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CAMBRIDGE — When Merline Sylvain-Williams went to her daughter’s holiday concert Friday, she knew something was missing. The music was great, as always, and the children were adorable. But a certain jolly, bearded figure was nowhere to be seen. Ho, ho, hmm.

Santa Claus, a festive fixture at the Peabody School’s concert in past years, was absent this time around, an apparent victim of a single complaint about whether he belongs in a public school.

“It’s too bad,” Sylvain-Williams said after the morning show for students in grades 1 through 4. “I like to see to the joy in the children’s faces when they see him.”

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In a letter sent Thursday, principal Jennifer Ford informed parents that Santa would not be paying a visit this year. She said, however, that Santa would be making an appearance at the end of a family sing-along on Dec. 23.

“I am sensitive to the fact that you may not want your child involved in this event,” Ford wrote. “If you prefer that your child spend time with me that afternoon, please let me know. I will be in the library, playing games and reading books with the children.”

As one parent quipped, “Only in Cambridge!”

Jeffrey Young, superintendent of the city’s schools, said he had been unaware of Santa’s absence at the Peabody, but was finding it hard to muster too much outrage.

“Our mission is around education,” Young said. “Santa’s not on the top of my list.”

This time of year, Santas aren’t exactly hard to find, Young noted. So he didn’t see the need to have the jolly old elf make a special visit to a public school, where many students don’t celebrate Christmas.

“I just don’t know why he has to be in the school,” he said.

Young also said he believed Ford handled the situation “in a sensitive and smart way,” but was more concerned about the students finishing the year strong. Ford could not be immediately reached for comment.

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“There’s no anti-Santa sentiment,” he said. “It’s just that there’s no pro-Santa sentiment, either.”

At the school, Sylvain-Williams said she always liked seeing the children try to guess which one of their teachers was dressed up as Santa. She missed that this year, but she saw the other side, too.

Other parents said they didn’t miss Santa at all. The children were the stars of the show, they said.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” said one mother of a third-grader who declined to give her name. “It was a beautiful show.”

Another mother, Salina Frazier, said it made sense to have Santa skip the show, given the diversity of the school.

“It’s more about the music,” she said.

Some parents were surprised Santa wasn’t on the guest list this year, but said it didn’t take away from the fun.

“It’s really not a big deal” said Mary Ann Mesina, who was walking her daughter Veronica home from school.

Mesina said she liked that Santa would be at the singalong, just two days before Christmas.

Veronica, 9, said she had thought Santa would be there like other years, but that the pupils weren’t too upset. It wasn’t like it was the real Santa, after all.


Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.

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