The Wish Book was the first sign of Christmas

Published 2:52 pm Monday, November 28, 2022

The Thanksgiving vacation from school marked the beginning of the Christmas season in our home, like it was for most families. During those wonderful Thanksgiving vacation days from school, you could usually find my head looking through books. The first choice of books that lasted from my young childhood years through my teenage years, was the Sears and Roebuck Catalog called the ‘Wish Book.’ As a child, the Wish Book was the source of my Christmas dreams.

The Sears Wish Book was a popular Christmas-themed catalogue released annually by the department store chain and catalogue store, Sears and Roebuck in August or September. The catalog contained toys and other holiday-related merchandise. The first Sears Wish Book was published in 1934 and was separate from the other Sears catalogs. It was sent out annually ever since.  It made its appearance at our house right before school began in late August.

It was a gentle reminder for me and my sisters to monitor our naughty behavior. For us, Santa did not need to make a list and check it twice, to try to find out who was naughty or nice. All we needed for the Wish Book to show up in the mail.  I would spend countless hours looking at the toy section, and dream of having what I wanted to find under the Christmas tree. For two years I wrote letters to Santa and left them on the mantel in our living room requesting a Chatty Cathy Talking Doll. Chatty Cathy was the world’s first talking doll and she could ‘say’ about a dozen phrases when you pulled the string that was located in her back.  I never got a Chatty Cathy. I got a doll from McClellan’s Department Store that I had to do the talking for.

My most other requested dream item was a 10 can set of Playdoh in all the colors of the rainbow plus a few others.  Playdoh was magical stuff!  You could do all kinds of things with it. My favorite thing was to put in over the Blondie and Dagwood comic strip in the newspaper, press down on it, and watch the comics appear on the playdoh.  My mom remembered Playdoh when she was a child and said back then, folks used Playdoh as wallpaper cleaner.  I checked that out and found it was true. When the Playdoh-like product was first created in the 1930’s, it was intended to be used as wallpaper cleaner.

Playdoh gave way to record players in my teens, and Chatty Cathy lost out to cardigan sweaters and miniskirts that I could order from Sears.

The other book that I spent my Thanksgiving break with was the encyclopedia, attempting to do my first draft of a term paper that was due before the Christmas holiday break. Term papers usually ate into my Thanksgiving break all four years of high school.  Miss Spencer and Mr. Randolph, two of my English teachers, made sure that the hours dedicated to a term paper over to Thanksgiving break would be well worth my efforts. They took term papers very seriously!

This Thanksgiving, I went online to find old copies of the Wish Book and I truly enjoyed that walk down memory lane. I had a wonderful Thanksgiving and I hope you did too.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-founder and co-executive director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.