The one element of the Christmas season that never fades with age is the excitement about gift-giving and gift-getting. Well, mostly the getting. I know, the reason for the season is generosity, being with those you love, being grateful for what you have and other goody gumdrops. But if you know that someone may be getting you something, and it will be given to you in the general vicinity of Christmas, then the countdown clock goes into effect, and you're a little kid all over again.
Anyone familiar with my column knows that it is mostly rooted in nostalgia. Christmas is another trigger for a look back through the mental photo album of faded '80s snapshots of tacky decorations, tackier outfits, unspeakable hair, but awesome toys. Growing up, we didn't have much money, but my parents always did their best to pay off on our mega pre-Christmas fantasy expectations. We'd pack up our toys after breakfast and take them to Grandpa's, where we'd play until dark. I'm sure Mom and Dad enjoyed watching us go bananas over our loot, well-earned by my and my brother's impeccable behavior (cue guffaws from parents).
So, in honor of fun, imagination and all little kids who know the value of a good toy, I will look back at some of the best toys ever invented that my brother and / or I received during our tenure as kids:
VIDEO GAMES: Let's start with the queen mother of Christmas gifts - the gaming console. Oh, video games. I was the lucky recipient of an Atari 2600 one year, which I was able to enjoy by myself since my brother was too young to share but old enough to work the controller so I could mercilessly beat him in every game. Those years were short-lived as the Nintendo made its debut and thus became the new obsession for every kid with thumbs. We shared that, and I always had to be Luigi. Super Nintendo followed, the memory that marked the time when my family moved, because the video game playing went from the Zenith in the living room to the basement of our new house. Nintendo 64 was all my brother, as my video game interest waned when the games demanded more of your brain power. But every Christmas we opened up a big box emblazoned with some sort of nonsense word, my dad was hooking it up to the TV faster than you can say, "Where's the manual?"
CABBAGE PATCH KIDS: No '80s childhood would be complete without one of these things. I remember my aunt telling us how they got in a near-riot at Kmart trying to find these dolls for me and my cousin. Of course, our family won. I loved and squeezed and dressed up my CPK for years until my brother claimed it when he was around 4, and he slept with it and refused to let us put clothes on it. C'mon, just because we're old doesn't mean I still can't embarrass you.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: Just to show we weren't just cartoon-crazed maniacs as kids, I'll mention that every year until I was in my 20s, my grandfather gifted us a subscription to National Geographic. Every Christmas, he'd hand us our envelope with a letter congratulating us on our interest in pygmies and rhinos. Those things filled countless milk crates and both fascinated and frightened us with photos of all manner of crazy stuff from around the world. I remember being terrified of the mummies in one issue. Thanks, Grandpa.
GREMLINS COLORFORMS: I was a Gremlins nut. It is not only the best Christmas movie, but also balances cute and scary well, which lends itself well to kids' toys. Aside from the Gizmo doll my mom got from clipping proofs of purchase from Gremlins Cereal, I also got a Colorform set with vinyl adhesive Gremlins and Gizmos that you could stick all over that goofy town they lived in. Awesome.
HILLS: This isn't a toy, but no Christmas in Warren was complete without a tin of popcorn from Hills and one of their commemorative holiday bears with the year stitched into its hat or scarf. Hills is where the toys are. If you don't believe me, look up the old commercial on YouTube, then weep for the memory of all the soda slushes and giant bags of cotton candy you got there.
There is so much more, of course, from kid-dom all the way to adulthood, that I enjoyed and am grateful for. My kayak two years ago was amazing. Hit Sticks, My Little Ponies, My Pet Monster, Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters proton pack, Wrestling Buddies, Pound Puppies, play kitchen, talking dolls you realize that you can track time by what movie / TV show we were obsessed with.
I also realize how fortunate we were. If something as simple as a stuffed blue monster with break-away plastic handcuffs can fill two hyper kids with joy, then you never know what you can do to brighten someone's Christmas this year. Give it a whirl, you won't be disappointed.