Archive for Thursday, December 10, 2009

Presents present change

December 10, 2009

For many, this is the busiest time of the year. If you combine a variety of special Christmas events with work and shopping, some folks are simply overwhelmed. It is unfortunate that there doesn’t seem to be time to really enjoy the Christmas season.

With that said, I cannot over-emphasize how important the holiday season is to retailers. For most businesses, December is a “make or break” month. Look at the stock market and watch its fluctuations after Christmas shopping reports are finishing. In general, a good holiday season sends the market up, but if spending falls below expectations, the market heads down.

This is particularly true this year with an economy that is in the tank. To compensate, retailers tried to jump start sales by beginning the holiday push weeks earlier. While I don’t necessarily agree, I understand why it is important.

Many believe the idea of giving presents at Christmas goes back to the story of the three kings bringing gifts to the Baby Jesus. I have read sources that say the tradition dates to the Romans and their celebration of the Saturnalia. Supposedly it was a tradition the Romans transferred to Christmas. However, gift giving wasn’t part of the celebration for centuries. In addition, the Romans gave gifts as part of the New Year’s festivities.

The legends of Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, St. Nicholas and others known for their kindness somehow fuel the tradition of holiday gift-giving. It wasn’t until the 18th century that giving of gifts started being a major part of the celebration. However, in England, it was common to give gifts to the royalty. Henry III was unhappy with the monetary gifts he received from the merchants of London and in 1356, ordered that all of the stores be closed during December.

Doing the “Remember When” column, I have noted how the idea of Christmas gifts has changed radically over the years. It isn’t surprising, but in those old days, the most advertised gift for little girls was a doll. Little boys got toy horses, wooden guns, rubber balls or baseballs. For families without much money, a little girl might receive a rag doll while a little boy might get clothes or a homemade toy.

I remember my late father-in-law talking about his biggest Christmas joy was to receive an orange. Yes, times have certainly changed.

All of this started me thinking about my childhood and my favorite Christmas gifts. I don’t remember how old I was, but I received a football game one year. Unlike the new electronic marvels, my game utilized a deck of cards. You called the play, turned the card over and got the result. This allowed you to move the little metal players up and down the field. In that general time frame, I also received a spring-operated basketball game. A table tennis ball was dropped, and it rolled into a hole. Using a lever on the side, you fired the shot, and it could go in. I spent countless hours creating leagues and games. They were tremendous fun.

The third present I remember came in eighth grade. I was playing basketball, and I received a pair of white, elastic knee pads. I really felt that I had arrived at the next practice when I donned them.

I asked Jean about her favorite gifts, and she said she most remembered a small table and chairs. She also was thrilled with a pair of ice skates one year.

Now, of course, things are very different. Toys are now more complex, and when it comes to sports games, they are extremely realistic.

Looking back, I still believe I had more fun with my lever-operated basketball game and my football game. In my mind, I could just see the jammed stadium and the plays on the field. My games helped expand my imagination and my creativity. I wonder if today’s children will look back on their Christmas games with the same fondness that I do.

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