Many of us were visited by Santa Claus before “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” (1949), “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (1952) and “Silver Bells” (1952) were even written.

So I asked some of my favorite fogeys to contribute their memories of memorable gifts.

My absolute fave comes from Bill C. of Chicago: “Certainly not the most significant, touching, and meaningful gift I can recall getting, but for some reason the most memorable was a huge box of bubble gum — Fleer’s Double Bubble, in individually wrapped pieces like chunks of taffy. The box was maybe 8 inches high, 10-12 inches wide, and 15-18 inches long. The years may have magnified the dimensions a bit, but somehow I don’t think so. Lots of gum. Ah, the late ’40s were my good old days, before worries about sugar, decay, and loose fillings took over.”

Al H. of West Virginia: “As a geeky 12-year-old in Tinley Park, I asked for a chemistry set that I had seen in the Sears catalog. When a package arrived and I saw Mom put it in the closet, my curiosity got the best of me. Getting my tape measure, I checked out the package based on the dimensions listed in the catalog. To my dismay, they didn’t match — too small. Feeling disappointed, I went back and re-read the catalog description and read the magic words “opens to” the dimension in the ad. On Christmas morning, I confidently tore open the package that held my heart’s desire.”

Ginny C. from Wilmette (and my oldest friendship going back to first grade): “The only one I recall that brought tears to my eyes was my doll house, about age 7 or 8. It had people (not the plastic Fisher Price kind) and loads of furniture. Marshall Field’s had a terrific doll house section and every time we were there, I bought accessories: dishes, more furniture, trees, decorations, etc.  Probably being an only child, I played with it by the hour by myself and loved it.” (Unfortunately she passed it on in high school, not realizing she’d have two girls of her own.)

Marlene S. from Oak Park remembers: “In first grade, we were asked to bring in a toy we received for Christmas to Show & Tell. I expected all the other girls in the class to bring in beautiful dolls, and what did I have? A red plastic phone and a metal switchboard. The switchboard was big, so I just brought in a red plastic phone. Not much compared to all those lovely dolls. My teacher went around the room and commented on all the nice toys my classmates had received. When she came to me, she picked up the phone and pretended to call the principal. She carried on a conversation with her, had the whole class laughing, and spent more time on that phone than with any other toy. I got more attention than all the other girls with their pretty dolls. My teacher made me feel like I had the best Christmas gift of all.”

 Lena G. from California: “One Christmas, my aunt gave me a printing kit to create my own newspaper. It had lead type and pages and ink. It was probably the most creative gift I ever received as a child. It was memorable because it piqued my interest in journalism and writing and eventually led to my career!”

Paulette C. from Oak Park: “When I was a just a youngster, Santa came to the door and brought me a Webcor record player. I knew Santa was the next door neighbor, but that didn’t diminish the joy of listening to my 78s.”

Sally K. of Oak Park: “When I was 3, I got a children’s songbook for Christmas. I already loved music and was happy to get this collection. But the thing that makes it memorable is that my dad sat down with me and taught me the songs in the book. We sang together for a long time. The best gift parents can give their children is to read, sing and play together.”

Me? I was about 5 when my older sister opened a present and took out a long green stocking cap with a red ball on it. I burst into tears. Then I opened a present and it was a brown one with a yellow ball on it. I loved it. I think that was the same year my older sisters found me opening a drawer and finding new baby clothes for my Baby Marie doll. They told me that if I didn’t believe in Santa Claus, I had better fake it because my mom and dad wanted me to believe. So I did.

Read Mary Kay O’Grady’s blog, “Aging Disgracefully,” at

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Mary Kay O'Grady

Mary Kay O'Grady is a former high school English teacher and later owned her own public relations business, The O'Grady Group. She has lived in Oak Park for almost fifteen years. She is currently the chairperson...

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