How Christmas Came to the Santa Maria Flats By Elia W. Peattie

“Peattie’s Christmas story will be appreciated by both children and adults. The Santa Maria Flats’ Lease includes restrictive rules: no running, jumping, and nothing else that might satisfy children’s natural liberties. But it also includes a ‘clause’ about no peddlers or agents entering the building. Is Santa allowed to make deliveries to the children or not?”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

There were twenty-six flat children, and none of them had ever been flat children until that year. Previously they had all been home children. and as such had, of course, had beautiful Christmases, in which their relations with Santa Claus had been of the most intimate and personal nature.

Now, owing to their residence in the Santa Maria flats, and the Lease, all was changed… Though, to be sure—as every one of the flat children knew—they were in the greatest kind of luck to be allowed to live at all, and especially were they fortunate past the lot of children to be permitted to live in a flat… The twenty-six children of the Santa Maria flats belonged to twenty families.

All of these twenty families were peculiar, as you might learn any day by interviewing the families concerning one another. But they bore with each other’s peculiarities quite cheerfully and spoke in the hall when they met. Sometimes this tolerance would even extend to conversation about the janitor, a thin creature who did the work of five men. The ladies complained that he never smiled…’if only the janitor would smile. But he looks like a cemetery.’

Santa Maria Flats

Only Kara Johnson never said anything on the subject because she knew why Carlsen didn’t smile, and was sorry for it, and would have made it all right—if it hadn’t been for Lars Larsen.

Dear, dear, but this is a digression from the subject of the Lease. It was in the Lease not to run—not to jump—not to yell. It was in the Lease not to sing in the halls, not to call from story to story, not to slide down the banisters…It was in the Lease, too, that no peddler or agent, or suspicious stranger was to enter the Santa Maria, neither by the front door nor the back…It was this that worried the children.For how could such a dear, disorderly, democratic rascal as the children’s saint ever hope to gain a pass to that exclusive entrance and get up to the rooms of the flat children?

“You can see for yourself,” said Ernest, who lived on the first floor, to Roderick who lived on the fourth, ‘that if Santa Claus can’t get up the front stairs, and can’t get up the back stairs, that all he can do is to come down the chimney. And he can’t come down the chimney—at least, he can’t get out of the fireplace.’

Roderick could see for himself. There was an inch-wide opening down which the Friend of the Children could squeeze himself, and, as everybody knows, he needs a good deal of room now, for he has grown portly with age, and his pack every year becomes bigger, owing to the ever-increasing number of girls and boys he has to supply…Nevertheless, hope springs eternal, and the boys each and individually asked their fathers—tremendously wise and good men—if they thought there was any hope that Santa Claus would get into the Santa Maria flats, and each of the fathers looked up from his paper and said he’d be blessed if he did! Nobody could laugh because a boy was found crying!

The girls cried too—for the awful news was whistled up tubes and whistled down tubes, till all the twenty-six flat children knew about it. The next day it was talked over in the brick court, where the children used to go to shout and race. But on this day there was neither shouting nor racing. There was, instead, a shaking of heads, a surreptitious dropping of tears, a guessing and protesting and lamenting.

All the flat mothers congratulated themselves on the fact that their children were becoming so quiet and orderly… It was decided, after a solemn talk, that every child should go to its own fireplace and investigate. In the event of any fireplace being found with an opening big enough to admit Santa Claus, a note could be left directing him along the halls to the other apartments.

A spirit of universal brotherhood had taken possession of the Santa Maria flatters. Misery bound them together. But the investigation proved to be disheartening. The cruel asbestos grates were everywhere. Hope lay strangled! … No one suspected the truth, though the children were often heard to say that it was evident that there was to be no Christmas for them! The day before Christmas was gray and dismal. There was no wind—indeed, there was a sort of tightness in the air, as if the supply of freshness had given out… There appeared to be no stir—no mystery. No whisperings went on in the corners—or at least, so it seemed to the sad babies of the Santa Maria…

Even the janitor noticed it. He spoke about it to Kara at the head of the back stairs, and she held her hand so as to let him see the new silver ring on her fourth finger, and he let go of the rope on the elevator on which he was standing and dropped to the bottom of the shaft, so that Kara sent up a wild hallo of alarm.

But the janitor emerged as melancholy and unruffled as ever, only looking at his watch to see if it had been stopped by the concussion… It seemed to the flat children that they had been asleep but a few moments when there came a terrible burst of wind that shook even that great house to its foundations. Actually, as they sat up in bed and called to their parents or their nurses, their voices seemed smothered with roar.

Sounds of falling glass, of breaking shutters, of crashing chimneys greeted their ears—not that they knew what all these sounds meant. They only knew that it seemed as if the end of the world had come.  After a terrible time the wind settled down into a steady howl like a hungry wolf, and the children went to sleep, worn out with fright and conscious that the bedclothes could not keep out the cold.

Dawn came. The children awoke, shivering. They sat up in bed and looked about them—yes, they did, the whole twenty-six of them in their different apartments and their different homes. And what do you suppose they saw—what do you suppose the twenty-six flat children saw as they looked about them?

Why, stockings, stuffed full, and trees hung full, and boxes packed full! Yes, they did! It was Christmas morning, and the bells were ringing, and all the little flat children were laughing, for Santa Claus had come!

He had really come! In the wind and wild weather, while the tongues of the wind licked hungrily at the roof, while the wind howled like a hungry wolf, he had crept in somehow and laughing, no doubt, and chuckling, without question, he had filled the stockings and the trees and the boxes!

Dear me, dear me, but it was a happy time! It makes me out of breath to think what a happy time it was, and how surprised the flat children were, and how they wondered how it could ever have happened.

But they found out, of course! It happened in the simplest way! Every skylight in the place was blown off and away, and that was how the wind howled so, and how the bedclothes would not keep the children warm, and how Santa Claus got in…And of course all the parents thought and said that Santa Claus must have jumped down the skylights.

By noon there were other skylights put in, and not a sign left of the way he made his entrance—not that the way mattered a bit, no, not a bit…In closing it is only proper to mention that Kara Johnson crocheted a white silk four-in-hand necktie for Carl Carlsen, the janitor—and the janitor smiled!

Read full Story here

Author Elia W. Peattie (January 15, 1862 – July 12, 1935) was an American author, journalist and critic. Wikipedia

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

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 improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

Directions:  Have students examine the photos, then create a list of  words and  ideas that group members think might be related to this article. Next, answer the following questions:

  1. Look at the picture what would you call this building?
  2. Have you ever lived in flat?  An apartment? A house?
  3. Which did you like better?
  4. If you are from another country what are the names of buildings where people live?
  5. Have you ever wished for a gift  but thought that you would  not receive ti?
  6. In the U.S. small children believe in Santa Clause. Do children in your country believe in Santa?

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

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.

  1. There were twenty-six flats in the building.
  2. The Lease was a strange  one.
  3. The Lease was a strange forbiddance, a ukase issued by a tyrant
  4. The children were lucky to be permitted to live in a flat.
  5. All of these twenty families were peculiar.
  6. The ladies would often gossip in the vestibule.
  7. “If only the janitor would smile.
  8. This is a digression from the subject of the Lease.
  9. But the janitor emerged as melancholy.
  10. They said that Santa Claus must have jumped down the skylights.


Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.


  1. There was twenty-six flat children.
  2. They had the greatest kind of luck.
  3. There were many flats in the great city.


  1. Cecil were evicted, along with his parents.
  2. He looks like a cemetery.
  3. People wanted a cheerful janitor.



  1. It was over the Lease not to run and not to jump.
  2. The boys and the girls cried at learning the news.
  3. All the flat mothers congratulated themselves.


Reading Comprehension Fill-ins

Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences  taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

‘You can see for yourself!’ said Ernest ___.Roderick could___for himself. There was an inch-wide opening down which the Friend of the Children could ___himself, and, as___ knows, he needs a good deal of room now, for he has grown___with age, and his___every year becomes bigger, owing to the ever-increasing ___of girls and boys he has to supply.

WORD LIST: number, portly,  squeeze, pack, tragically, see,  everybody,

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.

  1. Why were the children called ‘Flat’ children?
  2. What was it about the janitor the families didn’t like?
  3. The story states, Only Kara Johnson never said anything on the subject because she knew why Carlsen didn’t smile, and was sorry for it, and would have made it all right—if it hadn’t been for Lars Larsen.” Can you guess what happened with Kara, Lars and Carlsen?
  4. Why did the children think there would be no Christmas that year at the Flats?
  5. Who is the “Friend of the Children” ?
  6. What was the plan the children thought of?
  7. How did the children’s  plan turn out?
  8. In the end, how did Santa get into the flats?
  9. Why do you think the  janitor finally  smiled at the end of the story?
  10. After reading this story name at least one new thing  that you’ve learned. Discuss what you’ve learned with your group members and share as a class.

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.