Thursday, December 24, 2009

Track Santa: An Email to My Students' Parents

This is an email I sent to my students' parents today.
Feel free to copy it and share with your students.

Dear Parents,

Track Santa Online!

Even for those of you who don't celebrate Christmas, this is an amazing experience for your child.

Every year on Dec. 24, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) opens up their special site so people can track Santa in real time. It's not just a "Oh, there he is on the map" sort of thing. Once you see where Santa is on the map, you can see the sparkle trails of where he's been already, and click on the video icons to see videos and explore more. There are Wikipedia articles and beautiful photos at almost every location. According to Google, almost 8 million people used the site last year.

As of this writing, Santa is in Aparri, Philippines
but in 3 minutes he will be in Zamboanga, Philippines.

Too bad this wasn't available when my boys were young.

For more information, here is how the whole thing started. (Sometimes, mistakes lead to amazing ideas!)

Just so you know, they take the site down every year right after Christmas Day, so bookmarking it for later won't do a thing. (I tried it.)

I hope you'll share this with your children. No work for you... just give them the link and let them explore. Believe me, they will figure it out.

Mrs. Kolbert


Hadass Eviatar said...

Lee, I hate to be a wet blanket, but as a Jewish parent, if I received this from a teacher at a public school, I would be upset. Kids who don't observe Xmas have a hard enough time with the ubiquity of Santa without having this thrust upon them at home. And what is the parent supposed to say, "We don't believe in all this stuff but let's track Santa anyway just for fun"? It doesn't work like that, I promise you.

I do understand the fun of following NORAD maps and so on. But for those of us who endure this time of year rather than enjoying it, we really don't need such letters coming home. I hope the rest of your class enjoyed it.

Just a different perspective ...

Hadass (lionsima on Twitter)

Lee Kolbert said...

I'm sorry I offended you, however as a Jewish parent myself, I enjoy celebrating the season while understanding its religious significance is not what I'm participating in.

And yes, parents and students can still track Santa for fun.

I thought about it before I sent it and felt that the benefit for those who choose to participate far outweighs the risk of offending a few. It's a great, timely opportunity to learn about the world.

I find it terribly unfortunate that you feel you are "enduring" this time of year. To me it's a joy to see people happy and come together for something that is positive in their lives; even if it's not what I celebrate.

Here's Santa's perspective on being politically correct:

Barbara Day said...

Dear Lee, Being as you sent this information to the parents, and not directly to your students, I believe you were respectful of all of your families' belief systems. Parents can either opt to share this experience with their kids or just ignore it. I too, am a public school teacher and families are diverse. I know they will make the decisions that fit their family, and I would not presume to know what those decisions will be.

Barbara Day

Mr. H said...

The NORAD site is a great place to watch and learn about the world. OK it is about a man in a suit "commercialism" but my 8 year old twins are loving the geography they are learning. Hey we are spending time together laughing and doing lots of searches for places we will never go to in real life.

Great site.

Ant Heald said...

I feel it's a bit of a shame, Lee, that you felt the need to conduct a 'risk / benefit analysis' on that email, but I think at least you made the right call having done so.

Hadass - you expressed your different perspective courteously, but I would simply ask: if you hate to be a wet blanket, why be a wet blanket? And are you quite sure that kids who don't observe Christmas typically have a hard time with the ubiquity of Santa? In my experience as teacher in a Catholic school with a relatively high proportion of ethnic minority students compared to the local population, the most common reaction is that they feel privileged that they get to join with the Christmas fun of their peers AND get the celebrations of their own culture/religion in addition. Of course some 'grown-ups' may inculturate them to avoid or be offended by Christmas celebrations, but mercifully that seems quite rare.

Of course, if someone is prepared to go out of their way to find offence, they won't have to look very far. I know a number of small-minded people who would find it offensive to read the festival of Christmas abbreviated to Xmas, but I certainly won't be expecting you to stop doing that.

mmshepherds said...

If only...
The communication emails I get from my kids' school (be it teacher, administrator, support personnel or volunteer parent) is quadruply-censored, propaganda or watered-down, meaningless and vague hints about what WENT on last month.
I'd be thrilled to have something timely and pertinent.
Great info...keep it coming!

PLNaugle said...

Dear Lee,
Thanks for sharing the site with your parents. They will be able to decide if they want to share it with their children or not. I am glad that you are the type of educator who can embrace other cultures, unlike Dr. Eviatar, who feels she has to "endure".

As an elementary teacher, like you, I believe in multicultural education. I include all of the celebrations in my classroom and respect the beliefs of students from all of the religions that are represented in my classroom. I believe the world is a better place when we can share and learn about things outside our culture and not feel that we must endure them.

Happy Holidays (no matter which one you celebrate) to you and Dr. Eviatar, and all the members of our PLN.

Hadass Eviatar said...

@Lee, thanks for the response. I'd forgotten that you are also Jewish. I'm glad you find pleasure in celebrating "the season", whatever that may be. It is as well to be aware, however, that not everyone has the same perspective. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if some *Christian* parents had difficulty with the whole Santa phenomenon - I certainly know a few. I agree with @Ms. Day that you acted tactfully in sending this to the parents rather than giving it directly to the kids, and if I were a parent in your class, I would certainly appreciate that. Nevertheless, I do feel that public schools, especially in a country that prides itself on separation of church and state (whether real or imagined), should stay away from the symbols of the dominant religion.

@Mr. H, I am thrilled that your twins are enjoying following Santa on NORAD. Have a wonderful time, and I mean this sincerely.

@Ant, yes, I can tell you from direct experience, both from my own childhood and that of my children, that Jewish children have a hard time being asked in stores what Santa is bringing them and whether they've been good enough to get gifts from Santa (with the implication that if you don't get gifts from Santa, you must not have been good). Has it occurred to you that parents who choose to send their children to a parochial school of a different religion might already have a tenuous relationship with their own? That may not be the case in your school, but again, I know personally quite a few people who have made this choice, and I know what I think of their connection to their own religion and culture.

Finally, about the use of Xmas. It has a long and venerable tradition in Christianity, the X being derived from the Greek letter Xhi, standing for Christ. It is certainly not disrespectful in any way, and I'm sorry if you experienced it that way.

Enjoy the holiday!


PJVermont said...


It's all good. I'm (New York) Jewish, married to a (New England)Catholic. We're raising our daughter (7 years-old) to view the holidays as a celebration of our family & friends. She loves the Santa Tracker. It's putting smiles on our faces. Isn't that the point?


Jerry Blumengarten said...

Dear Lee,

You were absolutely correct to send that to the parents who could decide what they wanted to to.

I totally agree with PNaugle's comments!

I think that as educators it is important that our students have an appreciation and understanding of all holidays, their significance and how people celebrate them.

The NORAD site is a wonderful geographic teaching tool.

Happy Holidays to everyone!

Cindy said...

I think your idea was an awesome chance to do something fun with their family whether they celebrate Christmas or not. You worded things very clearly and gave parents the opportunity to participate or not. You also responded well back to the one that was concerned. You will always have those that are but you were respectful and that is great. Don't let 1-2 defeat what you are trying to do for many!:)

Anonymous said...

Via Wikipedia on the use of the word "Xmas"


Style guides and etiquette

"Xmas" is deprecated by modern guides for writing styles. Style guides at the New York Times,[2] The Times, The Guardian and the BBC all rule out its use, where possible.[3] Millicent Fenwick, in the 1948 Vogue's Book of Etiquette states that "'Xmas' should never be used" in greeting cards.[4]

The Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage states that the spelling should be considered informal and restricted to contexts where concision is valued, such as headlines and greeting cards.[5]

The Christian Writer's Manual of Style, while acknowledging the ancient and respectful use of "Xmas" in the past, states that the spelling should never be used in formal writing.[6]

*end snip*

I'm just saying. Think about it!

Deon said...

I took my Catholic school students to visit a synagogue and a mosque recently. One child's parents refused to let her enter the mosque. Is a mosque offensive? It has more religious significance than Santa...

People who try to prevent their children from being exposed to other cultures are doing them a disservice. Embracing multiculturality and the 'global village' would achieve much more than being a 'wet blanket'.

Not that watching an imaginary fat man is exactly 'embracing multiculturality', but it's a good start!

Hadass Eviatar said...

@Deon, I'm sorry your student's parents would not allow her to visit the mosque. Visiting in a spirit of mutual respect is a wonderful thing.

If the visit had entailed actual participation in the religious services, I might have had issues with that.

I agree that the imaginary fat man is not the highest point of Christianity, but that is still where he belongs. Pretending that he is not a Christian symbol is disingenuous IMHO, just because he's been stripped of all actual significance ...

Madeline said...

These comments were interesting for me to read, as I am just entering the world of teaching. In just a few weeks I am beginning my full time clinical practice in a 2nd grade classroom in Charleston, SC. Before I came home to NH for the holidays I spent a few hours observing my new students. Christianity was clearly the only religion in the classroom, for the students and teachers spoke candidly of Santa Claus & Christmas, and also broke out randomly in carols. Myself, I am not religious at all, but strongly encourage talk of all kinds of religions and backgrounds. If I were already teaching in that classroom, I would not have hesitated to read a book about Hanukkah or Kwanzaa (by the way, I had to look up how to spell Hanukkah :-)).

I understand Dr. Eviatars concerns, however I would hope that the wish for exposing children to different religions/backgrounds to make them well rounded and accepting people would overtake that concern.

In my family, I am lucky enough to have Jewish, Christian, African American, and gay people. I think this has only made me a better person. I even wrote my college essay on it!

Merry Christmas to all, AND Happy Holidays.

Madeline P.

Deon said...

I disagree that Santa's place is in Christianity. I was so interested in that comment, that I asked 12 random people in the shopping centre today about where Santa comes from. After the first three telling me that he comes from the north pole, I rephrased my question! In the end, only one of them had heard of St Nicholas!

I would also disagree that being told of a website where you can track an imaginary character is akin To forcing people to participate in Christianity (or any religious activity). Like you said - acknowledgement with mutual respect is great, but it is different to being forced to participate.

Lee in no way imposed participation on anyone by sending that email.

Anonymous said...
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samccoy said...

OH MY! Since I follow you on Plurk and other networks, I see your post in my blogger dashboard. I don't see the comments, so I'm going to say what I originally wanted to say. I enjoyed your post, and this is an excellent way for parents to get a feel for ways in which technology might have educational value and fun. Happy New Year!