Family Memories: My Favorite Christmas Gift

Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega suggests a topic to promote discussion and record family memories during the holidays: your favorite Christmas gift. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”

The holidays are upon us and that means, for most of us adults, we are busy buying and wrapping presents. As you concentrate on this season’s presents, have you thought about the Christmases of your youth? What were they like? What did you do? What were the sounds, smells, places that you remember?

Family history is more than just searching for ancestors. It’s about the story of your family – and that includes your story. Christmas is a good time to start writing down some of your memories. What better topic that will be of interest to your family than your favorite Christmas gift? Historical newspapers can help you tell that story.

Photo: “Barbie Dolls and Ken Doll” by Bernard Gotfryd, c. 1985. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
Photo: “Barbie Dolls and Ken Doll” by Bernard Gotfryd, c. 1985. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

My Favorite

Growing up, I LOVED Christmas. It truly was a time that felt magical. I remember the excitement as we ran to the tree Christmas morning to see everything that was left by Santa (of course my dad had to tell us when we could run to the tree so that he could get the photos of our reactions).

One year, I received the best gift: the Barbie Townhouse. This 3 1/2 -foot high 3-story home for Barbie and her friends even included an elevator. As described in the following newspaper advertisement from 1981, it came with “high fashion furniture.” What more could a young girl hope for!

An article about the Barbie doll, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 25 October 1981
Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 25 October 1981, page 19

So, what did the Barbie Townhouse set my parents back money-wise? I don’t remember the exact year I received it, but this advertisement from 1977 is probably around the right time if not a few years early. In a store in San Diego, about two hours from where we lived, the sale price was $15.99 – which, when I entered it into an inflation calculator, equaled $78.63 today.* Boy that was a lot of money for a Barbie accessory! No wonder I never received the Barbie Dream House – the Barbie Townhouse was expensive enough!

An article about the Barbie doll, San Diego Union newspaper article 10 November 1977
San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 10 November 1977, page 107

One of the fun things about revisiting those favorite toys from your past is looking to see if they can be found online. Perusing an online auction site to see if I could buy this childhood memory made it apparent that I should have kept my Barbie Townhouse – because a “vintage” one costs anywhere from $119 to over $300! Sometimes getting those memories back can be expensive!

What to Write

“My Favorite Christmas Gift” is a great writing prompt to help you document your own holiday memories. Consider writing about:

  • What was your favorite gift?
  • Why was it your favorite?
  • How old were you when you received it?
  • Describe it (can you find a photo, or better yet a photo with you and the gift)
  • Memories of that gift
  • Cost of gift (what it cost then and what that equals in today’s dollars)
  • What happened to it? (was it passed on to another family member, broken, or donated when you got old enough not to play with it)

Include newspaper articles in your writing. This can help provide images, descriptions, and prices.

Not sure what your favorite gift was? Search old newspapers for gifts advertised during a specific year (such as when you were 10 years old). To do this, in GenealogyBank’s advanced search page, type in a keyword such as “toy” in the “Include these keywords” box.  Then narrow the search to a specific year or narrow it to a time period such as November 1, 1980 to December 25, 1980. You can also narrow the search to the state and city you lived in. That might help you remember what you received in any given year.

An article about toys, Record Searchlight newspaper article 22 November 1980
Record Searchlight (Redding, California), 22 November 1980, page 46

What about Other Family Members?

Holiday family get-togethers are the perfect time to ask questions and solicit memories, no matter the age of the family member. It’s a given that we should ask older family members questions, but don’t forget the younger generations. Help them record their memories for the future. Asking about favorite gifts is one way to do that.

What’s your all-time favorite gift? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Merry Christmas!

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Note on the header image: Barbie’s first clothing designer, Charlotte Johnson, posing with 1965 Barbie doll model, 13 May 1964. Credit: Nelson Tiffany, Los Angeles Times; Wikimedia Commons.

(*) CPI Inflation Calculator <>.

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