12/13/2012 12:20 EST | Updated 02/12/2013 05:12 EST

Remember, Toys Are Not the Meaning of Christmas


There's a local campaign in the Greater Toronto Area sponsored by the good folks at the Salvation Army and promoted daily on a local television station, in most cases by one of the most insufferably manic weathermen one is ever likely to see on television.

The campaign is called Toy Mountain, and people of all ages and socio economic standing gather in local meeting places, most often in malls, bringing in gifts of new toys that will, we are told, be distributed to children in need. The underlying theme is that there can be nothing worse than for a kid to wake up on Christmas morning without a toy under the tree.

If there's a tree at all in their house. Or if there's a house. Or food. Or stability. Not to worry.

This is not about the contradictions of the holiday season and the evils of materialism and how Christmas has become so commercial. That's a given. We already know the economics of it. Especially when the bills start arriving in January.

It just occurred to me that any parent (myself included, times three) will tell you that one of the daily rituals of being a parent is about cleaning up their own toy mountain that the kids leave scattered around the house. In this country, toys are not in short supply. The interest in even the most sought after toy is short lived. There is always something newer and better to want.

To be the object of their desires. I mean, don't kids learn that from their parents? And especially from TV?

A clip on the news I saw was especially telling -- an interview with a mall Santa Claus. "You'd be surprised," says Santa, "how many three-year-olds want an iPhone for Christmas."

It brought me back to a still-vivid memory from my own childhood, to the days before I had even entered school. My mother had these thick, dark curtains to cover the front windows in the modest house I grew up in. And I used to go in behind them and look out the window and play games with the most prized treasure I had: a small plastic soldier.

It would fascinate me for hours, and I played out scenarios and got lost in my own dreams and fantasy lands. And I was happy, because the greatest toy I ever owned was my own imagination.

I tried to instil this in my own children, by not overindulging them with loads of gifts. By engaging them in discussions about the world around them. Teaching them to read. Not relying on schools for their education. But no generation has ever been so inundated and targeted by crass commercialism. How can they not be affected?

Lying on his deathbed in Xanadu, Citizen Kane, the man who had it all, who was about to die alone, thought back to the one thing that truly made him happy -- a simple sled: Rosebud.

Perhaps Orson Welles, in his genius, was telling us all we need to know in such a simple yet profound way. That in the end, our happiest moments have always been the simplest ones. And no amount of toys, or lack of them, will change that. I'm no Scrooge, I like giving gifts, when and where I can. That's the world we live in.

But for some reason Rosebud continues to stay in my mind.

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