Ask anyone about their childhood Christmas memories, and there’s likely to be a special Christmas morning gift that springs to mind. For me, it was the giant box I saw under the tree with my name on it when I was about 7 years old. As I remember it, the gift—delivered from my aunt, who lived out of state—sat under the tree for days and days and days. As my mom told her, the gift was most likely only there for a few hours. I can still remember how excited I was to rip off the wrapping paper and discover Barbie’s hair and makeup head.
My daughters remember opening many video games and consoles over the years, which was exciting because they promised hours of fun during the following non-school days as they played their new games. Recently my mom told me it was the most memorable childhood gift. She wanted Barbie’s dream house, which was too expensive for Santa. Instead, on Christmas morning, I opened a beautiful replica of Barbie’s dream house that my grandmother had painstakingly handcrafted out of cardboard boxes, paint, wood screws, and plastic wrap.
Toy store owners have these memories too, and often keep them in mind at this time of year when they stock their shelves with toys that will become children’s Christmas morning memories.
Board games and family traditions
Board Game Barrister owner Gordon LeGuire often extols the virtues of board games for encouraging family togetherness. Appropriately, his favorite childhood gift is associated with toys and family.
When Lugauer was in middle school, he was an avid Dungeons and Dragons player. He also liked to read a series of D&D novels, which included an inn where the characters would meet and eat together.
“This Christmas I was given a cookbook with recipes that are supposed to be dishes served at the inn,” said Le Goure. “It was a lot of fun reading, and I was at an age where I was just starting to cook things, so I made a number of recipes.
“One of the recipes was for soup, and it’s become a holiday staple that my mom makes every year. She’s made it for about 35 years at this point.”
And in terms of holiday gift games, “It’s a great year for party games,” Le Goure said. Here are some of his favourites.
wave length: Lugauer said that this game is similar to the Uber-popular Codenames game in that teams give clues to each other to try to “read each other’s minds” to figure out a word. The twist in this game is that the clues have to be on a spectrum between two concepts, such as hot or cold or science fiction and fantasy.
Connect Team: In this game, cards with words are placed on the table. The players then look at their own cards to see which of their words seem to be related to the first. After playing all the cards and building connections, the players team up to see if they think of the same word. “It’s more like a brain teaser,” Le Goure said. “It’s a fun game.”
Confident?: Le Goure said this is one of his favorite party games. “It’s a game of trivia where nobody knows the real answer.” Teams are asked questions where the number is the answer such as “How many teeth does the T-Rex have?” The trick is that each team answers not with a specific number, but with a range. “As long as the correct answer is in range, you get a point so you can play it completely safe and give wide ranges,” said Lugauer. “But, if the answer is within your team’s range and that was the narrow range guessed, you get extra points.” “
Fun facts: This cooperative game is best played with people who know each other well or people who are getting to know each other. “Everyone is asked a question about themselves, on a scale of 1 to 100 say, How angry would you be if you didn’t get enough sleep?” Le Goure explained. “Then each person has to decide if their answer is higher than that of the other players, and when everyone’s answers are in a line, they are revealed to see if you got the sequence right.”
Lively mornings and exciting games
Natasha Luce and her husband, Zach, own Cedarburg Games. They both have what Natasha describes as “cheerful, lively” Christmas morning memories.
Loos said her husband was seven or eight when he hoped to get an Optimus Prime Transformer, and he almost cried when the toy was under the tree on Christmas morning. And she was the same age when she wanted a Cabbage Patch doll.
“That year was the year that Melphagy Patch went mainstream,” Luce said. “My parents didn’t have a lot of money and they were hard to come by, so I wasn’t sure I was going to get one, but when I saw it under the tree, I was like, ‘This has to be it,’ and as soon as I opened it, I was thrilled.”
Here’s what Loos recommends for kids’ play this holiday season.
Pokemon Cards: “Pokemon fluctuates so much,” Loss said. “We have some really cool box sets that I know kids who are lucky enough to get will be like, ‘Oh my God! They will definitely trigger that emotional reaction.”
Playmobil sets: Cedarburg Toy Company carries many Playmobil sets, including everything from wild animals to fairies and unicorns to knights and castles. Loos said many of the sets are also on display so people can see what’s in the box — though Loos also admitted that she and her husband like to open the boxes and set up the displays because they enjoy playing with the toys so much.
Drafting kits: “A lot of people think our store is for younger kids, but I love when we get something that big kids can do and adults can do too,” said Luce. “I’m really excited about our new crafting and sewing kits. They’re so pretty, you can keep them for yourself or give them as gifts.”
Memories of classic games and some suggestions
Maria Luther, owner of The Smiley Barn in Delafield, remembers the Christmas she got one of her favorite toys. “It was LightBright. I know it’s been around for many years, it’s a classic, but kids still enjoy it,” Luther said. “It was the happiest memory for me.”
Luther predicts that these games will provide happy memories for children.
Tony Box: “It’s a sound player that you put hand-painted figurines on top of the box, they have magnets and a satisfying click. Each figurine plays songs or stories or both. Kids love that,” said Luther. “Last year, the Tony box was popular, but it’s starting to gain traction now that some of these figurines are completely collectible.”
shachibu: “It’s a cube the size of a baseball. It opens up into 70 different shapes. It has a satisfying fidget toy aspect, but it’s also a puzzle and it has magnets inside,” said Luther. “And you can buy more than one, group them together, and create more looks.”
Plasma balls: “They’re classic and have been around for a long time. They’re clear plastic balls with electric current. When you put your fingertips outside, you see an arc of electricity reaching your fingers,” Luther said. “It’s great for a large age group. Even adults enjoy it at their desks.”
ice molds: “It’s a lot more intricate and intricate than you usually see it, so it’s going to get a little more fancy when you’re carving your own snow castles,” Luther said. “It’s not just about making bricks; it’s about building more complex or complex structures.”
Bittersweet memories and relaxing games
Christmas morning is often a merry one, but sometimes toys just don’t live up to our hopes and dreams. This has been the case for a year for Matt Paulson, co-owner of Wauwatosa’s Ruckus and Glee.
“I always spent Christmas with my cousins, and they always got the best toys,” Paulson said. “Highlights one year where my cousin got a handheld electronic football game, and I spent most of the day looking over his shoulder watching him play. By the end of the day, I only got to play it once.”
Although Paulson says his envy was misplaced because he’s been given so many good Christmas gifts over the years, it’s true in his words that “Christmas can be bittersweet.”
When moments are not as happy as we want them to be, we often seek relief; Paulson is seeing this trend in many of the popular games this holiday season.
“A lot of the games that have become popular during COVID deal with comfort and things that make people feel good,” Paulson said. “Kids have had a really hard time, and we’ve seen an increase in buying things like stuffed animals and toys.”
Anirols: “Soft and squishy stuffed animals are great. They’re cute and funny, and they’re usually wrapped in a ramen noodle box or a soup package or something,” said Paulson. “They’re great for decorating rooms and something to sleep with, too.”
Fidget Slugz“The frets are still great. This one makes a really neat clicking sound when you play with it,” said Paulson. “A lot of YouTubers and Tiktokers who are into ASMR like these because they make a really soft clicking sound.”
if you go
Lawyer board game
Mayfair Mall location: 2500 N. Mayfair Road, Wauwatosa; At the northwest entrance to the mall, next to Macy’s on the first floor
Bayshore location: 5789 n. Bayshore Drive, Glendale, next to the Cheesecake Factory
Cedarburg Games Company
W62 N583 Washington Ave. Cedarburg
The Smiley Barn
2420 Milwaukee Street, Delafield
Ruckus and Glee
805 North 68th Street, Wauwatosa