Readers recall that one special present under the tree they’ll never forget.

Merry Christmas. Have an orange.

It may be hard to believe now, but we’re told there was a time when a child could be completely satisfied on Christmas morning with a simple piece of fruit stuffed into the toe of a stocking.

If it was a particularly good year, Ma might throw in a hand-knit pair of mittens or an apron made of old flour sacks. Pa may have crafted a slingshot or whittled a toy car for the boy, and there you have it – an embarrassment of riches for the kids on Christmas morning.

Those were good times, the older folks say. Simpler times.

Then, the economy got better, the toy manufacturers went a little bit crazy and Christmas wish lists began to grow very long indeed. Who wanted a pair of mittens or a stupid piece of fruit when there were rocking horses, Erector sets and Teddy bears to be had?

What self-respecting kid would settle for a handful of mixed nuts in this season of giving when the boy down the road was said to be getting a Radio Flyer wagon and a whole battalion of plastic army men?


Every year since the start of the last century, the number of available toys has kept growing and every one of them has seemed more fanciful than the last. Those plastic army soldiers might have been exciting one year, but then some toy inventor unveiled a giant spring that could walk down the stairs all by itself and Santa’s mailbox must have crumbled under the weight of all those letters.

Year after year, there’s something new and grand for kids to crave on Christmas morning. Sometimes Santa comes through with that very special gift from the top of your wish list. Sometimes he lets you down and you end up with just more socks and underpants to wear when other kids are playing with new sleds and bicycles and Nintendo Switch.

Of course, a kid who seemed greedy and demanding in 1975 would look like the paragon of gratitude today. These days, if that big-screen TV wrapped so neatly beneath the tree is anything less than 72 inches, you might as well consider Christmas a failure.

Kids have been known to throw weeklong tantrums because the $900 smart phone Santa brought was pearl white when they specifically asked for the merlot red. Get your youngster the Nintendo Wii with last year’s firmware because you found it on sale and you can be expecting emancipation papers soon after.

You might not get exactly what you ask for this holiday season, but fortunately most of us have at least one good memory of that one Christmas when Santa really delivered. We asked our readers to share their memories of such Christmas morning magic and they really delivered, too.



Reading your request for stories of Christmas toys from years ago, reminded me of my Cabbage Patch Doll Christmas. I wanted this doll at exactly the wrong time — as pretty much every kid in the country wanted one too. The result? Because both my parents had to work, my Aunt Bernadette stood in line for several hours to win an auction at a local department store. The punchline of course is that she “won” the right to buy one with the money my mom had given her. The demand was so great you could not merely walk into a store and purchase one. Seeing that doll on Christmas morning was essentially a miracle. My family was very poor when I was growing up because parents spent all their money putting the four of us kids through parochial school in hopes we would have a better life. We got the basic things we needed but there was no money in our family budget for extravagant. Getting any gift, especially the most fashionable one of the mid-’80s, was like winning the lottery without buying a ticket. It amazed me. It also taught me the value of creating a little Christmas magic for someone else. I still have it tucked away – who wouldn’t right?

— Wendy Coffey-Slattery, Sweden


My favorite Christmas gift dates back to the 1970s. All I wanted for Christmas was the Six Million Dollar Man doll. In the ’70s they were still referred to as dolls, much to my father’s disdain. Nothing would be more exciting than to peer through the hole in the back of his head and see things through the “bionic eye” or roll up the rubbery fake skin and remove his bionic chips. After I had aged a few years I realized how similar the skin was to a condom – not cool. If the “bionic eye” and the bionics were not enough, he could lift an engine, which came in the package – and now looking back was not in correct proportion to him. It must have been a VW Beetle engine. With that said, I got two of them that year and it is still my favorite gift, and I wish I could get one this year.

— Brad Johnson, Lewiston



I received an Instamatic camera for Christmas 1972 when I was 12; I still have that camera! I also still have the first picture that I ever took with it. It was of the house I grew up in; the house no longer stands but the camera is still here. This was back in the day when you had to take your film to your local Laverdiere’s to get developed and wait two weeks to see if your pictures came out. Ahhh, those were the days!

— Sally Theriault, Rumford


The one toy I remember (circa 1968) the most was a Texaco oil truck. . . . It also was the first year we had a real tree replacing the aluminum tree with the red balls. I can still see it sitting under the tree on Christmas morning. Not sure if this was the year I heard Santa’s sleigh bells or not.

— Steve Yenco, Lisbon Falls



I was on the cusp of becoming a non-believer at age 9. Pretty sure the big man in red was a hoax. To test my theory I asked for something I knew my parents would never find. Mostly because in my vast 9-year-old experience I had never found one in the stores. To my complete amazement Christmas morning a stuffed purple My Little Pony with rainbow hair was nestled under the tree. I was a believer from that point on.

— Erin Cox Pealatere, Peru


My gift was small and meaningful. I received my first novel at age 11. . . . “The White Lady” by Grace Livingston Hill. Other than school books, I had never read anything else but comic books, so I slowly stepped into it and I was hooked for life. It opened up the world for me long before PCs were nowhere near being imagined. I got me my first library card and had a blast, all thanks to that gift. . . . I could never let it go.

— Sandy Rozanski, New Auburn



Nancy Drew mystery books. I’d always get one or two for Christmas. Hard-cover editions. I had quite a library for a kid. And I remember going to Loring, Short and Harmon’s on Lisbon Street. The second floor was full of those goodies (see photos).

— Lise LaFontaine Lothrop, New Auburn


When I was about 8 I wanted to get a rock polisher. It was the only thing I wanted. . . . I got it and made polished stones for everyone. . . . I still love polished rocks today.

— Bobbi Frechette, Auburn



I was 7 years old. A new doll came out — it was Cathy Quick Curl. She had little wires in her hair so you could curl it. My mom said they were all gone and didn’t know if Santa could find one, but under my tree there she was! I kept that doll for years – so miss the good old days!

— Cheryl Stevens, Poland


When I was 8 all I wanted was an Annie Oakley cowgirl outfit. I never thought I would get it, but there it was Christmas morning complete with a holster and a toy gun!! It remains one one of my favorite memories of Christmas past.

— Jacqueline Violette, Lewiston



Ricochet Rabbit! A barf-brown-colored plastic rabbit, complete with a dart-shooting rifle. You would wind up the motor, the thing would run around (on wheels) in circles, and then shoot at it with rubber-tipped darts. The body got banged up pretty quickly, but the wind-up motor lasted a long time. Eventually ran out of darts and there wasn’t enough of the rabbit body left to shoot at. Must have been made in Japan or Taiwan, as it was from the ’60s, before Nixon went to China to visit Chairman Mao. Our cat was terrorized by the whole ricochet rabbit thing.

— Rick Whiting, North Auburn


I got the Secret Sam attache case during the height of the spy movies, 1966 or so. What a great toy for the budding spy! Another toy I wish I still had!

— Bill Lepack, Livermore



I had several gifts during my childhood that I really wanted and was thrilled to discover Santa had brought on Christmas morning! One was my Easy Bake Oven, with cake and cookie mixes. I think I drove everyone nuts wanting to bake for them, but of course I wasn’t allowed to do it without supervision initially! Then one year when I was perhaps 8 or so, I got a Baby Alive doll that I’d been asking for during the prior months ever since seeing it on TV. That doll made family history because my mom STILL talks about one night in the wee hours, we were all tucked into bed and for some unknown reason I’d left my Baby Alive doll on the couch. Well, that thing decided to start crying without anyone near it as we all were sound asleep. My mom describes having to get up after hearing this awful noise and having to take the batteries out before it woke me and my sister up! 

— Lori D’Amico, Lewiston


Stuffed talking Sylvester & Tweety (circa. 1976) – the ones with the pull string. Still have . . . they sit on a little bench in my living room . . . and am still a fanatic fan of the duo.

— Lori Ham, of Lisbon Falls



Gnip Gnop!! My brother still remembers my excitement when I opened that gift! He sent me one for Christmas a couple of years ago, but I lost it in my house fire earlier this year. I’ve already sent Santa a letter, asking him to replace it!

— Ann Chouinard Brown, Leeds


My favorite Christmas present as a kid was my first pair of roller skates. I was so excited. Then, later on after eating Christmas dinner, I went to the roller rink. What an awesome day it was that year.

— Laureen Christensen, Auburn



In the early 1950s received a “typewriter” with a big dial on the front to turn and type one letter at a time. Labor intensive for sure, but I loved it!

— Christina Coughlin Geary, Lewiston


Mom gave me Baring Gould’s annotated two-volume set of Doyle’s “Complete Sherlock Holmes” when I was 14. Thanks Mom!

— Betty Lynne Riggin, Auburn



When I was 5 or 6 I got my first pair of real ice skates, not the double-runner ones that just strapped on over boots. Single blade, white, with red trim. I think they’re still kicking around my mother’s barn. I loved those skates.

— Carolyn Tucker, Greene

Christmas toys through the years

1900s: Rocking horse, Crayola crayons, spinning top

1910s: Raggedy Ann doll, Lionel trains, Teddy bears, Erector sets

1920s: Radio Flyer wagon, Yo-Yos, Tinkertoys

1930s: Army men figurines, Monopoly, View Masters


1940s: Slinky, Magic 8 Balls, Silly Putty, Scrabble

1950s: Barbie dolls, Mr. Potato Head, Play-Doh, Pogo sticks

1960s: Legos, Easy-Bake ovens, Hot Wheels, Lite Brite

1970s: Star Wars action figures, Rubik’s Cubes, Simon, Stretch Armstrong

1980s: Cabbage Patch kids, Care Bears, My Little Pony

1990s: Beanie Babies, Tickle Me Elmo, Ninja Turtles, Furby


2000s: Xbox 360, Beyblades, Nintendo Wii, ZhuZhu Pets

What’s in YOUR wallet? Projected Christmas spending in 2018:

* 33 percent of Americans expect to spend at least $1,000 on gifts

* 22 percent expect to spend between $500 and $999

* 29 percent expect gift spending to be between $100 and $499

* 3 percent plan to spend less than $100.

Source: Gallup


ER visit not included: Dangerous toys through the ages

* Clackers: Popular in the 1960s and 1970s, these were hard plastic spheres connected by a string. When swung up and down, they would collide repeatedly, creating a pleasing CLACK sound for all to enjoy. Unfortunately, the hard plastic spheres would occasionally shatter, sending shards of what was essentially shrapnel streaking across neighborhoods and just looking for eyes to put out. They were classified as hazardous and removed from the market in 1976, although my old friend one-eyed Johnny still has a set.

* Gilbert Glass Blowing Kit: Apparently fuss was raised when it was discovered that the included equipment was capable of reaching temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees fahrenheit. You know you got the best gift of all when it’s capable of torching everybody else’s gifts with one blast of incinerating heat.

* Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab: Turns out this sucker actually contained uranium. Say what you want about Gilbert’s record of safety, those guys really know how to party.

* Snap Bracelets: These colorful bracelets could be stretched out long and then snapped into place for the perfect fit. Unfortunately, they snapped so hard sometimes, they could cut flesh. The more you bleed, the more fun you’re having!

* Sky Ranger remote control plane: It flies while you control it from the ground! Wow your neighbors! Impress your friends! Pray that your Sky Ranger doesn’t explode! (No, really. The Sky Ranger was known to explode.)

* Buckyballs: Amazingly strong magnetic ball bearings that could be formed into all sorts of cool shapes. They were actually a lot of fun until the choking began.


* Slip ‘n Slide: It’s all fun and games until you go hurtling face-first into a garden gnome. Ask me how I know. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, nearly 10 million of these things have been sold since they were introduced in 1961. Numerous injuries have been reported, but guess what? Almost all of them involved adults who thought they were hip and cool enough to use their kid’s toy. Turns out they weren’t.

* Lawn Darts: They’re oversized darts that you fling across a yard as your opponents stand near the lawn target. Frankly, I don’t see what the problem is here.

* Moon Shoes: Nickelodeon produced these spring-loaded shoes that serve as mini-trampolines for your kids’ feet. Sound of ankles breaking in 3-2-1 . . .

* SnackTime Cabbage Patch Doll: These dolls, released during that weird Cabbage Patch craze that saw grammas all over the country brawling in department stores, featured mechanical jaws that would eat anything they were fed. Apparently, this included the fingers of curious children, and since the dolls didn’t include a shut-off feature, ugliness resulted. But hey. Bet a few kids learned a lesson this way, didn’t they?

Sandy Rozanski with her copy of “The White Lady,” a novel given to her as a Christmas gift when she was a child. (Submitted photo)

Lise LaFontaine Lothrop’s Nancy Drew book collection. (Submitted photo)

Wendy Coffey-Slattery and her Cabbage Patch Kid. (Submitted photo)

Lori Ham’s Sylvester and Tweety set. (Submitted photo)

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: