This article is part of the Lily Lines newsletter. You can sign up here to get it delivered twice a week to your inbox.
Ah, the holidays. Bring on the good cheer, the proliferation of princess-themed Netflix films, the mulled wine and the family time.
And don’t forget a heaping dose of nostalgia.
It’s the season for sentimentality, so we’re thinking back on the toys we most yearned for during holidays past. We asked Washington Post staffers and The Lily’s readers to unwrap those memories. Whether you, too, wished for a Furby or desperately desired a lifelike baby doll, you might spot a toy you recognize on this list.
Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
Lisa Dubler, 31, Washington, D.C., organizational development consultant at The Washington Post
“As a kid, I collected Polly Pockets. I loved them because it felt to me like being in a small, magical fantasy world. I would name the characters and create stories about each one. While I didn’t realize it at the time, playing with Polly Pockets helped me explore my creative storytelling side at a young age and was a special bond that I shared with my younger sister. As a teenager, my family moved across the country, and while I had long since aged out of playing with Polly Pockets, it was the one childhood toy I made sure I held onto.”
Linda King, 59, Ohio
“When I was a little girl, troll dolls were all the rage. I wanted one so badly. But the year I wanted it, our dad was very sick with cancer and in the hospital. I wasn’t expecting anything that year, but I did receive the troll and cherished him deeply.”
Kat Brooks, 32, Washington, D.C., digital designer at The Washington Post
“When the Furby was first released in 1998, I thought it was the coolest toy ever. It could talk to you, you could train it and it was so ugly it was cute. I begged my mom for one, but since it was the ‘it’ toy of the year that year they were nearly impossible to find, and I gave up hope of getting one. My mom did end up finding some by accidentally being in the right place at the right time, and my brother and I both got one for Christmas. I still remember the shocked disbelief and sheer joy of opening that coveted toy.”
Suzanne Lucero, Maryland
“Not a toy, exactly, but in 1968 what I wanted most was a bike. We lived in a rural area and a bike meant I could leave my yard and gain limited freedom riding the two roads surrounding the farm. There weren’t many houses, ergo few neighbors — and no kids my age to visit — but I had an imagination. I knew I could pedal those generally deserted roads to anywhere in the world I wanted to go. I was convinced that year that Santa existed because I did, indeed, get my bike, though first I had to learn to ride it.”
Gabi Dunkley, 29, Washington, D.C., internal communications specialist at The Washington Post
“His name was Jack Skellington. He was all I wanted for Christmas. He wore a pinstriped tuxedo jacket, reinvented Santa Claus, and recited dark, gorgeously existential poetry about his identity crisis. I was a 6-year-old Caribbean girl growing up in America. I volunteered to portray him in a school play — gender norms be damned. I did not get the part in the musical. I did get his doll for Christmas.”
Eileen McGill, 54, New York
“The new toy in 1977 was the first Atari game system, ever. I wanted it and never even said it out loud. I got it! It was amazing. I was the only kid on my street to have an Atari. My dad had been a toy salesman and always knew what the hot item was. I still can’t believe I got an Atari. I was truly a first-generation gamer.”
Sarah Hashemi, 25, Washington, D.C., video graphics editor at The Washington Post
“My father was the chef and owner of a couple restaurants when I was a kid. I was always drawn to the symphony of the kitchen. The crackling of fatty meat right when it hit the pan, the smell of roasted garlic and baked yeast, the warmth surrounding the oven when a lasagna went in. So, I did my research (flipping through toy catalogs) and found something that could make real, edible food. On my 10th Christmas, Santa brought me an Easy Bake Oven. It’s still the only appliance I can cook better with than my father.”
Sandra Lee, 56, Manitoba, Canada
“When I was 7, I wanted a microscope. I loved to look at nature and wanted a close-up view. I always received art supplies instead, which in turn helped me become a graphic designer (I taught graphic design later). I bought my kids a microscope for Christmas one year; I ended up being the only one who used it.”
Sarah Parnass, 29, Washington, D.C., foreign video editor at The Washington Post
“As a child in the early ’90s, I desperately wanted (and got) a Baby Born. Young make-believe moms could feed the doll and even make it pee. Looking back, it had a glassy-eyed, vacant expression that should have been haunting, but I remember feeling such warmth for it. I was the youngest, always the one being taught how to do things or corrected or coddled. This doll uniquely needed me to make things better. I relished that role and dreamed about mothering a real baby someday. It’s funny how that dream seemed more tangible then than it does now.”
Amy Cavenaile, 27, Washington, D.C., deputy design director at The Washington Post
“As a kid, I was obsessed with basketball (as many young Hoosiers are). For my 10th birthday, I took my closest friends to Mackey Arena where we watched the Purdue women’s basketball team play and then went home to play a pick-up game of our own. It’s only fitting that my Christmas wish list consisted mostly of cheap accessory items from the basketball section at Claire’s. During my preteen years, I would come to spend hours in front of that rotating display wishing I owned all the items. That year for Christmas, my parents gifted me shoelaces with ‘I heart basketball’ written on them. I loved them. But they never made it on to a pair my shoes, because they were too precious to risk getting dirty.”
Lena Felton, 23, Washington, D.C., multiplatform editor at The Lily
“I remember poring over the catalog for hours: the eye colors, the face shapes, the haircuts. It was the process, even more than the eventual doll, that thrilled me. My Twinn allowed you to create your very own mini-me, replete with matching outfits — and the company knew how to build anticipation. It was November when a small white package arrived in the mail for 6-year-old me: Inside were two pairs of tortoise-shell sunglasses, one in my size and the other much smaller. When I finally unwrapped her on Christmas Day, My Twinn had my medium haircut, my chestnut eyes. And we wore those tortoise-shell frames everywhere, together.”
Chere, 65, Washington
“I wanted a play kitchen. The commercial kind were expensive, so my mom and dad made one. My dad built a little stove, refrigerator and sink out of plywood, and mom painted it pink. The stovetop included painted coils for burners and empty spools of thread for nobs. With a set of tiny dishes, I was in heaven. Now, when I remember this, I know the effort and creativity it took to make it. Such love.”
Samantha Mullett, 26, California
“Snowflakes don’t touch San Diego. While most shovel ice, we jump into pools. At 6, I wanted something that would cool off the kids who couldn’t hurl snowballs at one another; I also wanted to supply an endless array of sweets. I wanted an ice cream truck. Even though my poster board detailed its long-term investment potential and I was drunk with power at the thought of being behind the wheel, I didn’t get a motor vehicle that year. I got a palm-sized ice cream truck to ‘encourage my entrepreneurial spirit.’ Thanks, Mom.”
Natalya Yassinskaya, 37, Washington, D.C., human resources manager at The Washington Post
“I grew up in the Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991. A few years before the collapse, the Iron Curtain became far more porous, and we started getting products and information from the West. That included commercials for Barbie dolls on TV during the Sunday morning cartoon hour. Compared with the Soviet austerity, these dolls and their accessories, like houses or garments or ponies, looked incredible, almost too good to be true. After the collapse, the economy was shuttered, and all the former Soviet Republics struggled to keep people employed. My mom lost her job, and my dad was not paid for months. One winter we ate mostly potatoes. There is no way my parents could afford a lush toy like that. So, I didn’t even ask. But in 1998 I came to the States for the first time as a scholarship-sponsored exchange student in high school. Before Christmas time, my host parents kept asking me what I’d like. It seemed presumptuous to ask for things I actually needed or wanted. So, even though I was already 17, I was deflecting these questions by jokingly asking for a Barbie, the first one in my life. They knew I was joking, and it went on for weeks. On Christmas morning, I received six or seven presents, which in itself was shocking — in our culture you’d get one, maybe two. Among those presents was a gorgeous collectible Barbie on a stand and a tiny baby one on a pony that walked! It was incredibly heartwarming, both because my host parents actually did get me a Barbie and because I was surprisingly moved by getting that doll after all, albeit as a young adult. This is one of my most cherished holiday memories.”
Nicole Franz, 32, Illinois
“Like many kids, I wanted Legos more than anything else. The kind of Legos my brothers had — the castle, pirate and Robin Hood sets. I was a very disappointed little girl one Christmas when I opened a tub of Dream Builders, the knock-off pastel ‘building set designed for girls.’ Every year after that when I asked for Legos on my Christmas list, I added in parentheses afterward ‘NOT DREAM BUILDERS’ in all caps.”
Chelsea Lyn Roden, 25, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
“I always had my sights on a rock polisher. This was partially in the hope of legitimizing my hobby of digging through playground gravel, which I’d do silently, as to not disturb the treasures and artifacts I may uncover. Rock collecting was easy and cheap, like DIY self-care for 7-year-olds; I’d fill my pockets with a neat limestone fossil, a cracked pebble of quartz, a slice of slate, then sneak them into a box on my shelf with my quarter-sized chunk of amethyst. This, the gravel, allowed me to foster one of my first introvert habits — stepping away from a loud game of tag to enjoy a couple precious minutes alone, discovering rough stones and wondering what they were, what they could be.”
Faroz, 25, California
“When I was growing up, all I wanted for Christmas was to celebrate Christmas. As a Muslim growing up in the practical heartland, our ignorance of Christmas meant my family stuck out. Our house wasn’t decorated, there was no beautifully ornate tree in the window, and our holidays always fell at frustrating times of the school year. I had a hard time joining conversations about visiting family for Christmas and wishing for certain presents from Santa. At this time, I asked for the Mall Madness board game because it seemed like what elegant, more sophisticated white teenagers played. My parents were not willing to celebrate a non-religious Christmas. I did not receive the game. I responded in the most mature fashion — I went on an assault of the existence of Santa. Bridges were burned, children cried, but I wasn’t reprimanded, surprisingly. Looking back, I think I was upset with the magic of Christmas. We didn’t spend time talking about my holidays, or what made my cultural experiences important. There aren’t movies, TV specials, constant advertisements, songs with cultural resonance, or even an easy explanation for my teachers on why I celebrated Eid. But after many kids acknowledged the myth of Santa Claus, they still talked about the vacations and the presents. And I was going to be taking a day off in a month with no pageantry, no explanation, no decorations, for a religious holiday. It isn’t the same — and so I wished we could celebrate something that had magic like Christmas did. So, every year, I wished on all I had, that we would celebrate Christmas this year. We never did. We still don’t. I don’t own the Mall Madness game. But we do decorate the house for Eid.”
Maya Sugarman, 29, Washington, D.C., video editor at The Lily
“When I was 8 years old, I continually begged my parents for a Chevron Car. These toy cars were part of an advertising campaign, and I remember seeing the ads on television and on billboards. They were designed by the same animation studio that created the Claymation series ‘Wallace & Gromit,’ which I also loved. For Christmas, my parents got me Pete Pickup (each car had a different name and personality). I was so excited that when I frantically started to cut open the packaging, I stabbed myself in the palm with scissors and started to bleed.”
Aviva Loeb, 24, Washington, D.C., digital designer at The Washington Post
“When I was in fourth grade everyone in my class had Razor scooters, and I remember really, really wanting one, and asking for one for Hanukkah. I didn’t end up getting one because my parents thought they were dangerous and I would break a wrist. But I saved up my own money and bought one that spring, it had purple wheels. They made me wear wrist and knee pads when I rode it.”
Illustrations by May van Millingen for The Lily.