There are many, many reasons for the holiday season, but, just because commercialization is gross, that doesn’t mean that we should forget how positive and constructive toys can be in the right hands.
With Christmas approaching, even though I’m nearly forty years old, I find it hard to think about the holiday without thinking about toys first. Because, yes, I know there’s a “reason for the season” and family, friends, and food are all lovely, but, let’s be frank, Christmas is a holiday that is undeniably about toys and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. There are people who decry the commercialization of the holiday and I don’t disagree with them. Over the years, Christmas has become very focused on how much junk we can buy each other. However, just because 90% of what we might buy might be unnecessary landfill fodder, that doesn’t mean that EVERYTHING we buy for Christmas is bad.
Because toys… are awesome. Some toys are better than others, no question, but, when you give or receive a really, really great toy, it’s a fantastic feeling. Well-made toys are a treasure. They’re tools designed to stimulate the imagination and create fun out of nothing. Can you think of anything greater than that? There’s a reason why it’s so easy for grown-ups and kids alike to get a little misty when they watch the Pixar Toy Story movies. And it doesn’t have to be an expensive toy or anything extravagant. It just has to fit the kid perfectly.
As a kid, the best toys that I ever got for Christmas were probably from my aunt, who, seeing my young obsession with Return of the Jedi, got me the Millennium Falcon and a random assortment of ten Star Wars figures. She didn’t know the names of the characters and neither did I for the most part—without the internet, it was a lot harder for an eight year old to obsessively geek out back then—but I adored those action figures. The ones I knew and the ones I didn’t know all became actors and the Falcon was their stage and, with my little plastic troupe, I acted out little melodramas and adventure stories for YEARS. It was glorious.
I’m a dad now and, fortunately, had the pleasure of being on the other side of a transaction like that when my daughter was younger. When she was two, my daughter loved two things—Sesame Street (and anything related to Jim Henson) and any little figure or doll she could get her hands on. She had my penchant for grabbing a handful of action figures and spending a whole afternoon creating full stories with them, with dialogue and ridiculously complex relationships, sprawled out on the floor by herself. I wanted to give her something that spoke to both her passions, and my wife and I found the perfect toy.
It was the 1970s Fisher Price Sesame Street House. For those unfamiliar, Fisher Price used to have this line of Little People figures—trust me, they’re so iconic, you’ve seen them before—and, between 1975 and 1978, they made this AMAZING playset that looked just like one of the New York City brownstones from the early days of Sesame Street. (I realize Sesame Street is still the same street, but I’m talking old school Sesame, with Mr. Hooper and David and trash on the street and wide lapels and Richard Pryor reciting the ABCs.)
It is, without a doubt, one of the coolest toys I’ve ever seen in my life. I found one in great condition on eBay and spent a few weeks tracking down all the figures to go with it. (Fun Fact: The Fisher Price Mr. Snuffleupagus is now a ridiculously expensive collectors’ item. The Sherlock Hemlock figure is also pricey, but I was able to find a classic Roosevelt Franklin figure for a reasonable price.)
Say what you will about the commercialization of the holidays, but when my daughter opened that present on Christmas morning, a light exploded behind her eyes and stayed there for weeks. It delighted her. It opened up worlds of imagination for her. And she loved that toy like a member of the family. She still loves it—even though she’s too old for it—and, whenever young cousins come to visit, she brings it out for them to play with and you can tell that she’s just as excited to play with it as they are.
Fine, Christmas is about love and joy and religion and food and whatever else you want it to be about too. But it’s also about TOYS and how toys can occasionally be brilliant and sublime. Yes, you may see a lot of kids getting WAY too many toys over the holiday and it will feel gross and you’ll wonder why anyone bothers with this crap. And I sympathize. But that’s a human failing, not the toys failing. Because there’s something magic when the right toy finds the right kid at the right time and, for me, that’s what Christmas is all about.
So, dear readers, what’s the best toy YOU ever received over the holidays? OR what’s the best toy you ever gave anyone else? Tell us in the comments section below.
Credit: Millennium Falcon image—Mike Mozart/Flickr; All other images courtesy of the author