Sometime during the second week of November, the phrase "holiday season" caught my ear. I shuddered a little.
It probably wasn't the first time someone said it in my presence, but rather the first time it sank in. My defenses against the too-early onslaught were higher this year, after seeing a friend's pic of Christmas merchandise on retail shelves before Halloween. Thanksgiving and Christmas are still my favorite holidays, but it's not anywhere close to how much I enjoyed them as a kid.
Even as a kid, your specific age plays a part. Too young and you might enjoy putting your hands in mashed potatoes more than eating them, and have more fun playing with the wrapping paper than the gift. Too old and you'd rather hang out with your friends and make fun of everything.
I'm talking about the sweet spot, when you understood and believed in the concept of Santa Claus, made a wish list, and couldn't wait to help make cookies and decorate the tree. When you drew pictures of red-nosed reindeer and stockings hanging by a fireplace you didn't even have. I know it varies, but in my opinion that sweet spot was from the ages of 5 to 8, maybe 9 -- it depended on when you learned the truth.
Now that I'm in my 50s, I realize how much other factors affect your holiday memories, like the generation you belong to and in which part of what decade you hit your sweet spot.
I was born in 1965, which is kind of an in-between generation. When I wrote about GenX turning 50, I inadvertently touched a nerve. Some people said my experiences were exactly the same as Boomers. Some agreed with the GenX tag, eager to be separate from the Boomers. Some felt strongly that people my age belonged to neither generation, and deserved our own designation. I didn't know people were so sensitive to these labels.
Regardless, my sweet spot holidays happened in the early '70s.
The day after Thanksgiving, it was time to start the wish list. I used the 45-pound Sears catalog and the ads in the Sunday paper to create mine. I'd start with an impractically long list, and then agonize over the paring-down process. I'm not sure how much time we had, but there was a deadline. You know, because it had to get in the mail and make it to the North Pole in time. After the list was submitted, I'd continue to look at the catalog, second guess my wishes and calculate my odds. I'd also look at the TV listings to make sure I didn't miss any of the animated holiday specials, which I still love to this day.
The toys I remember wanting most were a GI Joe, a Big Wheel, a Schwinn Sting-Ray, an Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle and a Daisy Model 179 BB gun -- pretty common wishes for a '70s kid. In a previous post I referred to the Sting-Ray as "the ultimate '70's bicycle" meaning among my peers, it was the number one choice. Some readers took exception to this, and commented that since it debuted in '63, it was the ultimate '60s bike. I looked it up, and they were correct.
Wow, first people being sensitive to generations, then decades. I was writing from the perspective of my childhood.
It never occurred to me that the toys I wanted so badly could "belong" to another generation or decade. Even if I were aware, I wouldn't have cared. In what decade these toys debuted or which generation first championed them had no bearing on how well or poorly I had behaved that year. At that age, I probably didn't know what the words "decade" or "generation" meant.
At 50, I'm fully aware of different generations and decades, and wish lists are a distant memory. During the holidays, it's more about being with friends and family. Of course, I do enjoy living vicariously through the young ones in the family, those firmly in the sweet spot. It's a lot of fun, and helps remind me of my own magical holiday memories.
Recently I had the chance to see advance episodes of a new four-part History series "Christmas Through the Decades," which examines the music, TV, toys and events of a decade and how they affected the holiday experience. I watched the first two, the 1960s and 1970s. Some of the old footage, from commercials, TV shows or news broadcasts filled me with nostalgia. While not every segment resonated with me, some were so spot-on they felt like flashbacks. I learned things I didn't know, and saw things I'd never seen. I enjoyed them.
Happy Holidays -- I hope you catch a glimpse of your sweet spot.