Monday, December 16, 2013

Toy Story of Christmases Past, Present, and Future

Toy Story Today

Christmas is about giving and receiving. When we give with a cheerful heart, we teach children the joy of not only receiving, but of giving. Eventually, they experience that joy for themselves when they give to others.

Many children in this day and age receive so many gifts on Christmas morning that they hardly know if they’re coming or going. There’s nothing wrong with that when families can afford it. I’ve done my share of spoiling my children. And, it’s a given that I’ll do the same (or more!) with my grandkids some day.

So, having said all that, let’s review a bit about toys in 2013. It seems that girls still like dolls, dolls, dolls of any kind. The flashier, the better. Pink, purple, turquoise, with glitter, glitz and glamour. Doll houses, makeup centers that talk, and stuffed animals (Elmo is still popular) make little princesses squeal with glee.

Boys still go for anything with wings or wheels, the fancier, flashier, and faster, the better. Hmmm, sounds a lot like their grown-up counterparts. Nerf guns and Nerf bows and arrows are fun, easy on the windows options for boys, too.

Both boys and girls are getting electronic and battery-operated gadgets at younger and younger ages. This Christmas, two and three-year-olds will be unwrapping Ipads, Kindles, (or as my 3 yo nephew calls it, his Candle), gaming systems, and cell phones with data plans. Really?

I wonder what kids today would think of some of the gifts children received on Christmas morning 150, or even 50, years ago...

Toy Story from Yesteryear

After a period when celebrating Christmas (in any capacity outside of the church) was banned in some parts of the world during the 1600-1700s, various events in the early 1800s led to a resurgence of the joy of giving and receiving gifts at Christmas. Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, and Queen Victoria’s delight in having a Christmas tree, decorated with exquisite ornaments, with gifts for the family brought awareness and excitement in England, prompting shouts of “Merry Christmas” to resound along cobbled lanes throughout the land.

Much to the delight of children everywhere in North America, Short stories and poems by the likes of Washington Irving (The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon; Old Christmas) and Clement Clarke Moore (A Visit From St. Nicholas (aka Twas the Night Before Christmas) revived the spirit of Christmas in America even before the resurgence over the pond.

Hand Carved for the author, c. 1974
Around 1850 toys and games made specifically for children became readily available for those who could afford them. Those who could not buy toys, and there were many, many families who could not, made do with what they had.

Papas secreted themselves in the barn or workshop for weeks and made doll beds, sleds, skates, wagons; carved horses, cows, and other farm animals. (My hand carved toy airplane is a little too modern for what fathers would have carved in the 1800s, but it's mine and quite adorable. This was one piece my children <i>never</i> played with.) Mothers made rag dolls and accessories: clothes, hats, bags, miniature blankets out of scraps of cloth for their little darlings to play with.

My debut novel, StealingJake (Tyndale House, 2011) takes place at Christmas. The heroine has no money, but there's a whole passel of youngsters at the orphanage she helps run. She desperately wants the children to each have some small gift of their own for Christmas. The hero shows her how to make cornhusk dolls for the girls, and he carves farm animals for the boys.

What’s your Toy Story?

When I was a child, Christmas morning didn’t find the living room floor awash in discarded wrapping paper so deep that it was almost impossible to find the presents. We usually had one or two toys to play with. I received a doll and a high chair when I was about five. That year, my brothers and my father pooled their Christmas money and bough an electric racetrack. I didn’t care one whit about a racetrack. I wanted a doll.

Gift from author's grandmother, c. 1972 (?)
We also received one gift each from our grandparents. I’m not sure how old I was (maybe 7-8, but not much older) when my grandmother, a very practical woman, gave me a candy dish for Christmas. I was so disappointed since I was still in the doll stage, but I didn’t let on to Mamaw how devastated I was to receive a candy dish. Mama assured me that in time I would appreciate the gift. As always, she was right. I do appreciate it. See how lovely it is?

Toy Story of Christmas Future

It makes me wonder what the future holds for children’s toys. More extravagant, bigger, better electronic and battery-operated devices? Or a soft, cuddly baby doll? A toy train with a pull rope? Or a candy dish filled with fruit and nuts? Depending on where a child lives in this world, I’d say there’s room for all of the above, and it is my hope and prayer that children are safe, warm, and loved wherever they are.

Do you remember receiving a gift as a child that wasn’t quite what you expected? Are you willing to share how you reacted? If the gift was something like my candy dish, do you still have it? And if not, do you wish you did?

Pam Hillman was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn’t afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove the Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn’t mind raking. Raking hay doesn’t take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that’s the kind of life every girl should dream of! Claiming Mariah is her second novel.


  1. One year when I was young,probably a teenager, I so wanted a stereo .you can imagine my surprise Christmas morning when I pulled a sheet off what I thought was covering my stereo only to find a set of luggage. Yes, I still have the luggage.

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

    1. Melanie, that would have been a surprise since the two items are similar in size. I bet that luggage has come in "handy" more times than you could ever imagined when you were a teenager! Merry Christmas, lady, and crank your stereo/radio/ipod/iphone up loud today and listen to Christmas music!!! :)

  2. When I exclaimed at seeing the outside of the box and my older children told me that wasn't what was inside the box ~ one sweet memory ~ they began to add kleenex to their packages because their sweet gifts brought tears to my eyes. They loved it. When I was young the orange at the toe of the Christmas stocking was my favorite because that was the only time of the year that we had them. Kathleen ~ Lane Hill House

    1. Kathleen, your comment brought tears to MY eyes. Bring out the Kleenex, girl! Ah, the smell of sweet, tangy orange on Christmas day. Can't beat it. Daddy loved oranges and he'd try to get ahold of a small crate of oranges and apples around Christmas every year. Daddy, my brothers and Mama ate fruit until it was gone. I was the "baby" and contrary to family lore, I was not spoiled, but...anyhoo, somehow, I conveniently forgot about oranges and apples and tangerines until my subconscious reminded me that no one was eating oranges, apples, or tangerines any more, then I conveniently threw a fit because they ate up all the fruit!

      Mama got wise and started putting a tangerine (my favorite) back for me, so I couldn't throw my hissy fit any more.

      Kinda too the fun right out of pouting... lol

  3. Gifts of today for children just dont seem to have the meaning they did years ago, I was happy with all I got which was little, now they turn their nose up at simple gifts. even the poor in our family are not as appreciative as I would think they should be. I am little dissappointed to see the selfishness of the youth of today. guess you can tell I am a senior now and buying gifts for little ones not easy.
    I like to read your books Pam and look forward to Mariah's story...

    Merry Christmas
    Paula O(

    1. Paula, I know where you're coming from. Have we as a society given our children/grandchildren too much, too soon, too often? It's understandable to want our children to have more than we did as children, just as my parents wanted me to have more than they did. But don't give up hope! There are young people and children who do appreciate gifts, and in some cases, there's a mother (like mine) standing behind them teaching them to be grateful (and polite!) even when they're a bit disappointed.

  4. Hey Pam! I hate it took me so long to make it here b/c it is such a wonderful blog the story!

    1. Thanks for stopping by #6 :) If you're #6 of 11, then you are so blessed! I bet y'all had a ball at Christmas time. Merry Christmas to you and yours this year!

  5. I don't remember getting a gift I wasn't sure about but as an MK, my parents took our gifts for 4 years all at once and gave most of them the first year and then secretly took back several of the gifts and used them over the next 3 years. I do remember when it dawned on me what was happening and I started to recognize the gifts. It was fun! Love your books. sharon, ca wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

    1. Sharon M, what a hoot! I imagine your parents had good intentions to keep some of those back for the 2nd-4th years, but just couldn't resist giving them to the kids. Thanks for sharing! Merry Christmas. (It would be fun to find something here in the house and wrap it for a family member and see if they recognize it! lol