ColumnistsLife After 55

Catalog Dreamin’ (On Such an Autumn Day)

By Michele Bazan Reed          Email:

Father and daughter perusing a shopping catalog. Photo: Getty Images

Ah, autumn with its crisp air and even crisper apples, its brilliant leaves rivaled only by the colors of the cozy sweaters we don eagerly at the first cool day and — my favorite part — the glossy catalogs that fill our mailboxes with tempting holiday gift ideas.

Now, I love internet shopping as much as the next person and do my fair share of clicking “Buy It Now. “

I love that we can read reviews of a product or see all angles of it with a 3D view. On some sites you can virtually place a sofa in your own living room or “try on” a pair of glasses.

All this convenience and technological whiz-bangery is fine for everyday purchases, but during the run-up to the holiday season, there’s nothing like settling in with a nice cup of hot cocoa and a stack of Christmas catalogs. Nothing gets me in the holiday spirit faster than perusing page after glossy page of beautifully photographed and exquisitely described gifts for every member of my family.

And it turns out I’m not alone in this obsession.

An informal survey of folks yielded several who shared my pleasure in these glossy temptations.

“It always gets me in the holiday mood,” said Leslie B., who was disappointed that there seem to be fewer catalogs this year as merchants rely more on websites to sell their goods. “The illustrations give me ideas for how to decorate for the holidays and projects I can do.”

Sherry S. agreed. “I love to bake and cook, so I will spend an hour going through one of those catalogs. And of course, the toys for the grandkids,” she said. “But my favorites are the Christmas decorations and ideas. I’m big on decorating for the holidays.”

On the other hand, some folks shoot the catalogs straight into the recycling bin.

“Into the ‘90s I kept a foot high stack of catalogs organized alphabetically,” said Julie B. “I only get a few catalogs nowadays and mostly they go in the recycling pretty quick. For Christmas I often order from Harry & David and look at the catalog for ideas before going online to order.”

Sears Wish Book published in 1975. According to the Sears Archive, the company’s first Christmas catalog debuted in 1933. It was part of American Christmas tradition.

“I receive many catalogs, especially during the holiday season,” said Bernadette McS. “Ninety percent of the time, I carry them from my mail slot directly to our recycling bin. But for that other 10 percent, I skim through them, dog ear the corners to the pages that contain things I might consider buying, and then a month later, I put them in the recycling bin and forget about the items.”

The granddaddy of all Christmas catalogs was the Sears Wish Book and people have special memories of this part of American Christmas tradition.

According to the Sears archive, the company’s first Christmas catalog debuted in 1933. A Mickey Mouse watch, Lionel trains and dolls (“Miss Pigtails” was a featured item) made it not much different than the books later generations would grow up with.

At a mere 87 pages, the 1933 edition was but a shadow of the 605-page 1968 Wish Book.

People called the regular Sears catalog the Wish Book long before 1933, but then the name stuck to the holiday edition, which was graced with covers depicting Santa and starry-eyed children. In 1968, Sears made the name official.

Sears stopped publishing the Wish Book in 2011, except for a smaller one-off version in 2017.

But the memories live on.

“The fondest memories, when our two boys were young, were when the Sears Wish Book and JC Penney Christmas catalog full of toys arrived. There was usually a struggle between the boys to get the catalogs, so we would have to find an extra catalog so they each had one. Grandma was good for that!” said Linda B. “The boys would hum Christmas songs as they pored over every page and circled everything they wanted!”

My son, Mike, eagerly awaited the Wish Book’s arrival, carrying it into his bedroom and marking the pages of toys he wanted with little strips of paper torn from his loose-leaf notebook. “I remember thinking each year, ‘Maybe this year it’ll be all toys,’ but it never was,” he said.

“We grew up enjoying the Sears catalog. We four kids all made our wish lists from it. I did the same with my three children,” said Noreen G.

And it wasn’t just catalogs that captured our imaginations.

Jerry B. remembers, as a young boy in the late 1940s, starting in November, waiting each night for his dad to finish reading the Oswego “Palladium Times.” Once his dad was done, Jerry would check out the Christmas ads for toys, all of which had pictures of Santa.

I was ready to bemoan the fact that future generations won’t have the fun of making their lists this way, when one respondent reported that Amazon now has a toy catalog and she sends her 9-year-old daughter off with the catalog and a pen to mark her favorites. “It even has word games, mazes and stickers,” she added.

So whatever you’re shopping for this fall, take the relaxing way and enjoy some catalog dreamin’. Just don’t forget to recycle!