The members of my house were recently alerted to the oncoming yuletide onslaught by the Target Toy catalog which had made it to it’s way into my mailbox. Squeezed tightly between the electric bill and a campaign endorsement for an unknown politician was twenty five pages of a catalog that has the same effect on my kids as Ritalin had on the kid who took it in your school but didn’t have ADD.
Their excitement for the catalog’s arrival transported me back to my childhood when I pinned all my Christmas desires on the publishers of the JC Penny and Sears catalogs.
Growing up, nothing did more to churn excitement for Santa Claus’ arrival to my house than the JC Penny and Sears Christmas catalogs. The catalogs usually arrived sometime around Thanksgiving. As I was growing up, Black Friday was a big day but not quite to the trampling human beings to death trying to make your way to the discounted Wii ferocity our retail chains see today (the closest thing we had was a bloody nose or two by moms clawing for the last Cabbage Patch Kid). E-Bay, Craigslist, and Amazon.com were years away from soliciting our money and our attention. Cable television consisted of about 18 channels (12 of which my mother thought to be completely unnecessary) so around the clock advertising in HD surround sound clarity was not available either. My sister and I relied solely on the fine folks at JC Penny and Sears to provide us the resource material needed to create our Christmas lists for Santa and his band of merry elf helpers to fill.
I would begin stalking the mail slot in our front door like a cheetah hunting a gazelle on the Serengeti almost immediately after my birthday (My birthday is Halloween. Please refrain from the obligatory jokes about my scary face, being born with a mask on, and the like, I have heard them all many…many times before). Although my brain knew better than to expect those dense volumes of retail merchandise to be shoved into the mail slot any sooner than Thanksgiving, my childhood instinct, as it did in most cases, ignored logic (strangely, not much has changed with my thinking today).
Finally, at long agonizing last, on a random day of the week, as if the gods had heard my incessant pleadings, the catalogs would be waiting for me on the dining room table when I got home from school. Even my mom, who was never fond of me fingering through the mail before she had, recognized my elation, and let me dive into the book’s fantastic Christmas offerings before any one else in the house. Wedged between the women’s clothing section and the Black and Decker tool section anchoring the end of the book sat multiple pages of glorious action figures, laser guns, Lego’s, remote controlled cars, and castles with skulls blazing across the real working drawbridges. Countless pages of the latest and greatest toys my well behaved behind salivated over. Page after page was something bigger or better. Bobba Fett. Matchbox. The Transformers and their ugly cousins the Go-Bots. Master’s of the Universe. And all things the men and women at Kenner were producing at the time (except for the crappy girl stuff).
As I said, I grew up in a time without mousepads, 3G touch screen phones and online auctions. Children were required to actually take a pen to paper and handwrite their Christmas lists, have their parent affix a proper denomination stamp, and fill out the return address, if a wish list had any chance to reach the North Pole. So to our living room floor I went to make out my list. Lying flat on my stomach with my feet up in the air at the knees, I opened each catalog. The catalogs were off to my left and right while my notepad lay squarely in front of me. I made sure to leave the television on too (Just covering my bases. I didn’t want to miss a commercial with that goofy giraffe plugging some new toy that missed the deadline for the catalogs). In the middle of the floor I layed. I meticulously crafted a document, that in my mind, was monumentally more important than the Constitution of the United States. Because each book had two or three pages of toys not seen in the other book, it was important to go through each one meticulously. I made sure to match the signifying letters on the pictures to their descriptions. I checked and rechecked my list. I wanted to be sure of the toys I had included in my list and I wanted to be sure I did not miss any toy in the excitement writing my list. I wanted to be as thorough as possible so Santa had no questions when he relayed my historic document to his loyal elves.
All of this rushed back when I walked in the door from work and before I even got a hello from anyone besides the dog, Hannah exclaimed how she had already chosen eleven items for her Wish List from the Target Toy catalog. Not to be confined to strictly a mail catalog, both children are also able to recall, with stunning accuracy, toy commercials they have seen throughout the year, for those toys that, in their words, “I have to have that Daddy!” (and yet forget something I tell them three minutes prior)
Okay, so the kids are missing Christmas’ intended, immaculately conceived origins, but at ages 7 and 4, so what? Christmas can be more than about managers, holy babies, and traveling kings. Christmas, at this age should be about ignorant excitement for a bearded man, they believe to be as real as I am, dispensing toys under the tree their mother didn’t allow any of us to decorate. It should be about the exhilaration of being able to write a list to Santa Claus filled with toys and a short paragraph outlining why the good deeds and behavior you displayed throughout the year entitles you to at least three quarters of the proceeding list. Christmas is about the excitement. The anticipation of the wish list grant proposal your kids wrote to Mr. Claus. Christmas is about seeing the faces of your kids as they realize Santa did get their letter and he does know they were not naughty but indeed nice.
So who am I to take away that feeling? My mom certainly didn’t take it away from me when I was sprawled out on our living room floor paging deliberately through the JC Penny and Sears Christmas catalogs filling out a legal sized piece of paper with the presents I wanted. I won’t be the one to do that to my children. They have lots of time to learn all about why Christmas is not only about a sickening amount of toys. In the meantime, I’ll let their mother detail frankincense, Mir, and miracle births (and the shopping and wrapping of the gifts).
Me? I’ll do my part this Christmas season by settling in on the floor next to my kids with our Target Christmas catalog to the left of us and our notepads squarely in front of us excited to handwrite our Christmas wish lists.