When Suzanne Hunter started Christmas in the Library at St. Lawrence School in Santa Clara nearly 20 years ago, she had no idea how big it would become. All the school librarian knew was that she wanted to instill within her students a love of reading.
“The very first one was the Polar Express and that’s because it was the year it was made in the movie,” said Hunter. “It was just two classrooms. Kids came in their jammies. I read the story. There were a couple of other teachers there. We went into another room—the computer lab—turned the AC up so it was freezing; we did this shadow show with Santa things on it and the kids were transfixed.”
Nearly two decades later, the event has grown. A new book or collection of books is picked every year and though Hunter retired several years ago, she returns at the start of each school year to help mastermind a new event.
“It’s hard to let go of because there’s always a new idea. And things you can do,” said Hunter. “The idea is to let kids know what you can do with your imagination. What you can do with what you have, basically, on hand and how you can transform something…Just to have more magic. Experience a little excitement.”
This year’s theme was A Picture Book Christmas and it wasn’t just Hunter who made the Dec. 7 event come alive. Teachers picked books and turned their classrooms into the settings within the books.
“It’s kind of a whirlwind night,” said second grade teacher and self-proclaimed Chief Elf Marylinn Fleming, who helps run the show now that Hunter is retired.
“We get out of school early on Wednesdays,” continued Fleming. “As soon as we’re done with classes, we start putting up all the decorations because we don’t want the kids to see anything till it happens.”
First grade teacher Tina Gorham transformed her room into a burrow and, as Mother Rabbit, read Shall I Knit You a Hat? to the kids before helping them make their own hats. Gorham says she brought her kids to the event when they were little and now, she’s happy to participate as a teacher.
“Sue [Hunter] says I’m thinking of this and we kind of build on that,” said Gorham.
Even students who have since moved on from St. Lawrence, come back to help. One high school student helped kids decorate Christmas trees, while the middle schoolers created a play for the younger students and then performed four different showings to a total of 80 students.
The reviews were positive.
“5,000 rating!” exclaimed one student.
“I like how they were speaking in rhyme,” said another student.
“[I like it] because it’s funny,” said a third student.
For teachers, the joy it brings their students is the greatest gift of all.
“The idea was, this was our gift to the children; the teachers’ gift to the children,” said Fleming.