The first time I witnessed a toy craze was with Tickle Me Elmo in 1996. The shaking, giggling muppet was everywhere—on TV, on the radio, even on early versions of the internet. It was everywhere, that is, except store shelves. Early on in the holiday season someone tossed Elmo to Bryant Gumbel on The Today Show. His response sparked a craze that resulted in stampedes, fist-fighting moms, $7100 Elmo auctions due to the limited supply and unexpected sky-high demand.
My oldest daughter, Amanda, was two at the time and loved all things Sesame Street, especially Elmo. I had no illusions. Tickle Me Elmo was not in the cards for her that Christmas. No one I knew would be able to get their hands on one and there was no way I’d cough up $500+ for an Elmo doll, no matter how much it laughed.
So you can imagine my astonishment on Christmas Eve when our little family went to see my Omama and Opapa. They were so excited they sparkled more than the tree. Everyone swapped presents—aunts, uncles, cousins and all, after the requisite singing of Silent Night, both in English and German. But the room went still when Amanda’s turn arrived.
Yup, you guessed it. She tore off the wrappers to reveal a plush red muppet who giggled even louder than Santa. We all squealed with shock and delight—how had they managed it?
As soon as things settled down, Opapa told the story of how he came to buy this most coveted toy. Omama had seen The Today Show episode and was determined that her only great-grandchild should have Elmo for Christmas.
All the traditional stores in and around Lexington, KY were sold out. So Opapa contacted damaged goods stores. I can’t imagine how many he called, searching for Tickle Me Elmo, leaving his name just in case a few happened to fall off a truck and end up in that store.
Finally, he got the call he’d been waiting for all season long. A shipment had come in, just a few Elmos in barely dented boxes. He raced to the store and picked out the perfect gift. After buying it, he tucked it into his jacket so he wouldn’t be mugged in the parking lot. I can just see him, ducking his head over a tell-tale bulge, casting shifty looks at strangers. He brought the toy home and Omama wrapped it. Both kept the secret, although they were fit to burst.
So what do I remember now? The unbridled glee in their eyes when Amanda opened her gift, the enthusiasm with which Opapa told the tale. Above all, I remember the love that drove them to such great lengths to find something special for my child, and by extension, for me.
It’s been eighteen years and every time I run across that toy, now rumpled and quiet, I have to smile. It’s not that I wanted Elmo so badly. It’s not even that the toy is super amazing. But it’s what was behind the gift.
The gifts we give at Christmastime are found in many different ways—homemade, store-bought, or sought after like a piece of lost treasure. What matters most is what these gifts represent, the love and abiding affection behind them.
And here’s a gift for all my readers this Holiday Season.
What is a favorite Christmas gift you’ve given or received?Photo credit: Muppet Wiki