1972: The First Christmas I REALLY Remember

TOYHEM 2022 wraps up with 13 presents that were under Anthony Durso’s tree 50 years ago…

Welcome to TOYHEM! For the fourth straight holiday season, we’re bringing you a series of features and columns celebrating the toys of our youth, which often made for the best memories this time of year. Click here to check out the complete index of stories — and have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah and Happy Holidays! — Dan


Christmas is that time at the end of the year where I get nostalgic for the Ghosts of Christmases Past. I was born in May 1967 and have always been known to have a very good memory for details and events and my own personal pop culture chronology going back to somewhere in 1970 (circa the impending arrival and then birth of my baby brother, Jeff, in November 1970). At the time we were on Williams Street and I remember living and playing there. It’s where I first ate Sir Grapefellow and Baron Von Redberry cereal. It’s where I was introduced to Sesame Street, Dark Shadows, This Is Tom Jones, The Perils of Penelope Pitstop and Josie and The Pussycats. But the Christmases of ’70-71 strangely aren’t part of those memories. I can’t recall the holidays in that house. By 1972, we had already been living at East Garden Street for about a year and that’s where the Christmas memories finally start to click.

My mother has always stated that most of her Christmas shopping was done by November 1 each year. She was a big supporter of the Sears Catalog back then and would often go to the basement of the local store to pay her bill (while my brother and I sat, rolled and climbed on the carpet displays). So I’m assuming that’s how she got most of her Christmas shopping done so early… just order it out of the catalog. So after looking at the couple of photos of Christmas 1972 that have survived, along with scouring the 1972 Sears Christmas Wish Book and jogging the bits and pieces of my own memory,  I think I’ve been able to put together with some accuracy a list of what we received as Christmas presents that year, 50 years ago.

I’ve ranked them too:

13. Winnie the Pooh Grab-Bag Game.  Winnie the Pooh seems to be one of my first fandoms. So much so, that my mother made two Winnie the Pooh cakes (Wilton pans) for my birthday in kindergarten in ’73. I, of course, had the obligatory Winnie the Pooh bear (whose cracked and broken smile always reminded me of scabs) but there were also Pooh books, records, and clothing in our house. Pooh was the de facto mascot of the Sears Wish Book, as Sears was the exclusive licensee of Pooh product back in the ’70s. Walt Disney’s Winnie the Pooh Game was produced by Parker Brothers (the copyright inside the lid says 1964, but I’m assuming that’s Disney’s Pooh copyright and not that of the actual board game) and “designed for very young children” (ages 4 to 8) with “movement controlled by matching colors.” Players can choose from tokens of Christopher Robin (green), Rabbit (blue), Piglet (red) or Pooh himself (yellow). The Grab Bag has colored discs that are used to move tokens along the board, in lieu of dice. I’m sure it wasn’t too long before the little discs were lost and vacuumed up. ($1.99 retail)

12. Big Mouth Singers. This was marketed for ages 3 to 10. Even though my brother had just turned 2, this was one of his gifts. Produced by Child Guidance (and seemingly inspired by the Anything People on Sesame Street), the Big Mouth Singers were a colorful group of loud mouths who would open their yaps and sing a note when you pressed a corresponding key. It came with a color-coded songbook which most assuredly was never actually used. Instead we were content to just press whatever “LAAAAAAA” we felt like. ($5.99 retail)

11. Show ’N Tell (Compact Version). My first TV. Sort of. Show ’N Tell (from General Electric) was a record player with a view screen that would show pictures from the accompanying film strip. The library of stories was heavy on Disney characters and generic fairy tales. I’m pretty certain that Winnie the Pooh, Pinocchio and Mary Poppins were some of the selection I had. This was still being used as a record player, long after the actual Show ’N Tell gimmick had burned out. ($29.95 retail; $1.57 for one of the record/filmstrip programs)

10. Poppin’ Fresh. The Pillsbury Doughboy first appeared in 1965, created by ad agency Leo Burnett for Pillsbury’s line of refrigerated dough products (rolls, biscuits, cookies). My brother and I were particularly fond of Orange Danish, which had become a Sunday morning tradition by this point. So it was fitting that my brother got this for Christmas, being one of the first product spokesmen he probably identified with. Decades later, my oldest daughter would experience the same fondness for Poppin’ Fresh (whom she lovingly called “Doy Boy”). You can still probably find the little vinyl doll (produced by Pillsbury Playthings), dusty and grease-splattered atop kitchen cupboards or stoves across the country. ($1.39 retail)

9. Pelham Puppets. Pinocchio Puppets were everywhere when I was a kid. Sesame Street. Lamb Chop. Kukla, Fran and Ollie. And then there was Pinocchio. I had Disney’s Pinocchio in book and record forms. So my mother probably assumed I’d naturally be interested in my own Pinocchio puppet. What a nightmare this turned out to be. Pinocchio was an import from the UK, produced by Pelham Puppets. Whether it was actually licensed by Disney or not I don’t know. According to the ad copy in the Sears Wish Book, he’s an “advanced puppet… (with a) ceramic composition head.” Which means, when you inevitably drop him, his nose breaks off. And the strings have a tendency to get tangled very easily. I must’ve spent hours gluing and re-gluing his nose (and one of his fingers) and untangling his strings over and over. He finally was banished to the back of my closet for decades. Eventually, he appeared in my daughter’s closet and tormented her for years. Now he’s back with me, in my office closet, as I write this. I’m afraid to look over my shoulder… ($8.42 retail)

8. Matchbox Cars. I had a couple of Tonka Trucks (the car transport and a AAA tow truck) when I was young, but cars and trucks just weren’t my thing. They were my brother’s, though. He loved his Matchbox cars (a preference over Hot Wheels) and would carry them around in blue plastic cases and play with them in the sandbox in our back yard. I think it all started in 1972 when he got quite a few of them. Sears offered different assortments but based on what I remember him having early on, I think the “City Vehicle Set” is what he got that year. The emergency vehicles got more use than the construction ones, so much so that the decals were worn off pretty quickly. (12/$6.88 retail; 57¢ each)

7. Good Ol’ Charlie Brown Game. Peanuts was another early fandom, primarily through their push of TV specials sponsored by Dolly Madison. I had a whole set of “Charlie Brown ceramics” that my mother had made in ceramic class. The molds were boosted from the Hungerford dolls produced in the 1950s. So again, a board game probably seemed like a no-brainer to get me. This typical board game (produced by Milton Bradley) upped the ante a bit with 3-D cardboard stops along the way of historic Peanuts landmarks (Snoopy’s doghouse, Lucy’s psychiatrist booth, the pumpkin patch, Woodstock’s birdbath, kite-eating tree, and brick wall). The object was to collect the most picture cards of your character as you made it around the board. But much like Mouse Trap, the most fun seemed to be assembling the structures. ($2.99 retail)

6. Fort Apache. Playing “Cowboys and Indians” had been a thing since the 1950s and it seemed to be handed down through generations right up through the 1970s. Our house was no exception and both of our parents could often be found watching The Lone Ranger or other “shoot ‘em up, bang-bangs” as they often called them. That influence surely sparked my own interest, which continues today. So cowboy-themed toys were quite prevalent in my early years. Sears offered several of what they called “Heritage Play Sets” produced by Marx (including The Alamo, The Blue and the Gray, and Sons of Liberty) as exclusives in 1972. And then there was the infamous Fort Apache. Fort Apache was produced from 1951 until the Marx went bankrupt in 1980. Marx produced more Fort Apache playsets than any other they created and revised it countless times. The 54mm cavalry vs Indians figures battled across living room floors for decades. I played with this for hours and hours and it’s one of the grail toys I still wish I had. Fun Fact: One of the kneeling riflemen sat in the boat I had to race in 1976 for Cub Scouts. He lost the race. ($5.99 retail)

5. Western Town. A step up from Fort Apache was the “Western Town” that Sears offered, produced in West Germany by the Swoppet Company. Whereas the Marx army men figures were solid color pieces of plastic with no articulation, Swoppets were colorful figures that had waist articulation and could be pulled apart to “swap” torsos and legs. The Western Town that Sears offered included four buildings (Hotel/Saloon, General Store, Sheriff’s Office and the Bank). The buildings had swinging doors, hitching posts and horse troughs. The figures consisted of various cowboys and Indians, some of which were able to “ride” the horses. A covered wagon and a stagecoach were also part of the set. ($14.99 retail)

4. Sesame Street Puppets. I was an OG Sesame Street kid, watching since the show debuted in 1969. Records, books and a subscription to Sesame Street Magazine were early entries into the world of merchandise. The hand puppets, produced by Topper Educational Toys, were must haves when they were released in 1972. We got Ernie and Bert and Cookie Monster (sorry, Roosevelt Franklin) and TWO Oscars (which must have come from someplace other than Sears). In addition, I also got the deluxe 19-inch Big Bird puppet that had bendable, poseable legs and a hole at the back of his head that allowed you to manipulate his beak with two fingers. These puppets held up for years, although Bert eventually lost what little hair he already had and Ernie lost an eye. The skirmishes those two must have had in the toybox. ($4.99 each retail; Big Bird $7.87)

3. G.I. Joe: Recovery of the Lost Mummy. G.I. Joe was my first action figure, received for my fifth birthday in May 1972. I actually got to open the Land Adventurer with Life-Like Hair and Beard BEFORE my actual party, a rare occasion. By December, I was ready for more stuff. The Recovery of the Lost Mummy set was a Sears exclusive and included the mainline Secret of the Mummy’s Tomb set, the Adventure Team Helicopter and other miscellaneous items. I loved this set! Mummies were still big business in the ’70s and G.I. Joe was ready to dig in. ($14.49 retail)

2. G.I. Joe: Mobile Support Unit. The best G.I. Joe vehicle/playset that ever existed in my opinion. As much as I loved the Mummy set, this one edges it out and is my ultimate grail of lost toys. The MSU was an ATV with a detachable Support Headquarters. The HQ portion opened up in the back and had maps, monitors and computers to aid the Adventure Team in their many missions. In fact, the MSU box is subtitled “Search for the Radioactive Satellite”; the camera drone could be launched into the air to look for the satellite. A working spotlight and rotating radar dish adorned the top of the vehicle. This thing was huge and when Mego Batman eventually came along the next summer he was definitely jealous of it! Alas, the MSU and all of my G.I. Joe stuff was forcibly purged at a flea market to benefit MDA circa 1979. I still haven’t gotten over it. ($17.99 retail)

1. The Monster At the End of This Book. One of the greatest stories ever written. I actually got two of this Little Golden Book for Christmas ’72. One was from my kindergarten teacher (Mrs. Royce) who inscribed it, and the other was from Santa as a stocking stuffer. Starring lovable, furry old Grover, it’s the all-time best selling Sesame Street book (having sold almost 13 million copies since its original 1971 release) and was meta before meta was even a thing. I won’t spoil the plot if you haven’t read it. But if you HAVEN’T read it yet, you should be so embarrassed. (39¢ retail)


— The Complete TOYHEM INDEX of Stories and Features. Click here.

— 13 CLASSIC CEREALS That We Miss — RANKED. Click here.

Anthony Durso is the owner of Retropolis Tees and the custom toy-package website The Toyroom.

Author: Dan Greenfield

Share This Post On


  1. I had the G.I. Joe mummy set, good memories. You’re right, the detachable headquarters is great. Merry Christmas to you

    Post a Reply
  2. While I’m a bit older than You, I remember my “Fort Apache set quite well. Had it for ears until I went into the Navy in 1971. My Holy Grail is the Sears release of G.I. Joe Mercury Space Capsule…ANY version will do, but the price nowadays is “unearthly”! Hard to afford on Military Disability and Soc. Security. Merry Christmas none the less!

    Post a Reply
  3. I love the detective work used here to recreate your Christmas gift list from 50 years ago! I had a few of these items, including the Bert and Ernie puppets. My Mom also primarily shopped for our presents via the Sears Wish Book.

    When my wife was our town’s Children’s Librarian, she coaxed me into a public reading of “The Monster at the End of This Book” in my best Grover book, multiple times!

    Post a Reply
  4. The Sears Wishbook was Amazon before there was Amazon (Sears missed such an opportunity!). So many memories of circling what I wanted from it. I clearly remember the Bespin Han Solo figure that I saw in it for the first time and just had to have! Oh, and I love the Monster at the End of This Book!

    Post a Reply
  5. We were born the same year. What I remember about that Christmas was my parents and I had just moved from Oklahoma to West Germany (ah, the life of an Army brat!). That Winnie the Pooh game looks extremely familiar, I know I had the Poppin Fresh toy and the Grover book. I’m not sure if I got the Matchbox set or the cars separately, but that green Javelin (bottom row second from right) was one of my favorites. I think I still have it somewhere, too.

    Most likely I also got a set of cap guns, Tonka trucks (that I know I still have), and the first of my Big Jim action figures. I never thought about it much, but I wonder if they had the toys shipped over with our furniture or if they bought much of it over there.

    Post a Reply

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: