Wistfully Wishing for a Christmas Wish Book of Holidays Past

Like so many magical stories of childhood, this one begins with a most familiar phrase…

Once upon a time (say about 1950 to 1980 or so), Baby Boomers all over North America rushed to their mailboxes in late August or early September, hoping to find the Sears Christmas Catalog – or simply The Wish Book as it eventually came to be called – waiting for them.

The annual catalog was filled with pages and pages of toys, games, sporting items, scientific instruments, books, bicycles, and bright, shiny wagons guaranteed to thrill youngsters who looked at its pages.

Whenever they had free time, children of all ages would rush to their favorite sitting spots and, with excited eyes, spend hours perusing the big book in hopes of finding the gifts from Santa and family that would make for a perfect Christmas.

The catalogs were so popular that even today siblings in their 60s recall arguing over who would get to read the books first.

Actually, the widely popular Wish Book was just one of a series of catalogs that Sears published, beginning with the initial non-holiday one mailed to potential buyers in 1894.

The first Christmas catalog arrived in homes in 1933. Featured items in that book included the then-popular Miss Pigtails doll, Lionel electric train sets, a Mickey Mouse watch, and even live singing canaries.

The cover of 1933 offered illustrations displaying some of the featured items found in the 87-page catalog. The next year Sears started the tradition of putting warm, colorful Christmas scenes on the cover and a holiday icon was born.

As its popularity soared, the catalog continued to grow, reaching its maximum size of 605 pages in 1968, four years after the last of the Baby Boomers were born.

Interestingly, while almost everyone nostalgically remembers the catalog as filled with nothing but toys, that isn’t true. The initial 1933 book offered 62 pages of gifts for adults and only 25 pages of toys. In 1968, there were 380 pages for adults and 225 devoted to youngsters.

By 1943, the catalogs were being heralded as “a mirror of our times, recording for future historians today’s desires, habits, customs, and mode of living.”

That message proved prophetic.

Today, producers of Hollywood movies and Broadway shows frequently refer to old catalogs for styles of a specific period, while cultural historians use them to examine life in days long gone.

However, as is the case with so many things of the past, the Christmas Wish Book fell victim to changing times, specifically modern trends in retailing and technology. The company decided to halt producing the large catalogs for Americans in 1993.

Now obviously, youngsters today are just as excited about the holidays as their counterparts of the past. So what do they do? Instead of spreading the big-book catalogs on their laps, they now grab their computers or portable electronic devices to track down toy listings online.

Of course, what technology takes away in one form, it often saves in another.

For example, very few of us still have our favorite Sears catalogs from the past. But in 2006, two catalog preservation enthusiasts came up with the idea of WishbookWeb.com, and since that time have been scanning and posting holiday catalogs online, allowing nostalgic viewers to relive their childhood Christmas dreams.

A word of warning, however. If you are a Baby Boomer who decides to trigger some Christmas memories by visiting that site, beware.

The internet’s Ghost of Christmas Past is strong and you just might find yourself drawn into the burgeoning world of collecting toys, games, and other items from the ’50s to the ’80s you once had or always wanted to possess.

For some, it might be returning to that Barbie collection you so recklessly gave away when you moved into your first apartment. For others, it might be classic Matchbox or Hot Wheel cars, colorful Hula hoops, or even original Mr. Potato Head sets (where you would still have to use actual potatoes).

As for me, I was once hooked on Marx playsets. I believed that between Santa, my parents, and my allowance, I had at one time or another possessed every set Marx ever produced. The Blue and the Grey. Roman gladiators. The Wild West. The Alamo. World War II. I had them all.

But in the course of researching this article, I found two obscure ones I never had.

Of course, that discovery left me with a big Christmas problem. How could I get those two sets 50 years later?

I don’t think I have enough time to write Santa, mail my letter to the North Pole, and have the jolly fellow construct and deliver the two sets by Christmas Eve.

So does anyone out there know if Santa has a personal email address or a secret Skype number?

Gifts for Grandkids: How to Turn Christmas Gift No-No-Nos into Hearty Ho-Ho-Hos

With two weeks left until Christmas, family members all over the world are making silent, solemn, last-minute promises to be nice and not naughty this season when they gather together to celebrate the holidays.

No time signifies the special bonds of family more than Christmas. But too often, instead of familial peace, such gatherings disintegrate into verbal free-for-alls followed by abrupt, dramatic exits.

There are almost as many culprits for these explosions as there are white whiskers in Santa’s beard. Generational conflicts. Political differences. Seasonal pressures. Too much eggnog. Grandma getting run over by a reindeer.

Why even the wonderful tradition of exchanging gifts can lead to Grinch-like misadventures.

Obviously, not all the reasons for family holiday disputes are easy to address, but in the spirit of the season, here are a few last-minute offerings for grandparents (and actually all relatives) about gifting that, if followed, should greatly reduce any potential problems in that area.

Talk To The Parents First

You may be excited because you assume that you have found just the perfect gift for each of your grandchildren, special ones that will show your great love and they will enjoy forever.

However, we all know what can happen when we assume. Always consult parents before actually delivering your gifts to your grandkids. In this case, fathers (and even more often mothers) actually do know best.

Avoid Giving Gifts That Are Loud

You might be convinced that your grandson is destined to become the next Ringo Starr or John Bonham. But think before purchasing that 7-piece drum kit the music store salesman swears is just perfect for the budding young drummer. In fact, don’t ever even consider any loud gift until following suggestion #1.

Avoid Christmas Gifts That Are Large

Does your granddaughter really need a McMansion-size doll house with sleeping room for 16? Of course, if you followed suggestion #1 and the parents have said OK, then buy away. You can even add the six-car garage extension if you want.

Avoid Overly Luxurious Gifts

What child wouldn’t want to take an all-expense week-long trip with grandmom and grandpop to London, Paris or New York City. The answer is many. And probably even more parents might have some reservations about such as excursion.

But what if you really want to give this? Again, before making any concrete plans, follow suggestion #1. Maybe mom and dad will be so excited that they will want to join in, too.

Avoid Age Inappropriate Christmas Gifts

Of course, your grandchildren are absolutely advanced geniuses. I know mine are. But that doesn’t mean they are ready for the collected works of William Shakespeare or William Faulkner at age five.

The age idea should also be applied in reverse. Season tickets to the Children’s Puppetry Center probably won’t be appreciated by your teenage grandchildren unless they are planning on becoming the next Jim Henson.

Consider Your Other Grandchildren In The House

Your 10-year-old granddaughter Leia or your 9-your-old grandson Luke might really love the latest Rogue One Star Wars Lego set. However, consider how many Lego sets remain unopened in closets for fear that younger brothers or sisters might swallow the pieces.

Consider The Other Grandparents

In an ideal world, grandparenting would not be a competition. However, not all grandparents are financially equal. Others grandparents (or parents) may consider your gift an attempt to show them up or buy love from your grandchildren. That doesn’t mean you can’t buy the gifts you want; it just means to consider the other family implications before you do.

Some Final Words: Consider My Aunt Florence

Some people are naturally good at giving gifts. Some aren’t. But don’t despair if you are in the second category. People can change, especially at Christmas time. Think Ebenezer Scrooge or the Grinch.

I know from real-life experience that this is true. When I was a teenager in the 1960s, invariably my Aunt Florence would give me the worst gifts every Christmas. I can’t recall all the seasonal horrors, but I do remember on my 16th Christmas she gave me a size 3X orange and yellow sweater and a pair of bright baby blue socks. I never wore either gift. Although, now that I think about it, I might have used the sweater for a blanket on a few occasions.

But, by the time our son Michael was a teenager in the 1980s, Aunt Florence had really upped her giving game. Knowing that Michael was a 3-sport athlete for his high school and that his team stopped at McDonald’s after every away game or match, she would give him a few books of McDonald’s coupons, which truly was a great gift that kept on giving.

So, if you find yourself mired in a Christmas gift quandary, just ask yourself this question – what would (the new, improved) Aunt Florence do?

Equipped with that answer (and remembering to follow suggestion #1 above), rest assured that even Santa himself couldn’t select a better gift.

Obviously, the suggestions above don’t cover all the tips grandparents could use about Christmas gifts. What suggestions or advice would you offer to keep family Christmas time merry and bright?

Since Christmas 1957, the Jingle Bells Have Been Rockin’

This article 1st appeared in Booming Encore)

Once the sounds of rock n’ roll started filling the airwaves by the late-1950s, it was only a matter of time until someone would record and release the first Christmas-themed rock song destined to become a holiday classic.

And that honor goes to Bobby Helms with his 1957 hit “Jingle Bell Rock”.

Although today, Helms is considered a relatively obscure artist, the rockabilly singer had recorded two #1 hits on the country chart – “Frauline” and the still-performed doo-wop classic “My Special Angel” before “Jingle Bell Rock,” which peaked at #6 on the Billboard Chart. Helms’ version charted again in 1958 and 1960.

At first, Helms, who had moved to Nashville from his native Indiana, didn’t think much of the tune, which is credited to songwriters Joseph Beale and James Booth. Helms claims he and session guitarist Hal Garland worked to improve the song including adding the bridge which begins “What a bright time, it’s the right time, to rock the night away …”. Neither Helms nor Garland ever received songwriting credit for their work.

“It was such a bad song. So, me and one of the musicians (Garland) worked on it for about an hour, putting a melody and a bridge to it,” Helms said during a 1992 interview which appeared in the Indianapolis Star. “I really didn’t want to record it, but now I’m sure glad I did”.

For his part, Garland, is recognized as one of Nashville’s greatest session guitarists, playing on records by Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, the Everly Brothers, and Roy Orbison. Producer and guitarist Chet Atkins called Garland, who also played on the other 1950s rock-and-roll holiday classic, Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” the best guitar player “to ever come out of Nashville”.

“Jingle Bell Rock” has been recorded by artists as diverse as The Platters, the Beach Boys, and southern rockers .38 Special. Two cover versions have made the charts. In 1962, a Philly version by Chubby Checker and Bobby Rydell made it to #40 in England and in 1983 a version by another pair of Philly musicians Daryl Hall and John Oates peaked at #6 on Billboard’s holiday play chart.

Helms’ song has been featured in dozens of TV shows and three holiday movies – Lethal Weapon 1, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, and Jingle All the Way, all of which brought new, younger listeners to his classic.

Obviously, “Jingle Bell Rock” resurfaces each season from November to New Year’s Day and continues to be popular. It has sold more than 1 million copies in the United States alone. In 2016, StationIntel rated the song as the third most played that season. In that same year, the song was downloaded 700,000 times according Nielsen SoundScan, making it the 9th most popular song that Christmas season. Rolling Stone magazine names “Jingle Bell Rock” as the 10th greatest Christmas song of all-time, while Esquire magazine has it in 16th place in its list.

Helms’ Christmas classic, along with his other work, helped secure him a place in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Even though he never had another big hit, Helms continued to tour and perform for three decades after the release of “Jingle Bell Rock”. He died in 1997 at age 63 in Indiana.\