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from jesus to sears
ghosts of christmas past conjured by flickr packrat
by jeffrey d. walker
pop culture

My family celebrates Christmas. Christmas, of course, is "an annual holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus." But I'm not a Christian. I wasn't taken to church growing up. I was never baptized, confirmed, or any of those other rights of passage for any religious sect. I did not talk with others about Jesus or Christianity, and generally had little cause to dwell much on the subject of religion at all.

Still, I understood that Christmas was a religious celebration. There would always be a manger scene in my grandmother's house (at least). I had relatives that worked for churches who would openly discuss the religious nature of Christmas. If from no other source, I at least had the record and book version of A Charlie Brown Christmas that I listened to I don't know how many times growing up, in which the meaning of Christmas is explained by Linus:

Still, the story of the birth of Jesus didn't appeal much to me. I had no context, no frame of reference within which to care about Jesus. I suppose it would be sort of like someone going on and on about Darth Vader to you if you were completely uninformed and generally uninterested in the Star Wars trilogy. You'd probably say something like, "that's interesting" while trying to change the subject, or figure out a way to excuse yourself from the conversation altogether.

So, being Jesus-indifferent, Christmas for me held other meanings. When I thought of Christmas, I'd think of things like: Rudolph, trees, Santa, elves, Elvis, and hot dogs. But above most all else, Christmas for young Walker was about presents. What child celebrating Christmas can help but think about the presents?

And for me as a child, there was a process that occurred each year prior to the getting of Christmas presents. Around Thanksgiving, I'd be handed a stack of department store catalogs that I was asked to go through and indicate which items I may want for Christmas. Without hesitation, I would flip right to the end, because that's where the toys were almost always located. When I was very young, I'd simply point to the items I wanted. As I aged, the oral list was replaced with a written one, with each Christmas wish carefully indicated by page and item number, so the would-be shopper could get exactly what I wanted.

By way of the department store catalog, I tried to shape my Christmas destiny. As such, it turns out that the department store catalog, itself, has taken up residence with Santa and all the other images I associate with Christmas in the recesses of my brain. I didn't know that, though, until December 5, 2007, when one of my favorite websites, Fark.com, posted a link next to the headline: Remember your childhood holiday checklist? The 1982 Sears Christmas Catalog. Toys start on page 9.

With the point and click of a mouse, my bygone list-making ritual was recalled. I'm fairly certain that these were the very pages I perused in 1982, as seven-year-old Walker made his Christmas list. I bet I asked for the cars and trucks on page 599, perhaps the Hungry Hungry Hippos game on page 622 if I hadn't gotten it previously, and I probably would have taken all the Dukes of Hazzard stuff on pages 602 and 603. I'm sure whatever I asked for, it seemed very important at the time.

The same guy who put up the 1982 Wishbook on Flickr has been tediously uploading catalogs from a range of years. Looking over comments by others, I quickly realized that I am not the only person who holds the department store catalog as an icon of Christmas time. I'm not saying that any of these folks might shout "catalog" before shouting "Jesus" in a word association game about Christmas, but at least for some, the department store catalog holds a place in the Christmas tradition.

Apropos of very little, it turns out that since the mid 1990s, there was no Sears Wishbook for kids to look at in making their Christmas lists. But after a fourteen year hiatus, Sears brought back the Wishbook for 2007. I'm not sure how many kids looked at it, or if the Wishbook will continue into the future. But, at least for this year, I an resting with the firm assurance that there will be a few under-fourteen-year-olds for whom the Sears Wishbook will henceforth be associated with Christmas, just like me.


A practicing attorney and semi-professional musician, Walker writes for his own amusement, for the sake of opinion, to garner a couple of laughs, and to perhaps provoke a question or two, but otherwise, he doesn't think it'll amount to much.

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tracey kelley
12.19.07 @ 9:18a

I didn't order Christmas gifts out of Sears, but I did sit down with the JC Penney catalog and design my house, page by page.

For years, I did this as a young girl as a way to pretend I lived somewhere else and when I moved there, I could shop for anything I wanted. It was pretty fun.

rawls !!!
12.19.07 @ 9:47a

The Sears catalog was where I would pick out weird stuff like a giant soccer game where the soccer field is a big green sheet and the players were these weeble wobble things, no one ever played it with me. Them Dang Duke boys, I'd just buy that during the year....oh and a big hockey game, I picked that out of the catalog and that was way better than the soccer game!

lucy lediaev
12.19.07 @ 12:38p

I made paper dolls from the lingerie models in the Sears catalog. The process consisted of pasting the selected catalog page onto a piece of cardboard. I let the paste dry; it was always lumpy and loose. Then, I cut around the model. The real fun was designing a wardrobe for the models. I was familiar with the Sears Christmas catalog before it ever became the "Wish Book." Nonetheless, it was there for wishing!

heather millen
12.20.07 @ 4:23p

Great recall, Jeff. I loved the WishBook, it was the highlight of the catalog year. I remember sitting at my grandmother's house, in the corner next to the magazine rack (I was too excited to walk to more appropriate seating) and writing my list.

Trace, I also designed my house page by page in that same corner. I somehow thought that was just an odd quirky thing only I did. I believe it even made its way into my rehearsal dinner toast! Fun!

maigen thomas
12.20.07 @ 11:19p

I think I one-upped the weirdness: I used to cut out the things I liked, draw the outline of my 17 room mansion and proceed to actually decorate it with the cut-outs. What a lonely, lonely nerd I was :)

jeffrey walker
12.21.07 @ 12:28a

M.T., we're writing and posting on a website. Each of us are lonely nerds in one way or another.

robert melos
12.21.07 @ 5:11a

I did the same as you in the late 60s and early 70s. Ironically I don't particularly like catalogs like Fingerhut, but I still pick up a J.C. Penny catalog every year, and sometimes pick up the Sears catalog also. Those offer a feeling of comfort.

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