Here’s a collection of ancient newspaper ads, all with a Christmas flavor. May they fill you with nostalgia and joy and maybe Swiss Miss.
Candy Canes and Ninja Turtles! (1991)
Family Dollar was hardly the first place gift-givers would’ve hit while hunting for TMNT figures, but even the least-likely chains knew better than to sail through the biggest shopping season without the top dogs. (Or top turtles, in this case.)
Note how they photographed Mikey and Triceraton over a sheet of cotton “snow.” Whenever my mother bought a similar snow sheet for her ceramic nativity set, I earmarked it for faux-wintry action figure adventures. (Like my Hordak figure didn’t already have enough trouble standing.)
McDonald’s Gift Certificates! (1988)
McDonald’s gift certificates were some of the secretly-best things to give out to trick-or-treaters, but they were also awesome in Christmas stockings.
I don’t know what today’s kids think of McDonald’s, but when I was young, a trip there was on par with a trip to Toys “R” Us. Hell, sometimes it was even better.
Don’t picture a little boy getting a certificate for free fries and thinking, “Oh. Great. Free food even though I never pay for food anyway.” This wasn’t about that. Because of the gift certificate, that boy was guaranteed another trip to McDonald’s. It was as good as written permission to pester your parents about Happy Meals even if you were already at McDonald’s just yesterday.
After you opened your presents and life became boring again, knowing that you had a “Get Into McDonald’s Free” card was emotional Tylenol.
Christmas Cereals! (1990)
I’m featuring this supermarket ad because of the Christmas cereals, but I love how even the everyday food was photographed alongside tree branches and goofy ornaments.
I still get such a kick out of supermarket circulars at this time of year. They’re so freakin’ festive, and I dig how they always assume I’m ten times as socially active.
There could be a picture of bread, and the little burst next to it will be all, “HEY! SERVE THIS BREAD TO YOUR FORTY FRIENDS ON CHRISTMAS MORNING!” And I’ll just sit there smiling, imagining a better life.
Anyway, yes, even back in 1990, holiday-edition cereals were very much a thing. (In fact, Christmas Crunch dates back even further. Amazing to think that it’s managed to survive for literally 30 years. No complaints here!)
I was arguably too young to see Scrooged in theaters, but my parents never cared about such things. I left that theater feeling like I’d just seen the ultimate Christmas movie, full of monsters and nipples and the guy from Ghostbusters. That film was and remains the best.
In the second ad, note how Bill Murray is like ONE LITERAL INCH from Pinhead. I’ve mentioned this before, but the “movie pages” in newspapers were so exhilarating to me as kid. The ads were often dark and sleazy, and editors never seemed to care if they were right next to pictures of Roger Rabbit. I’d read those pages and feel like I snuck into a bar.
Bradlees Department Stores! (1987)
Oh how I miss Bradlees, the long-gone department store chain. Bradlees was basically Kmart, if Kmart was run by an elderly antique dealer who wanted everything organized just so.
The stores had a thousand quirks. They were always dead silent, irrespective of any crowds. They always smelled like burnt popcorn. The lighting was always jussst off enough to create a sort of virtual overcast. It felt like a bookless library mixed with a dead mall.
Back when I was in the 1st or 2nd grade, I had this crazy idea to buy everyone Christmas presents. I was still young enough to skip such reciprocations, but it sounded like fun. And that’s how over a dozen people came to receive $5 glassware sets, all purchased from Bradlees.
(Not one of them wanted or needed glasses, but I couldn’t turn down boxes that big for only five bucks.)
Cabbage Patch Kids at TRU! (1984)
I’m old enough to recall the Cabbage Patch Kids craze, even if only in a vague way.
My early ’80s Toys “R” Us visits were exclusively about Star Wars figures, but I remember how Cabbage Patch dolls were such a hot commodity that TRU kept them in that little windowed “room” at the front of the store — the one that looked like a cross between a Little League snack shack and Danny DeVito’s office from Taxi.
In-store brawls over the short-supplied dolls were so routine that they were often covered on news programs — a phenomenon that wouldn’t happen again until Tickle Me Elmo debuted more than 10 years later.
See that little “pledge” buried in the spread? That was TRU’s gentle way of saying, “We’ll try to get you your stupid dolls, but don’t be a dick about it.” (Keep in mind, this ad is from 1984, a year after the peak of the craze. They’d been to Hell once already, and weren’t about to take chances.)
The Star Wars Holiday Special! (1978)
Here’s a rare teaser for the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, which premiered before I was born. You’ve probably heard of it, for better and for worse.
I spent my entire childhood having no idea that it existed, and that even included my early “collecting” years, when I was gobbling up anything having to do with Luke Skywalker. I finally snagged a copy after discovering internet trading groups, and was just amazed that something so Star Warsy could stay hidden.
And I mean, sure, it’s objectively not very good, but since it was basically doing an extra-mutant version of the variety shows that were so popular at the time, I can at least see the logic behind the execution.
Besides, every misstep was worth it to make Bea Arthur a permanent part of Star Wars lore. Dale a tu cuerpo alegria, Ackmena.
Thanks for reading. Happy holidays from me and old newspapers.