Bah Humbug

Even in my secret identity as mild-mannered reporter teacher I’m not a huge Christmas fan. I mean, I understand the ideas and all, both those based around the solstice and the way the traditions have been pinched more recently by the Christians, but I just don’t like it much. (For those of a Christian tradition, how about an assignment: compare and contrast 1 and 2.) Blame whatever you like, I just try not to get too grumpy as I’ve two kids of my own and around 250 by proxy. And as my similarly-atheist spouse has taken the seven year old out to a carol service, it seems appropriate to share a few festive thoughts and links. It’s that or get depressed about the loss of Christopher Hitchens.

Tim Minchin’s White Wine In The Sun is a good place to start. I’ve put the link to open in a new window/tab so you can play it while you read the rest of the post. Or instead of reading my wittering, you could check out @alomshaha‘s Cif article last year in the Guardian about enjoying Christmas as an atheist. Better written than I’d manage, but pretty close to my own views.

As a parent I’ve struggled with the ideas of Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy (and yes, I’m also familiar with the idea that all teachers are de-facto ‘liars-to-children’). One of my proudest moments this year was when a car journey with my son turned into an impromptu philosophical discussion. In the summer he wasn’t quite seven and was newly gappy, for the third time. He asked, hesitantly, if he’d still get money under his pillow if he didn’t believe in a fairy that took his tooth away. Fifteen minutes and paraphrased explanations of Pascal’s Wager and Occam’s Razor later, I knew we were doing something right. I’m now wondering if he’ll ask about Santa before or after the 25th. Whatever happens, I’m glad I read this piece by Myra Zepf in New Humanist about why atheists should let kids believe in Santa.

Okay, if you need something to do in school, I will make a token link to last year’s Adaptations of Santa and Rudolf activity.

Finally, it’s probably too late to buy it for this year unless you read as fast as I do, but I strongly recommend Roger Highfield’s The Science of Christmas. This is usually on loan to one or other of my students. Personally, I tend to reread Hogfather each December, as it’s the closest I get to feeling seasonal. And let’s face it, who can go wrong with Terry Pratchett?

Whatever you do, and whatever your religious faith or lack of it, I hope you enjoy some time with your family (or possibly away from them) this winter.

Adaptations of Santa and Rudolf

What better way to celebrate the festive season than to consider the adaptations of Santa and Rudolf to their annual tasks?

Don’t answer that.

Printable: christmas as pdf

I gave this exercise to my students today and they seemed to enjoy it. I asked them to start by giving me three serious adaptations for each, and we then continued along a more festive theme as we approached the end of the lesson. You could give hints or add arrows to get them started.


  • Use of hat/clothes for warmth.
  • Boots have soles adapted for ice and snow.
  • Reins, sleigh and reindeer are more examples of tool use.
  • Highly developed brain (assisted by written records) for naughty and nice lists.
  • Strong arm/back muscles to carry heavy sack.
  • Large belly acts as a camel’s hump allowing prolonged period of exertion.
  • Use of GoogleMaps for navigation. (You could also demonstrate NorADSanta)


  • Thick fur to cope with Arctic conditions.
  • Wide hooves for moving on ice and snow.
  • Herd behaviour.
  • Streamlined shape for higher speed.
  • Mutation allowing flight.
  • Red nose – adaptation to allow easier navigation (without loss of night sight) or result of friction?
  • Antlers could be sophisticated radar aerial.