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Unwrapping the magic of Christmas




My earliest memories of Christmas shopping were not created while I shopped in a store. They were created while I sat on my front porch waiting for the Sears and Roebuck Christmas catalogue to be delivered. When the mailman finally delivered it, after I had waited for what seemed to me like an eternity, he would place this large and bulky tome in my hands very carefully so that I didn’t drop it. At that moment, I was the happiest little girl in the world.

Shivering with delight, I would sneak upstairs to my bedroom and spend hours poring over the pages of this wondrous book. I studied every toy, even the ones meant for children much younger than I was. I didn’t want to miss a single item that Mr. Sears and Mr. Roebuck had to offer. I loved the vivid colors and the detailed descriptions of each toy. Knowing that a Tiny Tears doll would shed real tears if someone pressed her stomach made me want a doll like that of my very own. When I received a Tiny Tears that Christmas, the first tears shed were mine because I was so happy.

Several years later, when I had graduated from dolls to the more sophisticated offerings of this catalogue, I chose my presents with great care. I think I achieved the epitome of Sears and Roebuck worldliness the Christmas I received a pair of Hullabaloo Go Go boots. These boots, inspired by the television show “Hullabaloo,” were all the rage that year. Every teenage girl in America was wearing them. Succumbing to a rare moment of cultural conformity, I begged my mother for a pair, and she obliged. The only time in my entire life I could be described as “hip” was the brief period when I wore these boots.

Fast forward several years, and I was a young mother buying Christmas gifts for her baby. My daughter was not quite 1 when she celebrated her first Christmas, so I had no wish list or letter to Santa to offer some guidance about what to buy. How difficult could it be for me to shop for her? She was a baby, and babies generally find everything fascinating.

I bought some small toys for her that made interesting noises and seemed sturdy enough to withstand the determined attempts of a teething toddler to chew them to pieces. I also bought several picture books to read to her, some of which I still have after all these years. After briefly glancing at her presents, my daughter turned her attention to the things she really found most captivating – the boxes that her toys had been inside. She would spend the next few hours playing with these boxes, turning them around in her hands and looking through them if both ends were open. If I had been a clever and innovative woman, I would have found a way to market these boxes as one-of-a kind holiday gifts that any baby would love.

Several years later, I had another daughter, and she was even less interested in Christmas presents than her sister had been. When she was about 3 years old, I began taking her to Cross Creek Mall to see the singing Christmas bears that had become a popular attraction during the holiday season. She was so captivated by the bears that she would stand in front of the display for what seemed like hours and just stare at them. Soon, after listening to their songs dozens of times, she knew the musical numbers well enough to sing along with them each time they performed. Pretty soon, other shoppers were looking at my daughter more than they were looking at the bears. To get her away from this mesmerizing display, I had to resort to bribing her with ice cream, which was the only thing she liked better than those singing bears.

In a moment of Christmas insanity – which usually strikes about two weeks into the shopping/baking/decorating/socializing frenzy – I actually entertained the idea of looking for something akin to this display of musically inclined wildlife to give to my young daughter. Only three things stood between me and achieving this crazy goal: I couldn’t possibly afford anything even remotely similar to this elaborate tableau; I could never find enough giftwrap to cover something this big; and the rest of my family and I would eventually go insane having to listen to those bears singing all day long.

Now, decades later, my Christmas shopping is much easier and doesn’t require a trip to the mall. In just a short time, I can order enough gift cards and write enough checks to take care of my holiday presents. Sometimes I miss the decorations and seasonal gaiety at the mall, but I sure don’t miss those singing bears.

Mary Zahran, who still has occasional moments of Christmas insanity, can be reached at maryzahran@gmail.com.