With parents causing so much carnage in pursuit of that elusive PlayStation 4 on Black Friday (so much so that the day is under threat of being rechristened “Bloody Friday”) it’s only natural to wonder what has happened to Christmas. And when, for the record, did kids stop wanting toys under the tree? Pretty recently, as this infographic by Abby Ryan Designs makes clear.
Called 50 Years 50 Toys, chances are your eyes will be drawn to the coveted toy that you had wanted as a kid. (I zoomed in immediately on the Optimus Prime that I longed for in 1984.) But there are larger trends at play here: this infographic tells a story about how electronics conquered Christmas.
Kids wanting gadgets for Christmas isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. It’s been happening for almost 50 years. From 1965, the classic Milton-Bradley surgery game Operation is one of the first must-have holiday toys to have circuitry inside. At the time, Operation’s popularity was a bit of an anomaly: for the most part, kids continued to want regular “analog” toys up until 1984, with a few exceptions such as the Lite-Brite in 1970, Simon in 1978, and the Atari 2600 in 1979.
It’s not until Nintendo releases the original NES stateside in 1985, though, that electronics become the default hot gift of the holiday season. In fact, over the last 25 years, only seven years have seen an analog toy become the most asked-for item for Christmas: as a rule, an entire generation of children has grown up asking Santa for gadgets with circuits and chips inside them.
Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen a more dramatic change in the kinds of presents kids want. Kids today don’t want toys: they want computers they can play games on. In the last decade, eight of the 10 hottest holiday toys were basically gaming devices, and the outliers were all robots. The last purely analog toy to hit it big was 12 years ago, in 2001, and unbelievably, it was a toy that could just as well have been sold in the 1950s: a pogo stick.
The trend is clear. Over the years, responding to demand, Santa has increasingly scaled back operations in his North Pole workshops in favor of far-east sweatshops. Whether or not something of the innocence and wonder of Christmas has been lost in that transition is a matter of perspective. At least kids today aren’t literally getting rocks for Christmas, as they did back in 1975.
One thing that can not be debated, though, is that buying your kid what he wants for Christmas has become much more expensive in the last decade. There was a time, not too long ago, that you could buy your kid a $15 doll or action figure and make him or her happy on Christmas morning. Now, it takes a couple hundred bucks or more.