Teaching Christmas to Immigrant School Children

Christmas tree teachings are now included in the curriculum of the New York public schools. So in the school-year plans inaugurated September 11th, 1905, the Christmas-tree holds a prominent place.

One may search the courses of study in the public schools and find no mention of Christmas, but a visit to the school-rooms where beginners are taught — not necessarily kindergartens — will reveal the reasons why the Christmas-tree will this year be found in thousands of East Side homes where twelve months ago the name Christmas was barren of meaning.

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, published from 1855 to 1922, was an American illustrated news publication started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie. While only 30 copies of the first edition were printed, by 1897 its circulation had grown to an estimated 65,000 copies.

In pleasant school-rooms the children are first made familiar with simple toys, told how they are intended to please. Then a delegation is sent out to bring in a suitable tree that has previously been placed in the school-yard. Soon the tree stands upright in the school-room. This done, the teacher trims it with glittering tinsel rope and ornaments, showing the little ones the way to arrange these to gain the best effects. Now comes the task of placing the presents, the very toys with which new joys have been taught the children being used. Presently the gifts are in position, and the Christmas-tree stands complete. Distribution of the presents follows, the lesson that gift-givers should carefully consult the tastes of those who are to receive being made clear.

Over and over again these Christmas lessons are given. The children never seem to find them monotonous. Only one objection to teaching of this sort is heard, always from persons to whom Christmas has been a home study from earliest memory — that it dispels the kindly illusion of Santa Claus. This is answered by the declaration that most of the children who are thus taught of holiday joys never heard of the patron saint of the Christmas-tide; that, any way, real happiness is better than empty illusion.

Charles C. Johnson

Source: Christmas Taught School Children in Frank Leslie’s Weekly, December 7, 1905

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