Monday, December 27, 2021

The Toys Of Christmas Past

Putting aside the true meaning of Christmas, over the years, for many adults like myself, the excitement over the Holidays is oftentimes overshadowed by endless duties like shopping for gifts and attending family gatherings. While ultimately all these are blessings in themselves, they can get rather exhausting. But for most kids, Christmas is definitely the highlight of the year for one simple reason they get gifts! And to be more specific, toys! So with that in mind, I thought that it would be a worthwhile exercise for me to end the year with a post reminiscing and recalling all my favorite Christmas gifts I received as a kid all those years ago

Saturn Robot

This guy is probably the earliest Christmas toy that I can remember that made a major impression on me. It was a gift from my mom and dad. And while it doesn’t look all that great nowadays next to a Transformer, back then this was the most amazing toy my four year old self ever laid his eyes on.

Standing around 13” tall, he was pretty big. And he was motorized. When turned on, his huge red eyes would light up and he would start walking forwards at a slow deliberate pace. And every now and then he would stop to flash some sort of psychedelic movie on a screen on his chest. Oh and to top it all off he had spring loaded missiles on his head! All in all, it was a pretty basic toy, but it kept me captivated for hours on end.

Christmas In The Stars

When people usually think of Christmas and Star Wars, the dreaded Holiday Special that was originally aired in 1978 is what usually comes to mind. But did you know that a couple years later, a full Star Wars themed Christmas record was released as well? “Christmas in the Stars” featured Chewbacca, C3-PO (voiced by original actor Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 and a bunch of other droids and guests singing original Christmas songs. While you would think that this would be a trainwreck like the Holiday Special, Christmas in the Stars apparently did fairly well. Its most popular song “What Can You Get A Wookie For Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb)” actually reached #69 in the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1980. Yes it was all mostly cheesy compositions…but for a 4 year old, it was the coolest record I had ever listened to for quite some time.

Anyway just a bit of trivia that I learned while reading up a little more on this album. Christmas in the Stars actually featured the very first professional recording of Jon Bon Jovi. Credited under his real name John Bongiovi, he sings lead for the song R20D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

If you are curious, Christmas in the Stars continues to exist digitally and can be found on Spotify :)


When I first opened this guy up, I honestly didn’t know what to make of him. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that he was a primarily diecast robot immediately won me over. I just had no idea who he was, and the Spider Man picture on his box didn’t really help explain things.

So apparently, back in the late 70’s Japanese company Toei acquired the rights to produce their own live action Spider Man series for television. But aside from the name and the Spider Man costume design, there was really nothing else in common with this series and the original Western world incarnation of the wall crawler. Gone was Peter Parker and in his place was Takuya Yamashiro. And he piloted a robot known as Leopardon which he used to battle giant monsters.

Anyway it was on one Christmas that I got my hands on said Leopardon robot as a gift from my ninang (godmother). Her gifts were almost always a Christmas highlight for me growing up.

Stratos and Zodac

And speaking of cool gifts from my godmother, It doesn’t get any better than what she gave me on Christmas of 1981! As far as He-Man characters go, Stratos and Zodac aren’t what you would consider top tier. But back then I knew nothing about Masters of the Universe, all I knew was that I held in my hands this cool looking flying monkey dude and some sci fi looking guy with demonic feet. And they both stood taller than any G.I.Joe and Star Wars figure in my collection which automatically made them stand out…literally.

More importantly though, these two figures served as my official introduction to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Which like most kids who grew up in the 80’s can attest to, served as one of the major tentpoles of our toy collecting childhood.

Popcorn Maker and Ramjet 

Aside from new toys, growing up, Christmas also meant that our family would be complete. As a kid, I had an older sister who studied in the States and so the only time I would really see her was when she came home for the holidays bringing some cool gifts with her of course.

One Christmas she gifted my brother and I an instant popcorn maker, which basically blew our minds. You see back then, microwave popcorn didn’t exist yet and we were used to popping our popcorn seeds in a pan over a fire. So this cool looking appliance was a game changer for us. We could now make popcorn ourselves without the help of an adult. Unfortunately, my sister tried to surprise us by popping a fresh batch of popcorn while we slept in on Christmas morning and accidentally plugged it in the wrong outlet and well…fried the popper. So yeah we never actually got to eat any popcorn from the maker. Oh well, it was the thought that counted I guess.

Anyway, on another Christmas she gave me a Transformer, the Decepticon conehead Ramjet. In the grand scheme of things, Ramjet really wasn’t on my list of must have Transformers. But he was a genuine Transformer and that was good enough for me.

Cobra Commander With Battle Armor

By the Christmas of 1987, I was a full fledged G.I.Joe collector and I thought I had seen it all. That is until I opened up the gift from my older brother. My initial reaction was a bit of confusion as the packaging clearly read G.I.Joe, but the figure looked more like he came from Star Wars. And then I read his name….”Cobra Commander with Battle Armor” and I was blown away!

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By this time, Serpentor had taken over leadership of Cobra, with the Commander getting the ceremonial boot. I wasn’t a big fan of this change so getting a new Cobra Commander toy only meant that my favorite raspy voiced leader was coming back in a big way! And I really dug his new shiny silver and blue look, it was love at first sight.

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As an added bonus, this new Cobra Commander also meant even more G.I.Joe characters and I was blown away with all the new action figures that were pictured at the back of his card. Who would have thought that just a solitary figure would be the cause of so much excitement!

H.A.V.O.C. and Tomahawk

To this day the Christmas of 1986 was probably the peak for me for Christmas toy hauls. It was the Christmas wherein I received, not one but two brand new G.I.Joe vehicles that I was completely not expecting. That year, two of our close family friends from the States were visiting Manila for the holidays and of course, they came bearing gifts.

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You can imagine my surprise when I was handed two sizable gifts both with my name on them. So I proceeded to open them starting with the slightly smaller one. Anyway I know I keep talking about blowing my mind, but this time, my mind was truly blown…twice.

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In my head, the H.A.V.O.C. (Heavy Articulated Vehicle Ordnance Carrier) and the Tomahawk were sort of like two of the “big three” new vehicles featured in the new wave of G.I.Joe toys that were released that year. I already had one, the Conquest X-30 jet and I figured that would be it. Never did I imagine that I would come to own all three of them! This was definitely a dream come true for me!

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And if that wasn’t enough, the cherry to this super sweet G.I.Joe sundae was being able to lord them over my friends and seeing them drool over my new prized possessions for the next few months.

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OK so the last two aren’t exactly toys but they definitely belong on a list of some of my favorite gifts of Christmas past.

Jovi the Turtle

Growing up, I was lucky to have a good variety of pets in our house. My dad was a firm believer that every family with kids must have a dog, so we had two. We also at different points had ducklings, chicks and maya birds which were mostly give-aways from children’s parties. And of course we had fish. But one Christmas, my other sister gave me a new pet that I had not been expecting….a little turtle, which I named Jovi. Jovi was a common slider turtle (ok if you want to be more accurate, he was a terrapin, which meant he could live both in and out of water) who was around an inch and a half in size. He came with his own little terrarium which he was constantly trying to escape from.He actually did manage to escape once in my sister’s room where she kept him before Christmas. Fortunately she managed to find him before anything bad happened to him.

Anyway, it didn’t take me long to warm up to Jovi. As he grew, I would let him swim in the bathtub and even later on let him swim in our pool. I know, in retrospect, letting him swim in chlorinated water was probably not a good idea, but he seemed to enjoy the freedom. He would lazily float on the surface, and then dive down 5 or 6 feet underwater. I would follow him down and meet him at the bottom of the pool, stick out my hand and he would swim to it and I would lift him back up to the surface.

Jovi lived for around a couple of years growing to about 2 or 3 times his original size. And in that span I got a couple more turtles (Jimmy and Mo) to keep him company, but he outlasted them all.

The Giant Book Of Dinosaurs

Finally, while this last gift was definitely not a toy, I would have to say that receiving it was one of my best Christmas memories I had as a child. In 1988, my mom took me Christmas shopping, not for a gift for me, but for a gift for her inaanak (godchild) who was around my age. Anyway we went to a bookstore where I spotted this pretty big Dinosaur book (I was a huge dinosaur fanatic back then). I leafed through the pages and was completely mesmerized by all the amazing pictures in the book. I basically couldn’t put it down and when my mom saw this she said that it would be perfect for her inaanak.

Anyway, in the days leading up to Christmas, I just couldn’t get that book out of my mind, and I would occasionally sneak into my mom’s closet to continue reading the book. Anyway, I guess you know where I’m going with this. Come Christmas, my mom hands me my gift which looked suspiciously similar in size to the Dinosaur book I had coveted since I first laid my eyes on it. I hurriedly opened it and there it was….the Dinosaur book that was supposedly for my mom’s inaanak was really for me!

That was over 30 years ago, and while all the other gifts I wrote about in this post are long gone, I still have that book with me. Even though the information in the book is now mostly outdated, the memories tied to it make it one of my most cherished possessions to this day. And now I get to share the book and all it’s cool illustrations with my own daughter!

And that’s pretty much it. As I grew up, the number of gifts I'd receive would gradually decrease, but that was perfectly OK with me. I’ve found a new joy seeing my own daughters experience the same Christmas happiness and excitement I had all those years ago as they open their own gifts these days. That’s really what I believe life is all about. We learn about love and happiness from the older generations, and then grow up to pass it on to the next one. And it goes on and on and on.

Merry Christmas!