The Book of Christmas Wishes
Before the internet and online shopping, we had the Sears Wish Book
When I think of Christmas from my childhood, I remember The Book.
I'm sure you know what it is.
In the late 1970s and early '80s, my friends and I couldn't wait to get our grubby little hands on it. Because in those days before the internet, the Sears Wish Book was as close to online shopping as any of us could ever get.
When it would arrive — seemingly as thick as the telephone book — I couldn't wait to flip those pages and see all those wonderful, amazing toys! Back then, if you wanted it, and parents could buy it, it usually appeared inside. I'd mark up what I wanted, circling items and then dog-earing the pages (I didn't want my mom to miss anything. She was my connection to Santa, after all).
Now as an adult, I realize what was so much fun about looking through the book was not so much all the toys I would get, but rather, the possibilities.
The Beginnings of the Sears Wish Book
Sears began printing and distributing their first catalogs back in 1933. That's also the year that the "Sears Christmas Book Catalog," which would eventually be known as the Sears Wish Book, came out.
The book featured toys such as a Mickey Mouse watch, Lionel electric trains, and a Miss Pigtails doll, among others.
For many decades, the Sears Wish Book became children's go-to for hopes and dreams of the Christmas season.
For many decades, the Sears Wish Book became children's go-to for hopes and dreams of the Christmas season. And although I would bet most of us thought the whole thing was toys, the front of the book actually featured gifts for adults — the nerve!
Much like the Grinch's heart at the end of the story, the Sears Wish Book grew and grew from a few hundred pages to its largest size ever: 834 pages of fabulousness in 1992.
In 1993, Sears discontinued their regular print catalogs. The Wish Book wasn't far behind. It continued to shrink in the number of pages. In 2005, the company put out a tiny book in its place that was given out at Sears Auto Centers. Measuring a measly 2.5 inches square, the "Little Big Wish Book" was a pitiful imposter of its once-grand forebearer.
In 2007, the company put out another Sears Wish Book, but it was only about 100 pages, a mere shell of its former self. Then in 2017, wishbookweb.com reported that it was coming back.
Oh the joy! How great would it be for new generations to flip through those pages. Everything old was new again!
Um, but it was mostly online. And that was the final time it appeared.
Today, there are only a few Sears stores still open. What was once the leader in retail may soon be completely gone.
Reliving the Dream
When trying to recapture my memories of the Sears Wish Book I went — where else? — online. To my surprise and delight, I was able to page through old catalogs on Christmas.Musetechnical.com.
Suddenly, I was lying on the red-patterned carpet in my childhood home or sitting in the basement of my friend Sandy's house, as we looked through a book (we each had our own copy) and practically squealed at all it offered. In my mind, I was back there wondering what gifts we'd each get from Santa that year.
While perusing the catalog as an adult, I recognized the Spyder girl's bike with the white basket with plastic flowers all over it. I had that exact bike and rode it around the neighborhood proudly until I hit my teens, and it wasn't cool anymore.
There were pages and pages of dolls of all kinds — Baby Alive and Crissy, the doll whose hair you could make grow by pushing a button in her tummy (then you had to crank it back into her head with a switch on the back) but we were kids, a time when such a thing was absolutely amazing.
While my other friends wanted baby strollers or infant dolls to feed, I was focused on another kind of doll — Barbie! In a closet in my basement, I still have some of the Barbies that I desired back then—Malibu Barbie with her rocking blond hair, cool shades, and light blue bathing suit. I also have Barbie's Country Living Home and Barbie's Sleep 'n Keep Case, which featured two twin beds (which I'm sure are made of cardboard and covered in plastic) that folded down.
Unfortunately, Barbie's Country Camper — that bright orange van with a fold-out plastic tent — bit the dust during a flood in the basement of the first home my husband and I owned.
I miss that van. And as Christmas rolls around, I miss the Wish Book too.
Wish Book Fans Share Their Memories
I asked folks on social media what they remembered about the Sears Wish Book. Here's what some of them had to say:
"We lived in Alaska during the mid-sixties when my dad was stationed there in the Air Force. In those days, retail was very limited up there, and the Sears catalog was how we got Christmas presents. It was also our lifeline to 'The Lower 48.' It was beyond huge." – Bruce Cunningham
"I loved it. It had clothes and toys. I would dog-ear the pages. I used it to write my letter to Santa, complete with item name and page number." – Lauren Szczepanski Mueller
Upon reading Lauren's post, Lynn Yeager Comegna replied, "Me too. I never understood why Santa needed the page numbers, though."
"It was practically my Christmas prayer book." — Ann Cunningham
"They sold burros and ponies and saddles and tack. I wanted a pony, but that wasn't going to happen." – Carol Ekarius
"As kids and teens, we loved the Sears Wish Book! We would go through it, circling things we each wanted for Christmas. There was a Sears delivery office on Main Street. Months later, after a new Sears catalog had arrived, we would cut out some of the models and some of the clothes to make paper dolls with many changeable outfits," says Joan Giannone. "We even cut tabs on the shoulders and waists to fold over the model so the clothes would stay on. We also were thrilled if there was a picture of a bed — so we could cut a slit in it by the pillow, and insert the paper doll so it looked like he/she was in bed."
"Gosh, I loved that book. Don't know how I managed so much time with it, being one of four kids, but that thing was marked up, dog-eared, and revered like a happiness Bible." – Christine McDonald
"Most of my dolls came from the Christmas Sears Wish Book. It was my Barbie headquarters! I would go to the mailbox every day, starting December 1st, looking for the catalog. After we got one, I would spend days going through it, dog-earring the pages I wanted Santa to see. I was given some pretty cool stuff from Sears: Barbies and accessories, Dawn fashion dolls, Troll dolls, and Kiddle dolls. They had board games too —Twister, Life, and Battleship. Some great Christmas memories!" — Diane Lyn
"There were more dog ears in that book than the city pound! That was like the Holy Grail at Christmas."
"Oh, it was a holiday! It would arrive, and we would sit down and go over every page. I remember the smell — the cheap, shiny pages with 'Technicolor hues.' The girls my age in miniskirts and white boots and lipstick! It was several inches thick and was more of a delivery issue than for a phone book. I bought one for 50 cents about 10 years ago. It was from the '70s — wow, that was an ugly decade — and it provided hours of hilarious reading."— Denisa Protani
"There were more dog ears in that book than the city pound! That was like the Holy Grail at Christmas." – Christopher Erhardt
"My favorite memory was definitely going through it, dog-earring the pages of the things I liked, and writing my list. I remember helping my little brother do the same thing when he was old enough. Our lists were always pretty long, so it was always a magical surprise on Christmas morning." – Katie Elloff
"Sitting with my Mimi (grandma) the evening it came and going page by page with her, circling the things I wanted and the things I thought my cousins/sister would like. Its arrival was a big deal."
– Dean Massalsky
"My favorite memories are that 1.) it would come in September, and the countdown to Christmas would start in my head then and 2.) I would immediately turn the book over and go through it backwards because all the toys were in the back." – Wayne Zahner
"Getting it in the mail was a red-letter day. Of course, it was looking at all the toys and entertaining gadgets, dreaming of which one would be best. Sears always made that easy by rating each item 'Good,' 'Better,' or 'Best.' It just seemed like that toy section went on forever, and I always had a rich and full list for my parents to forward to Santa." — Darryl Musick
"My favorite memory was lying on the floor with my sisters, dog-earring the pages of the toys we wanted. My parents always shopped from the catalog because we lived in a small town—Effingham, Illinois. My mom finally got a job in the local shipping storefront when I started first grade, and she got us each our own Wish Book. It was the best memory of my childhood. I remember picking out a pair of blue, slip-on tennis shoes, and my mom took me to the store, opened the package, and I got to try them on and wear them out of the store. It was the best. Mom said they would make me faster since they were from her work. I loved those little shoes." — Valerie Worley
"It occurred to me when the Amazon Toy Book arrived [in the mail] with its toy ads and stickers and word searches that it must be the new 'Wish Book.'" – Bonnie Jean Feldkamp
And just like that, everything old is new once again.