Wednesday 25 February 2015

Let's Talk About...

... Christmas, or rather, let’s talk about the toys your child/nephew/niece/godson/goddaughter was given for Christmas.

Yes, I know that Christmas is now a distant memory, buried in a two-month-old grave only to be resurrected like St Lazarus as early as... September. But, spare a thought for the volume of plastic tat that has already been chucked out.

I have said here before that I did not grow up with Christmas around me. Therefore, I completely missed out on the annual razzmatazz that is present-giving at Christmas. I did get toys on other occasions especially, as also mentioned here previously, on 6th January to celebrate The Three Wise Men (that was down to my late Catholic grandmother). But the 25th December was just another date on the calendar.

That means that I only began to experience the actual phenomenon of Christmas and its ancillary gift-bearing and gif-offering (without any Greeks involved, mind you) pantomime in the last seventeen years. This has given me plenty of time to notice a few changes.

For instance, by the time I got acquainted with the “bearded guy” in the red and white costume, I don’t recall seeing many wind-up toys around. Most of the sets my wife and I bought for my son first and later on for our daughter were battery-powered. They were novelty for some time, until the battery ran out, by which time our toddler(s) had moved on. With wind-up or more rustic-looking toys, on the other hand, we noticed that our children tended to bond more, but their attention was inevitably diverted once another battery-powered Thomas the tank engine arrived on the scene.

Let’s talk about the post-Christmas toy graveyard that seems to spring up around January and February and expand its boundaries every year. Let’s talk also about attention span.

What came before, the chicken or the egg? What came before, short attention span or the visual onslaught of plastic tat on our little ones?

Let’s talk about that moment – dreaded moment as I have found out in recent years – when your little cherub opens the first Christmas present, sits there, mouth agape, heart pumping and broad smile adorning its angelic face. Fifteen presents later and the debris of opened and discarded wrapping paper littering your lounge floor, the same angel has suffered a transformation: she/he is the devil incarnate. The way they tear through the flimsy gift paper, looking for yet another present, the equivalent of a sugar rush (shall we call it Christmas-toy-giving rush?) is enough to want to open a savings account in order to put some money away for the psychologist your little angel will probably end up visiting in years to come.

May I have your attention, please?
Just like a dog is not just for Christmas, a toy should be for longer than two months. But what to do when faced with a gallimaufry of brightly coloured, battery-powered items ensconced away in your child’s bedroom? Meanwhile, she or he is downstairs playing on the iPad bequeathed to them by a generous uncle from... fill in the blanks with the name of the country yourself. And here you are, being winked at by Buzz Lightyear, the lagniappe of a trip to McDonald’s or KFC. Oops, you just pressed his chest by mistake. To infinity... and beyond!

Let’s talk about Christmas toys. Even if they are not of the wind-up type.

© 2015

Next Post: “Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be published on Saturday 28th February at 6pm (GMT)


  1. a sad reality for many...i think on the most that they get too much...parents trying to out do and all that...
    my boys are still running around with the few things we got them...and we have been able to experience some too
    we usually try to give experiences for my son it was college games we went to together...

  2. When I was a little girl, (I am an only child), my parents didn't have much money. I got used to getting little, but I appreciated what I had. My parents would buy me presents such as: Spirograph, Monopoly board game, Snakes and Ladders board game, colouring book and crayons, comic books, Barbie dolls. Even today at 58 years of age I am happy with little, because I appreciate what I have. I prefer to have less and be happy than to have too much and be miserable. If you ask many people who have a lot of money they will tell you that it isn't the money that makes them happy, they are just able to not have to worry about things as much as people with less.

  3. Gifts -- Christmas, birthday and otherwise -- are interesting phenomena. I know I received my share of "toys," as did my children, but gifts in my family usually have tended toward the practical (at least, as I would define it): Skis, skates, sleds, sweaters, jackets, baseballs and gloves, footballs, bicycles, tennis shoes, hunting equipment and actual firearms, fishing gear, new suits, classy boots, swim fins and masks .... you get the drift. I received my first skis at age six, for instance, and had accumulated four sets of skiing gear in appropriate age sizes and quality by the time I graduated from high school.

    Problems arise when peer pressure affects wish lists. That aside, the idea, I suppose, is quality and purpose trump sheer numbers, and to pick items not for entertainment, but which serve a real purpose.

  4. And, somehow, they make a connection to the one toy with a built-in tune at that high pitch that makes you want to rip your own ear off ... or is it only my granddaughter who does that?

  5. Like Linda, I got used to not having too much at Christmas. Times were hard and parents were more sensible in those days. Had to be! My father was a carpenter and joiner so he made a lot of my 'toys' - the desk, the matching stool, a sewing box, pencil box, etc. Actually I still have most of the stuff he made. Parents are to blame, saying they want their children to have what they (the parents) didn't have. To my mind that's poppycock. Or is it a desire to beat other parents in the gift-giving stakes?

  6. A nice essay that reminds us of how quickly that which we thought would bring us so much joy dies... Sadly, two months later, lots of toys have gone on to the junkyard.

  7. Over gifting I think is a big thing, just so many that some fall by the wayside. The new always shines through.

  8. So true. Material gains are temporary. Yes children appreciate them, but eventually the excitement of receiving the present dies down. Our presence and love still is more important.

  9. Lego.. art supplies.. board games.. puzzles.. books.. videos and clothes. My sons seemed happy to receive them all. They had long lasting use too. No doubt there were some toys thrown in but my older son in particular had a great imagination and one toy could have been a dozen items to him. I can't think back on any gifts I've ever really regretted giving my boys... though there probably were some.

  10. let's talk :) I am working on my blog again -

  11. Ha! We were pretty strict in terms of the kind of toys gotten--we did get plastic tat--as you call it--but mainly play mobile toys for make=believe games, pretend games--though I guess children play with other plastics in a pretend way too. Oh yes, and the occasional Barbie! We did an awfully lot of playing make-believe with dolls though, and then focused on art materials. We were lucky though as my children didn't watch too much TV and none on Saturday mornings, so weren't always aware of trends. Thanks. k. (Manicddaily)

  12. So true, and so sad. I think the best gifts are the ones that last beyond the rush. My son played with his wooden brio train set from age two to twelve, and now he's a physics major. We also give books and practical stuff like winter layers. My daughter and niece love art supplies and everyone gives books and music.

  13. Agreed! Shame that so many toys just don't last these days... I've started giving experiences - a theatre visit, for example - instead of things.

  14. So a child, I only used to receive one or maybe two presents, but how I loved and cherished those toys - in fact, I still have most of them today.
    Even then, it used to really upset me to see other children receive so many toys and just cast them aside or carelessly break them not long after Christmas was over.
    I can't say I really blame the is the manufacturers adverts, the bright packaging, the catchy sounds emitted by so many (especially electronic) toys these days. Children see them advertised and want them...then they fail to live up to expectations, so are quickly discarded for another, seemingly more fascinating, edition.
    Perhaps it is time for parents to quit trying to "outdo" each other and buy less presents. It would make those they do buy much more meaningful...:)

    Have a Great Weekend! :)

  15. You're so right. I observe this phenomenon every year with my grandchildren. I wish we could make the holiday less material, more about giving - time, kindness etc.

  16. most kids get way too much stuff for christmas... we really tried not to overdo things and rather focus on the time together as a family... i think we managed quite well though there's a lot of pressure and comparison

  17. Overspending to satisfy every little whim on a child's Christmas list is ludicrous. Does that teach him anything about giving, humility, or appreciation? There are a lot more meaningful things we can give our children and grandchildren that will last far longer than the two months those chintzy little plastic things last.

  18. Thanks for your comments. I think that we, parents, do have a responsibility, probably a bigger responsibility than our children. After all, as some of you said, advertisers will always target them, or target parents through their children.As any Cuban will remember we had the "básico", "no básico" and "dirigido" system in Cuba whereby you were only allowed to buy toys once a year in the summer. That's the other extreme and I would not recommend it.

    Have a great weekend.

    Greetings from London.

  19. Well, this is my first visit to your blog and this is an intriguing post!

    We weren't poor when I was a kid, but neither were we rich enough to waste stuff. We got a nice mix of toys and practical gifts at Christmas, and as a very young child, a number of small, individually wrapped gifts in a bag left on the bed by 'Santa' to keep us busy till the grown-ups were up and doing. My boys .. .I have to admit it, they got too much. But we did choose toys that would last, and they did. Very few were discarded in the first few weeks. Most lasted through the year and beyond (though not quite to infinity).

    Now we have twin grand-daughters, less than two years old, and I'm seriously disturbed by the amount of electronic, singing, tune-playing, reading, beeping, noise-making 'entertainment' that they have. We refuse to buy them any. We buy them books, building blocks, puzzle games, make-believe stuff. I can't stop them, or the in-laws - buying them electronics, but we can at least provide a balance.

  20. I don´t have that problem nowadays :)

  21. WE sometimes over stimulate our kids, but rarely teach them quiet moments....

    ALOHA from Honolulu

  22. Your post shot back a dusty memory—from another life—I recall a mother who would snatch (no other word applies) her daughter's gifts after the little button unwrapped them on Christmas morn. Then progressively release them staggered throughout the New Year. Many gifts, though, didn't return and I suspect they were returned for a cash exchange.



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