I was thinking that I was glad that I didn't have any little kids who were writing letters to Santa, requesting the latest in TV advertised trash. I asked some of the people at work what they were doing about toys for kids this year. "Well, I guess we'll just buy some toys, let them lick 'em, and see if they pass out," was one response. Another said: "Blocks. Can't go wrong with plain wooden blocks."
I realized that I had always struggled to fight the toy advertisers. I had, in fact, perfected a whole folklore about Santa and toy advertising, first published here two years ago. It went something like this:
It was a nicer world when the worst thing a toy could do was break or be boring. These days we have to look at toys as potential poison or potential recalls. Many of my coworkers are turning to electronics in their quest for safe toys. This scares me, too, as the "edutainment" of younger and younger children is a huge uncontrolled experiment on developing brains.
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.
Over the years I have sought to replace seasonal shopping with other experiences. Music has played a huge part, as we devote a good deal of time to preparing for the Leelanau Childrens Choir concerts, as well as church services. The girls like to organize informal carolling parties, as well, using the holidays as an excuse to walk around the neighborhoods at night, maybe accepting a cookie or two.
We also cook a lot, making batch after batch of cookies, pies and sweetbreads. We also put together batches of oatmeal cookie mix and homemade baking mix, to give as presents. We sew polar fleece hats and mittens, make catnip toys, build birdhouses. When my kids talked about what they wanted to get for Christmas, I always asked them about the gifts they hoped to give.
Somehow, it all worked. Anna was one of the last kids in her class to give up the idea of Santa. Despite buying less and less, we seemed to have an abundance that convinced her. "There must be a Santa," she told me last year, "because you and Dad couldn't possibly afford everything that we have."