Santa has never brought our kids any of the toys that are advertised on TV. When my kids talked about those toys, my response went something like this:
The toys you see on TV are not really good toys. In the commercials they look like fun toys, but those kids aren't really playing. Those kids are actors and they are just pretending to have fun. Sometimes they are really good actors so the toys look like they're amazing --but if you get those toys they don't do what the commercial made it look like they do. The plane doesn't really fly. The doll doesn't really eat. They break, or the batteries run down, or there are so many pieces that it takes longer to clean up than it does to play.
Santa only brings toys that are going to be fun for a long time. He doesn't like toys that break or get their pieces lost. He likes to bring toys that can be whatever you need to pretend. He likes sturdy toys, and books that are good enough to read over and over.
The people that make TV toys have to spend so much money to make those commercials that they don't have enough money left to make really good toys; that's why Santa won't put those toys in his sleigh.
I said these things over and over again until they became family lore. And as I watched how my kids played, I saw over and over again that a few good toys are much better than piles and piles of crappy ones, or pieces of crappy ones.
I happened upon Shelagh and Liz one day with a pile of marbles in the rocking chair, and a group of Fisher-Price people standing in a semi-circle around the back of the chair. I was attracted to the sounds of their play: One marble would fall, then there would be some ooohs and aaaaahs and maybe a comment: "Look! a green one!"
When I asked what was going on, they said "Fireworks!" The Fisher Price people were watching a fireworks show, and the kids were rolling marbles off the back of the chair to make it happen. The marbles and the Fisher Price people were recast in various roles for years, while other toys fell by the wayside.
I wrote down the "Santa Spiel" a few years ago after a parents' discussion at the Leelanau Children's Center. I was really worried about the number of parents who thought that their children would feel deprived if they didn't get everything on their Christmas list. Even when I pointed out that many toys are just worthless junk, and some (video games) make kids boring, parents felt pressured to come up with this stuff. This is how I always explained the situation to my kids.)
These are a few places that I like to look for cool, lasting toys and books:
American Science and Surplus
And here in Leelanau:
Enerdyne (Shelagh's summer job)
Misfit Toys Suttons Bay's new toy store