In 1983, when my wife was just a little girl, she wanted a Cabbage Patch Kids doll for Christmas. Her parents were unable to find one, but her grandmother apparently bribed a shelf-stocker at a TG&Y in rural Iowa to grab a couple.
In 1988, I desperately wanted the video game Super Mario Bros. 2 for Christmas. My father sat out on a loading dock behind a store for almost six hours, then bribed the guy unloading boxes with a $20 bill and five pounds of catfish fillets (my father was – and is – a small-scale commercial fisherman) to just put the game in his hands so he could go buy it.
In 1996, my niece wanted a Tickle Me Elmo. I was able to get one by going to a Toys ‘R’ Us store in West Des Moines, Iowa, waiting in line for three hours, then dashing for a huge display of them. I grabbed one, turned around, and tried to get out of the crowd when an old lady tried to actually take the toy out of my arms.
Why do this? For many of us, seeing the joy of a child receiving that one toy that they most want for Christmas is an enormous motivator. I know, certainly, that my best Christmas memories are of receiving that one toy I most wanted for Christmas, but I realize now that on some level, I realized that it was more than just the mere gift. I knew that my parents had gone through a lot of effort to get the item and make sure that I had it that year for Christmas, and I knew it was because they loved me very much.
In the end, I don’t really mind putting in a lot of effort to get that one gift that a child wishes for the most – I’m much more bothered by a mountain of gifts, as I’m a big believer in the idea of diminishing returns if a child receives a lot of presents. Thus, my gift-giving strategy usually is two or three great presents, period.
There are a lot of ways to track down that “it” gift each year:
Go shopping early on a Sunday morning. This is the time when most major retailers put out the items listed in their flyer, so if you spot a highly desirable item in a store’s flyer, you should get there early on a Sunday to procure it. I know that I used this strategy to get my Wii earlier this year.
Talk to the people in the store where you might find the item. Just ask when they usually receive shipments and whether or not they’ll be receiving a particular item soon. Even better, if you have a friend who works there, work out an arrangement where they can directly help you pick up the item (hopefully, it won’t involve you sitting out on the dock).
Call around. If the item is not sizzling hot, but a bit hard to find nonetheless, make it a routine to call a lot of local stores asking for the item on a regular basis. If they say it won’t be in stock, ask when it will be. If they don’t know, ask to talk to a manager. Sometimes, the item will wind up being ordered by that store.
Hit up Craigslist. Explain that you are trying to find a particular item for your child for Christmas and are looking for any pointers or people that have one for sale. This isn’t a guarantee, but there’s a decent chance you’ll find the help you need – but often at a premium.
The lazy solution: use eBay. For high demand items, eBay (and/or other online auction houses) is the best place to find a high-demand item – but you will pay out the nose for it. Stick with highly trustworthy sellers, too – again, you’ll have to pay a premium. However, in the end, you will get your item this way. This is definitely the lazy way to the solution.
What if you can’t afford or can’t locate that one item that your child most wants for Christmas?
Don’t make a big deal out of it. Bringing it up yourself and being upset about it will just stir emotions in your child. If your child is disappointed at Christmas, be simple but firm about it and just move on with life. If the
Find other items that the child wants. Never get in a situation where a child’s Christmas wish list consists of one item. Make sure that there are lots of items to choose from, so that even if one is a clear favorite, you still have many options.
Spend time with the child. Time is the best gift you can give, not a Nintendo Wii. Play a board game with your child, or take the child to a park, or just watch a movie together. That will mean far more to the child in the long run than a snazzy gift.
Thoughts and good stories about getting an “it” toy for Christmas are welcome in the comments.