The calls started around Thanksgiving... and the emails... and the LinkedIn and Facebook messages. Friends, friends of friends and, it seems, pretty much anyone who knows I’m connected to the toy business has been trying to have me get them a Hatchimal.
Not like this is anything new. Twenty years ago, in 1996, people I knew from high school tracked down my parents to find me and see if I could get them a Tickle Me Elmo.
Every few years we see this, a fad toy emerges, and hysteria ensues. My voicemail and email fill with pleas from people I barely know, or don’t know, trying to convince me that their holiday “will be ruined” if they don’t get their hands on the hot toy of the year.
Here’s a news flash: If your holiday is going to be ruined by not getting a piece of plastic, you’ve got bigger problems.
I don’t mean to be flippant (well, not completely), but I realize that people have driven themselves to this state. At a certain point, though, the tenor of the hunt changes, and it becomes “scoring” the toy, about being able to get things that other people are not, about “winning” at the expense of someone else. Hardly the spirit of the holiday, and I would recommend re-reading Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” when those feelings start to bubble up.
Yes, we all want to make children’s dreams come true, but at what cost? That’s the question that always boggles my mind. Perhaps because I had a brilliant mother who knew how to manage expectations.
My mother would always say, “Santa’s sleigh is big, but he has to carry toys for all the boys and girls, so you want to be sure about what you ask for.” This always set off a huge conversation between my brothers and me as we horse traded to make sure that everything we all wanted got on someone’s list.
My mother was always great about things she might not be able to get. “I think a lot of kids are asking for that this year. I hope that the elves will be able to make enough.”
When they couldn’t, Santa left an IOU with a clever apology noting that mom and dad would get me the toy after the holidays when the elves had a chance to catch up. (It took nearly 3 years for my mother to make good on one promise, to get me a Matchbox Lipton Tea Wagon that I had particularly wanted but that had been sold out. Long forgotten, I found it at a Matchbox collector event, told my mother, and she instantly wrote me a check for what I paid.)
The other thing that was central to my childhood holidays was that it was never solely about the gifts. My parents were very clear about the difference between the secular holiday with presents and a tree and so forth, and the religious aspects of the holiday as celebrated at our Episcopal church.
Then there was all the time with family and friends, meals, music and so much more. Toys were an important part of the celebration for us as kids, to be sure, but any disappointment at not having a wish granted, when so many were, was quickly lost in the excitement and festivity of the day and the season. My parents were also very keen on teaching us the pleasure of giving gifts rather than simply receiving them, for which I’ve always been grateful.
Over the years, I’ve also talked to many adults about their favorite toys—and the ones they didn’t get. Whether it was a Barbie Dreamhouse or a Cabbage Patch doll or a Furby, these folks have turned out all right.
Whatever disappointment they may have felt at the time has receded in memory, hopefully as one holiday memory among many. Wistful about a wish not granted is one thing; a destroyed life is another. When it comes to toys not received, the latter has always been the prevailing emotion.
Interestingly, in the past years the rise of eBay, Amazon and other third-party sellers and auction sites has virtually obviated the need to stand in line for hours at a toy story, though some still did for Hatchimals this year. People who really want these toys can get them.
Ironically, though, on December 22, there were more than 5,000 listings for the toys on eBay. Though some were being offered at insane prices (A multiple of 6 times the retail price or more counts as “insane.”), many were near or even below the suggested retail price. Does this mean the market for the toys has gone soft? Perhaps. Yet with this kind of availability, no one can legitimately claim their holiday was ruined by not being able to get the toy. And we can all take a kind of solace in knowing that the toys listed for thousands on eBay will plummet in value once the holidays pass and new inventory floods into stores. Just like the last time...and the time before that.
So, if you’re going to be rational about this year’s hot toy—and I beg you to be—the only way your holiday can be “ruined” by not scoring a Hatchimals toy is if you do it to yourself. Please don’t do that. Remember, as the Grinch learned, “’Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“’Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!’”
I’ve always loved that.