We take Christmas very seriously at our house. So seriously that we put up no decorations until late on Dec. 24 and leave everything in place until after Candlemas on Feb. 2. We generally enjoy ourselves over the long holiday. There are always lots of treats, and certain rules — bedtime, how often you are allowed to listen to "Yellow Submarine" or watch Lion King — are relaxed.
But one thing we won't be doing this year in commemoration of the Nativity of Our Lord is buying our children any hideous, poorly designed, instantly disposable toys. You know what I'm talking about: the undifferentiated mass of junk in individual cardboard and plastic boxes you see at any big-box retailer or, more likely, on Amazon. Go to any second-hand store, and you will see where these things end up: pink and yellow plastic heaped up to the ceiling — an impromptu monument to our greed and tastelessness. Also to waste. These are not beloved objects that kids will cherish for years and save for the enjoyment of their own children and grandchildren; they are pre-trash, items of no value or consequence that will be tossed as soon as their tiny owners grow bored of them — or, more likely, as soon as parents decide that they are taking up too much space. Goodness knows how much of this stuff is eventually in landfills or in piles in the middle of the ocean choking fish and poisoning the water.
These toys are also, most of them anyway, condescending to girls. My daughters are not idiots. The older of the two has many favorite colors, and none of them is that especially hideous purple found nowhere in creation except girls' toys which I call "vomit magenta." Toys for boys come in every shape and color imaginable, but marketing hacks have decided that their sisters can only feel comfortable in a world full of bubbly-round plastic dyed with synthetic pigments. Not in our house!
It was not always this way. At my maternal grandparents' house there are toys — houses, cars, figurines, a fake rotary phone, a little turntable that plays indestructible toddler-sized records, wooden letter blocks — that have been enjoyed by three generations of my family. They were purchased by my grandparents for my mother and uncle in the 1970s. Two decades apart my mother and I drove the same mustached figure in the same red truck to the same toy grain elevator and cranked the same lever to bring the tiny orange sack down to the loading area. Now my children spread these things out on the living room floor at least once a week. In the basement there is something even older, a wooden barn carved by my great-great grandfather, an object of astonishing beauty and an artifact of a happier, if seemingly less prosperous, age.
There are also moral reasons for rethinking what you purchase for the tots on your list this year. A report in The Guardian recently showed us what life is like for the workers in China who produce some of these items. For putting together one Disney Little Mermaid "Princess Sing & Sparkle" doll that will be sold at a price of around $45, an employee makes slightly more than a penny. Even by Chinese standards the factories making Disney and Fisher Price merchandise are hellish. (Remember that the next time the House of Mouse tries to shore up its woke credentials by announcing a new line of LGBTQ-themed merchandise.) If you are sick for more than three days, you are fired. Overtime is essentially mandatory and shifts often run to illegal lengths. The largely female workforce is almost perpetually exhausted. So much for all the moronic legends about Santa's elves ...
Before you accuse me of being a grinch, consider why we bother buying things in the first place. If gift-giving is an empty commercial obligation, it's not really motivated by generosity. Think of how much more a child would appreciate half an hour of your time playing hide-and-seek or talking about her favorite animals or pretending that her hands are made out of snakes. The truth about most toys is that they matter far more to those who are handing them out than they do to the little people for whom they are being given. All children deserve presents, but a few well-chosen ones go a long way: I have watched two toddlers entertain themselves for hours sitting on the floor with the same shared Snoopy doll. Goodness knows there are already too many other things competing for their attention. They don't need neon pink tea sets or 57 different cartoon puppy race-car drivers.