Protestant Reformation-types — had banned religious celebrations of Christmas as unscriptural and paganish.
But people still wanted to party. Because, why not? It was midwinter, the crops were harvested and sailors were waiting for better weather to disembark. So, on December 25, working-class stiffs got fall-down drunk and stumbled around cities looking for stuff to loot. Imagine Black Friday, spring break and New Year’s Eve — then smash them together like sumo wrestlers full of saki. That was Christmas in the early 1800s.
A bunch of blue-blood New Yorkers decided all this fun must stop. They wanted to domesticate Christmas, bring it indoors, and focus it on children, says Gerry Bowler, author of Santa Claus: A History and professor of history at the University of Manitoba in Canada. These grinches, who formed the Saint Nicholas Society of New York, would change the world with two little poems. Yep. Poems.
But let’s back up for a minute. When the Dutch came to the New World in the 1600s, they brought a fellow from folklore named Sinterklaas with them, Bowler says. Sinterklaas, who wore a red bishop’s miter and a snowy white beard…Despite being a bishop, this Nick was a bit of a bad boy. An archaeologist who dug up his bones in 2005 found that Nicholas had a broken nose, perhaps a result of the persistent persecution of Christians around that time… Or could it have been Christian-on-Christian violence?
Early icons of Nicholas depict him without bishop’s garb, a subtle suggestion that he had been demoted, possibly for fisticuffs…Thankfully, St. Nicholas, was known for more than brawling. He also had a reputation for giving gifts and protecting children…While staying at an inn, Nicholas discovered three dismembered children in pickle barrels. He reassembled and resurrected the briny kids and punished the guilty innkeeper. These deeds, along with his everyman persona, (he wasn’t a martyr or hermit like so many other model Christians of the time), made Nicholas the greatest male saint of the Middle Ages.
Bowler says that St. Nick’s feast day, December 6, (the day he supposedly died) was celebrated across Europe for hundreds of years, often by giving gifts to children…About a decade later, in 1821, an anonymous poem called The Children’s Friend, featured a magical figure called ‘Santeclaus,’ who drove a reindeer-led sleigh full of “rewards” and filled obedient children’s stockings with little presents. Building on that, an Episcopalian scholar named Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem for his big brood called A Visit From St. Nicholas. It’s now better known as The Night Before Christmas.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Have students examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of words and ideas that they think might be related to this article.
II. While Reading Tasks
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- How did we achieve this very important historical victory?
- They wanted to domesticate Christmas.
- They brought a fellow from folklore named Sinterklaas.
- An archaeologist dug up his bones in 2005.
- The meeting in 325 formed the first consensus on Christian doctrine.
- There was a suggestion that he had been demoted possibly for fisticuffs.
- St. Nicholas, was known for more than brawling.
- He reassembled and resurrected the briny kids.
- In some early depictions, Santa Claus looks like an overgrown elf.
- By the early 1900s, Santa became benevolent grandfather that we all know and love.
Directions: Review the following statements from the reading. If a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.
- Kris Kringle was originally created children.
- In the early 1800s, America’s Christian leaders encouraged celebrations of Christmas.
- From this article we learn that in midwinter, the crops were harvested.
- Back then on December 25, the working-class donated money to the poor.
- A group of blue-blood New Yorkers applauded the working class for their donations.
- They wanted to domesticate Christmas, bring it indoors, and focus it on children.
- When the English came to the New World in the 1600s, they brought a fellow named Sinterklaas.
- Sinterklaas had five children of his own.
- Sinterklaas wore a red bishop’s miter and had a snowy white beard.
- An archaeologist who dug up his bones in 2005 found that Nicholas had a broken nose.
Using Adjectives to describe pictures
Directions: Have students choose a picture from the article and write a descriptive paragraph using adjectives.
Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.
1. The following three statements were taken from the article. Rephrase each statement in your own words, then discuss the meaning with the members of your group.
“These deeds, along with his everyman persona, (he wasn’t a martyr or hermit like so many other model Christians of the time), made Nicholas the greatest male saint of the Middle Ages…One measure of his popularity is the long list of people, places, churches and Christian groups that list St. Nick as their patron….St. Nick’s feast day, December 6, (the day he supposedly died) was celebrated across Europe for hundreds of years, often by giving gifts to children.”
“Some countries… such as the Netherlands, kept alive traditions associated with Sinterklaas. And it was these customs that 19th century New Yorkers wanted to revive. As they sought to make Christmas more family friendly, the Saint Nicholas Society found the perfect front man in their namesake, who, after all, was known for being nice to children.”
“The real goal was getting drunks off the street, remember? Now they could do that by turning Christmas into a family event when children — who had it pretty rough back then — would receive gifts for good behavior. Drawing on the Dutch legends about Sinterklaas, the American author Washington Irving wrote a series of sketches featuring St. Nicholas soaring high above New York houses, smoking a pipe and delivering presents to well-behaved children.”
Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the origins of Santa Claus from the reading, two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.