When my kindergartner came home with a paper reindeer named Rudolph eleven years ago, I realized it was time to tell him the truth about Santa Claus.
Not the "Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus" version. As inspiring as that article was in explaining the meaning of hope a century ago, that was not the truth he needed to understand. He needed to somehow comprehend the reason for the omnipresence of the jolly fellow. My younger boy, a strapping, tough bundle of muscle now, was all of four or five years at the time. But even then, he was a remarkably patient listener.
I started with the legend of Saint Nicholas. You know, the guy who supposedly lived in Turkey some 1,500 years ago who got a reputation for tossing gold into the windows of poor people. That Saint Nicholas. I pointed out that the story of this man was a very popular one that was repeated in many countries by many people, and so I got quickly to the Dutch “Sinkt Niklaas”.
Having studied linguistics, I couldn't resist comparing the pronunciation of Sinkt Niklaas to Santa Claus. The comparison seemed to turn on a light in my boy's head. Then I got to the meat of the story.
First I explained as well as I could that a commercial is an attempt to make us spend our money on something. After I thought I got that point across, I had to explain what stores do - sell merchandise - and that they use commercials to get people to buy their merchandise.
Finally, I had to point out that if stores could not sell their merchandise, the owners would not be able to pay their bills, and they would lose their homes and have to sleep in the streets. Naturally, I also pointed out that the people who work in the stores would lose their jobs, and then they wouldn't be able to pay their bills and that they would also have to sleep in the streets. But you know how five year olds are. You can't dwell on details too much.