Gifts and Ghosts of Christmas Past

December 5, 2011

Are you still trying to find that “perfect” gift?

Millions of shoppers are on that same quest – to find the absolute perfect toy, trinket or gadget which perfectly encompasses the personality of the receiver and will save Christmas.

As I struggle to finish my Christmas shopping, my mouse finger aching as I collapse near the finish line, I decided to look to the spirit of Christmases past.  After all, everyone has a relative that’s difficult to find a perfect gift for.  Everyone wants to give a gift that will be remembered and cherished forever.

So I decided to investigate.  When gift givers of yesteryear needed a perfectly timeless, memorable, forever treasured gift, what did they buy?  What are the gifts that are still being remembered, played with and loved by all those lucky Christmas gift-getters?

Bratz Dolls

Parents of the last decade became concerned that Barbie dolls gave little girls unrealistic body images to emulate.  With her nightmarishly long legs and road cone breasts, Barbie’s PR took a hit, and parents flocked to…Bratz dolls.  With their bad attitudes and enormous heads, now little girls had something new to be insecure about.  They say if Barbie were a real woman at 5’6″, her measurements would be 39 – 21 – 33.  Is that any less realistic than a 40 pound cranium?


Pogs were invented when a few bored dairy workers made up a game of flipping milk caps while on work breaks.  In the early 90s, the milk cap game was commercialized as collectible cardboard disks, and became the top selling Christmas gift.  Years later, Pogs are still being recovered from couch cushions all over the world.

Tamagochi Pets

Millions of dogs and cats were neglected while kids fed their electronic keychain pets and picked up digital dog poo.  When the pets died, many owners even buried them in pet cemeteries, which I’m sure made sense to the parents who paid for the pets (whose deaths, incidentally, were not permanent.  They could just be reset.)  Tamagochies are now about fourteen years old, and I have no idea how old that is in battery powered pet years.

Tickle Me Elmo

This is the face that launched a thousand shipments of Christmas toys.  Since crazed mothers first got a taste for blood by trampling a store employee for a ticklish Elmo doll so many years ago, Elmo has made an annual tradition of saving Christmas for children…and ruining it for everyone else in the family.

Hungry Hungry Hippos

Promising several minutes of fun, this classic 1978 game challenged players to summon all of their strategy and wits to…bang on the game board faster than the other players.  Now that the kids who got the game for Christmas are adults, they can rediscover the magic of banging on hippo handles with their kids.

Pet Rocks

Lucky owners of a brand new pet rock in the 1970s got their new best friend delivered in a cardboard pet caddy, complete with air holes, and a thirty-two page training manual.  And since the average lifespan of rocks is somewhere around a billion years old, no doubt that rocks everywhere are still being cherished and loved by their friendless owners.

Hmmm…actually, after looking at all the gifts that saved Christmases of years past, it makes me wonder when today’s iPads will become tomorrow’s Furbys.  The gifts so many of us craved and prized so highly, we forgot just as quickly.  Or we realized how dumb we were for wanting those things so badly.

What about you?  Most of us have at least one gift we still remember, one that stands out above the rest, one that we kept long after the rest were trashed or donated.  What was yours?  Does anyone still have any of these once top selling gifts?

22 responses to Gifts and Ghosts of Christmas Past

  1. Hi Matt,

    Many people have given me many treasured gifts over the years. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what these gifts were–even the ones from last Christmas.

    Surely somebody gave me something last year. I just don’t recall who or what.

    The one gift I remember best is that one year my wife gave me a tide table. i.e. a wallet-sized cardboard chart showing high and low tides at my favorite fishing/shrimping spots along the St. Johns River.

    Ginny paid nothing for it because it was a free giveaway from the Coast Guard. But I treasured that chart because it showed how deeply she paid attention to my interests.

    It’s the thought that counts. It really is.

    John Cowart

  2. All I ever got was clothes, and I think I still have some older than you. 😉 All the “rage” gifts of the 60s no one can remember because of the drugs in the 70s.

    I still have the original vinyl of the album I received in 1976 from my brother: Steve Miller, Fly Like and Eagle. It came with a note on the card: “As long as you don’t ever play this when I am in the house.” I transferred it to casette, and then digitized it. I finally broke down and bought the CD last year.

    I still have some Matchbox cars that were given to me as a child; in particular the 1965 Ford Mustang. I still have my iPod that I got 7 years ago; I use it every day in the car, and at work.

    I sure wish my memory was better.

  3. My grandfather passed away last month and I had been helping my mom clean out his house so she could sell it. My grandmother passed about 5 years ago.

    I ended up taking a bunch of stuff back home with me because I just didn’t have the heart to let them languish at Goodwill.

    Packing up my grandma’s tschochke’s got me thinking about how it’s kind of funny how there’s some things that people just don’t collect anymore. My grandma collected thimbles (I took the thimble collection) and Norman Rockwell figurines (which were split up between my sisters and I).

    I remember that whenever I couldn’t think of something to get Grandma, a collectible thimble was usually a safe bet.

    Nowadays, all the people that collected thimbles are dying off, so it’s not like they’re worth anything. (I read somewhere that the same thing was happening with Hummel figurines.)

    In a few years, the same thing will happen with the stuff I collect. Sorta puts things in perspective, I think.

  4. I’m amazed that I’ve never owned any of the items on your list. Best-ever gifts for me are ones that still remind me of the person who gave them to me. I remember many of the gifts I’ve received over the years, but then I have a good memory. I’d tell you what they are, but I don’t want to make anyone jealous. 😉

    We still own a few of the games I received as a child–Monopoly, Clue, Mah Jong. Our married daughters still have their childhood cabbage patch dolls–perhaps our coming grandchild will play with one. Books, blocks, dress-up clothes (my grandmother dyed Goodwill petticoats bright colors and I played with them for hours)… the best toys are ones that engage the imagination.

  5. Where’s the Cabbage Patch Dolls on the list? They were the original mom-got-arrested-at-Toys-R-Us toy.

  6. Strawberry Shortcake? My Little Pony? None of those was of my generation, but I remember the craze. My brother loved Star Wars ships and action figures. His best present was the Millenium Falcon. Nintendo and an IBM PC were the biggest “toys” we got. My brother and I loved playing “Flight Simulator” on the PC and crashing into the Sears Tower or John Hancock building, just to see the message it would print out. Somehow, post 9-11, that doesn’t seem so funny anymore.

    I remember when I was a kid lusting after a Star Trek action kit of the deck of the Enterprise with Kirk, Spock, Doc McCoy and Scotty. However, because it was listed as a “boys toy”, I never got it. Instead, I got a new Barbie and a Barbie plane, which was a passenger cabin and kitchen, all set for Barbie’s career as a stewardess. I did play a LOT with that plane.

  7. My parents bought me a pet Netherlands dwarf rabbit for Christmas when I was 8. I think anytime you receive an actual, living pet as a gift, you will remember it. I named her KitKat, after my favorite candy at that time.

    Otherwise, I can remember lots of gifts…. But none reach the level of happiness a kid receives when getting a fluffy pet. I do remember lots of gifts I have given to others, though. I really love the challenge of finding gifts that others will really enjoy and appreciate. Maaybe it’s just the love of the hunt…..

    • I am discovering the love of the hunt. I told my wife that I don’t want to ask relatives what they want. I want to get them something from me, not just buying something for them that they’d get anyway. Might as well give a gift card!

  8. The Evil Knievel stunt car and ramp set. It was white with red and blue accents, stars of course. It would jump and crash and the body parts would explode off of it, kinda like ole Evil himself.

    Different than Knievel, the car could be put back together by a child, not a team of surgeons, and crashed again in a matte of minutes.

    I remember it so well because I wanted it so bad and it was a financially horrible time for our family. Despite money challenges my parents made a way to fit this expensive toy, that was supposed to break, into the budget.

  9. Rock-em Sock-em Robots, Legos, lincoln logs, Simon, Stretch arm strong, and Hot wheels.

  10. My favorite Christmas memory was the Christmas Eve I woke up because of all the noise, only to find that my daddy DID make it home, and was in the kitchen finishing up the bedroom set he made by hand for my Barbies. We are talking one mac daddy bedroom set!
    It wasn’t the bedroom set that he made (from lumber) that was my favorite memory. It was my daddy working on it after coming home from a trip instead of going to bed like any reasonable humam being would do.
    Love of a daddy for his little girl. Ya can’t buy that.

  11. Jillian got me thinking of the year my dad stayed up late on Christmas eve, building a station and “village” for a windup train set. But the “savers” were the presents that seemed to last for years and that my friends could enjoy, too. A table hockey set (I’m from Canada, don’t forget) was one that stands out: particularly cool because the puck had a magnet in it and the players and sticks were metal, and my set had curving tracks for the defencemen so they didn’t just go forward and backward; and the goal light actually went on when a goal was scored. It wasn’t about trying to one-up the other kids: it was about having something we all could share.

  12. December 6, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    my grandfather gave me a burial plot. i have yet to use it.

  13. Christmas? Already?!

    I just carved my pumpkin two days ago.


  14. I still have my pet rock, but I didn’t buy it from a store. I adopted it from the back yard.

    Now we live in the foothills and have become backyard breeders. Of rocks.

  15. I would gladly accept a gift of pogs. Loved. Them.

    The rocks you can keep. We have more than enough here.