The hubs and I decided long ago that we would be honest with our kids, telling them an age-appropriate version of the truth. (The exceptions being all things mystical and mythical, such as Santa, the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy. Believing in those things as a child are important, too.)
When my Grandmother died in May, we pointed out how sick she'd been. We told him she would have loved nothing more than to walk him over to the park, or let him help make brownies or a cake but she was simply too sick and couldn't. We told him this made her very sad, and when she died she got to go to Heaven where she'd never be sick again. She would forever be happy and could look down on us and smile, watching us at the park together. But the fact that she could never come back made the rest of us sad, and that was why Mommy was crying.
On September 11th, we told him that sometimes bad things happen ("Like sometimes you fall off your bike?" "Yep. Sometimes you fall off your bike."). But there are very very good people we call heroes that help other people when bad things happen to them. ("Like Superman?" "Uh, kinda...except Superman is just pretend. Firemen are heroes. Police officers are heros. You could be a hero.") I explained that if you saw someone in trouble and helped them, you were a hero. He seemed to like that idea very much, and I could see the little wheels in his head as he thought, "Cool! I could be like Superman!!!"
So this year, in our efforts to keep Christmas real, I decided to tell him the real story of Christmas.
If he were older than four, I would have seriously considered reading the Gospel of Luke out of the Bible, but I know his limitations. Linus could give him that version later and he'd actually listen.
So one day, while driving in the car (the center of learning for our family at this point), I asked him, "Nick, do you know why we have Christmas?"
"Cuz then there's presents?" Bright boy.
"No, we have Christmas to celebrate Jesus's birthday."
"JESUS'S BIRTHDAY?!? WE HAVETA GO TO HIS BIRTHDAY PARTY!!!"
I laughed. "Hon, Christmas is like the birthday party. Jesus died a long time ago--"
"JESUS DIED?!?" I could hear his current perception of religion shatter like frozen glass, and I tried not to laugh out loud. (I failed. That was just too darn cute!)
"DON'T LAUGH AT ME!!!" he roared from the backseat. Then he thought for a few minutes. "So, Jesus is in Heaven, then? Like Grandma?"
"Yep hon. Like Grandma."
He considered for a moment. "Oh. Okay then."
And that was that.