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History of Christmas Toys

Christmas toys

As you're planning your Christmas shopping, you may find it interesting to consider the history of Christmas toys.

A History of Christmas Toys

Giving gifts has been a human tradition since ancient times. Ancient Romans exchanged gifts on New Year's Day to celebrate the winter solstice. The idea that gift giving is an expression of love and affection is generally thought to be associated with the spread of Christianity, however. At the birth of Jesus Christ, the three Wise Men brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The legend of Santa Claus began an important development in the history of Christmas toys. As Santa became known as a kind protector of children, it became customary to give children small toys to celebrate the Christmas holiday. Dolls, building blocks, stuffed animals, or board games were some of the more popular gifts during the early Christmas celebrations.

In the 1820s, stores in the United States began to heavily advertise the Christmas shopping season. In 1841, a shop in Philadelphia attracted thousands of parents and children by displaying a life-size model of Santa Claus in its window. Shortly after, stores began the tradition of hiring someone to dress up as Santa to ask children what gifts they hoped to receive for Christmas.

Although many adults do exchange gifts at Christmas, it should come as no surprise that most parents tend to view the holiday as a celebration for children. Even during the Great Depression in the 1930s, parents did their best to ensure that their children would have a special Christmas. Stockings were filled with an apple or orange, peppermint sticks, and some chocolate drops or nuts.

Most children received very few toys, however. It was common for parents to make gifts, such as a doll bed created from scraps of lumber, since limited finances wouldn't allow for purchased toys. This may sound like a very meager Christmas by modern standards, but those who remember this time report that the small scale of the celebration made whatever gifts were available much more appreciated.

Trends in Christmas Toys

For retailers today, the Christmas season is the most important time of the year. Sales and promotions are generally scheduled to start on "Black Friday", the day after Thanksgiving, and run right up until Christmas Eve. Predicting which Christmas toys will be most in demand for a particular year is a process that often requires months of market research.

Examples of trends in the history of Christmas toys include:

  • 1983 -- Cabbage Patch Kids
  • 1985 -- Pound Puppies by Tonka, Fisher-Price Bubble Mower
  • 1991 -- Water Babies, anything Little Mermaid
  • 1996 -- Tickle Me Elmo
  • 1997 -- Nintendo's Ultra 64 console unit
  • 1998 -- Furby
  • 1999 -- Anything related to Pokemon
  • 2000 -- Scooters
  • 2001 -- Harry Potter merchandise
  • 2003 -- Hokey Pokey Elmo
  • 2005 -- Webkinz
  • 2007 -- Nintendo Wii

An Opportunity to Give to Others

Since Christmas is a time of giving, there are a number of charitable organizations that help ensure low-income children have a special surprise to look forward to on Christmas morning. Toys for Tots, a project organized by the US Marine Corps, places collection bins at shopping malls and other public locations to gather new, unwrapped toys for needy children in the community. In many areas, the Salvation Army organizes a large "toy drive" to provide a similar service. There are also a number of churches around the United States that sponsor "Angel Trees" where people can choose to purchase one or more particular items for a family in need.

Additional Information

To learn more about the history of Christmas toys, check out the Christmas page on The History Channel Web site. This fascinating resource contains a number of articles, video clips, and trivia questions for Christmas fans of all ages.

History of Christmas Toys