Toyland

Holiday displays everywhere, grander and grander lights, bizarre yard sculptures, harmless fun.
  • Old people nurture Dickensian memories _ “best of times, worst of times.”  Christmas was special but we never had all the things you guys have.   Toys arrived only once or twice a year, and pitiful things they were, too.  Department stores were extravaganzas, seeing Santa could take all day, and displays didn’t happen until after Thanksgiving.
  • Even so, by the 1950’s Christmas was already mostly a secular holiday in the US.  It was, in fact, very much about consumerism.  The nods to religion were _ as today _ pro forma and lip service.   Times were just as hassled and tense, people trying to fit in extra hours were just as grim, and from that standpoint not much has changed.
  • Toys were generally a lot different _ nothing electronic, only a few electric (trains, etc.)  Erector sets for boys, tea sets for girls, clothing.  Things that were either useful, or concrete items for play and construction.  Mobility with self-pedaled tiny cars, or a bike when we got older. 
  • And then the long wait for next December, with maybe a brief burst of something special on our birthday.
Seniors accumulate their own nostalgic versions of toys over the years, less for show than for memories.
  • In spite of thousands of years of counter-examples of monks and saints, capitalist and psychological theorists claim people never have enough.   Generally, they seem to be right, although sometimes fads follow “less is more.”  Christmas has always been excess, but perhaps there are cracks in a constant need to spend.
  • Objects are now freely available to just about anyone all year round.  American poverty hardly resembles that of the middle ages or even of industrializing England.  Most folks get what they want, when they want, unless their dreams are impossible illusions.  In the grand scheme of things, the little stuff like food, clothing, shelter, transportation, education and even entertainment are freely available to all.
  • So apparently the big gift for millennials has become object-free.  They want experiences.  Travel to exotic places, unusual adventures, nights out of the ordinary.  Money, and presumably lack of satiety, is still involved _ but not with objects that can be wrapped and put under a tree.

Perhaps a bit too self-righteously, we prefer “real traditional” toys for our grandchild.
  • What bothers me about children’s toys _ now that I am once again looking for a 2 year old grandson _ is that so many are magic.  By that I do not mean wonderful beyond compare.  I mean that they are mostly black box affairs, electronic or otherwise, that teach nothing about our common world.
  • A set of blocks teaches gravity, positioning, hand skills, even aesthetics.  Dolls allow interactive play with real materials.  Other traditional toys were always invitations to think and do and interact with others.  Imagination played a part, but so did interaction with reality.
  • Now, virtual incomprehensibility rules.  What to make of boxes that squawk, boxes that talk, buttons that light, screens that display?  Oh, I see that legos are still doing well, and I am just grumpy and behind the times, but I wish there were more ramps to the natural world and less of the gee-whiz and no idea how to fix it if it breaks.
  • Already most of us adults are unable to fix most anything.  Maybe that bothers me more than the toys.

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