Memories of a Favorite Holiday Gift

Memories of a Favorite Holiday Gift

In researching Christmas customs for my latest release Darcy and Elizabeth Will’s First Christmas, I learned that in Regency times Christmas gifts were not the custom between grownups, however a child might receive one special toy. That got me to thinking about my own childhood and memories of my favorite Christmas gift.

I should preface the story by simply saying that my mother spent her time finding devious ways to be cruel to her daughters. Most people are blessed with loving mothers; we were not. My sisters and I did receive one gift for our birthday and one for Christmas—but the present always came with the same unhappy ending.

For my seventh Christmas I asked Santa Claus for a bride doll. I hoped it would look like the pretty lady in my parents’ wedding portrait. I imagined the doll might be as beautiful and sweet as the slender figure encased in a white satin dress, standing and smiling, at my father’s side in the picture.

Christmas morning arrived and Santa Claus had surely visited our apartment, as there under the tree was a doll-sized box. Trembling with excitement I opened the white package and found the doll of my dreams. She wore a white dress that clung to her body and fanned out at the bottom revealing tiny white slippers with a touch of silver on each toe. Her brunette hair was styled just like my mother’s hair in the portrait.


I treasured that doll for the five days of our Christmas holiday from school. I slept with it and never left it out of my sight, because any loved gifts would always disappear within days of receiving them—never to reappear again.

Being a child of smudges and scabs, while playing wedding with the doll, I accidentally put a spot on the her left arm. The odd shaped crescent stain would not come off her porcelain skin. It was a sad event, but worse was yet to be.

The day came when it was time to return to school. I could not take the doll with me, so I tucked it carefully under my pillow. I knew in my heart that it would disappear like the few other toys that had passed through my hands, never to be seen again. I sat in my first grade class that day with a lump of anxiety wedged in my throat. Would there be any chance that my lovely bride doll might be there when I returned home? Silently I prayed to everyone, including Santa Claus.

After school I raced up the stairs of our apartment building, rushing to the bedroom I shared with my sisters. Carefully, fearfully, I lifted my bed pillow aside. My heart fell with an empty thud—my bride doll was gone! I searched everywhere in the hopes I was wrong. But then with tears dripping from my eyes, I asked my mother where my doll was.

“The bride doll is on the top shelf of the hall closet,” she said.

The hall closet was like the black hole of treasured gifts. No toy ever returned from the hall closet. “Why?” I begged to know.

“I’ll decide when you are old enough to have it,” she said, smugly.

I was never old enough to have it, but only because it meant so much to me. Many times I would pull-push a chair into the hall and climb up trying to see that top shelf. But I could not see so high into the darkness of the closet. I soon grew wise enough to know the doll was not there. The closet shelf was a way station for toys that meant too much to my sisters and me.

A few years later, we visited out-of-state cousins who were almost strangers to me.

There in my cousin’s collection of dolls sat my bride doll. The crescent shaped smudge on the doll’s left arm confirmed the empty ache I felt. There was nothing I could do except wait until my cousin was not looking, and then I kissed my bride doll goodbye.


I would love to hear of your favorite gift from childhood. Do you know where it is now? Please share your memories.

If you should ever come across a bride doll in an antique shop or on eBay, and she bears a crescent-shaped smudge on her left arm, please contact me.

Peace, love & laughter,

Barbara Silkstone

Newest Release: Pride and Prejudice Regency Christmas Variation

Darcy and Elizabeth’s son Will celebrates his first Christmas with his twin cousins, Charles and Fitz Bingley. Join in the felicity at Pemberley as Darcy revives an old family custom, while little Will begins to learn the joy of giving. Along for the fun are Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Georgiana, Lydia, and three attentive nursemaids. And of course, it wouldn’t be a comedy without Caroline Bingley.







30 Responses to Memories of a Favorite Holiday Gift

  1. Sorry, but your mother was sadistic! I cannot imagine treating any child in that manner. I am not going to tell about a gift but about an event. My father used to for several years while we were very young take home movies (8 mm) of us coming in the door to where the tree and gifts were. My brother came in the door naked as he had a bed-wetting problem so he had taken off his wet clothes and was too excited about getting to his gifts to take the time to get dressed. He was very young.

    We were allowed to wish for 3 gifts within a price range. Then the rest were usually clothes that we needed. We were a blue collar working family and there was not a lot of money to go around. BUT we had to write Thank-You notes (as we grew older and could write) to each relative who send a gift. Sadly that doesn’t seem to be the practice for gift-giving in these days.

    Like others I hope you found a mother-substitute somewhere along the line in your life. I worked with Children, Youth and Families as a caseworker for many years so I agree that there are many who are not cut out to be parents. I always said there should be a requirement for a license to have children vs. the marriage license. Both are nice but parenting is the MOST important job in the world! IMHO

  2. My heart is breaking for the child you were when the doll disappeared. I hope Christmas is not too difficult a time for you.

    My favorite gift came from a child. When my daughter was probably 6 or 7 she wanted to give me something really special. Her dad traveled about 80% of the time back then and, while I wasn’t working I was volunteering in school and being a girl scout and cub scout leader and she felt I worked too hard. She wanted to give me enough money for a “fancy” dinner out. She took all the money she had, and did chores so she could earn more money. On Christmas morning the biggest present always comes last and this year it was my turn. I opened an envelope addressed to Mommy and inside was $50 a note written by her explaining what she wanted me to do with the money. She even said I wasn’t allowed to take her or her brother to this “fancy” dinner. I could not tell you where we went but I can tell you exactly where that envelope and note are.

  3. I deeply believe some people were just not cut out to be mothers. I just hope you picked up a surrogate mother somewhere along the way. I had a couple! Most of my gifts from childhood were books and sweaters. We didn’t do Christmas gifts in the family so usually it was the sweaters I got from my aunts and then books from other people which always made my soul happy. I do have a very happy memory attached to a childhood gift though it was a birthday gift. When I was 14 my mother decided I was old enough to be trusted with my own stereo and I got one with TWO tape decks and a record player. I could record a record onto tape or tape myself singing or tape from the radio…I was big time!! LOL I kept it way into my twenties when everything was coming out on the brand new compact discs.

    • Stephanie, You are so right. Some women are just not meant to be mothers. I am so happy you received such a delightful gift. I remember being able to lose myself in music. On one particularly bad day, I put on the little radio my father had given me. Tony Bennet was singing “Smile.” It was such a comfort, I felt he was singing just for me. Ever since that day, whenever I hear that song, I cry. Hugs!

  4. Barbara I am so sorry for your pain. Your post brought back memories of a Christmas that I will never forget. I was about 7 and my sister 9 and we wanted to buy our mother a red coat (red was her favorite color) we saw on sale at the store where she worked. My father bought it for us to give her and we presented it to her on Christmas. In hindsight I guess she didn’t really like it for she never thanked us. What she did was start an argument with my father (nothing unusual there), grabbed up the coat and promptly returned it to the store the next day. I remember being so hurt but she never said anything about it to us, No explanation whatsoever. It is funny how some hurts never go away, isn’t it. I feel your pain and pray that some day your doll with show back up. Hugs.

    • Oh Brenda, I am so sorry! What a hurtful story. Why don’t grownups realize that whatever is going on between them; their children are not involved? You and your sister had your hearts invested in that red coat, and for her to never thank you and then to return it is so painful. So cruel. 🙁 Giant hugs!

  5. Barbara, I am so sorry about your bride doll. She is very lovely. Sadly, I don’t remember any of my gifts from childhood.

    • Caryl,Thank you for your kind thoughts regarding my bride doll. In a way, it is just as sad for you not to remember any gifts from childhood. I am sure you had lots of lovely toys, but for some reason none of them resonated. I wonder why?

  6. Barbara, that is such a sad story. I hope you were able to find someone in your life who could do all the mothering you missed out on growing up. That would be better than any doll–but I hope someday you get your doll back too!

    We didn’t have much growing up, but after thinking hard I do remember one toy that thrilled me for months. It was The Little Professor, a hand held game that would give you a series of ten math problems to solve. You could pick from four difficulty levels and I was quite proud of myself when I would get all ten questions in one set right. Sadly, it did nothing for my math skills today. 🙁 But I remember that it was as popular in its day as the Cabbage Patch kids would be later, and my mom went to a lot of trouble to get it for me.

    • Elaine, Thank you. What a fun gift. I don’t remember seeing the Little Professor but I imagine it must have helped some children with their math skills. You sound like me…it would have taken a most amazing toy to help me with my conquer. I do remember the Cabbage Patch kids. Who could ever forget the stampede they caused in parent-ville? 🙂

  7. Well damnation Barbara, you’ve brought tears of sadness to my eyes. It’s so brave and loving of you to share such an unhappy childhood memory, but I’m so grateful that you did. Despite the unloving mother you had, you’ve grown into a beautiful, talented woman, and I’m so happy to have found your wonderful novels. Have a HAPPY holiday!!!!

  8. I’m sorry your mother was so malicious.

    My Christmas memory was not on a gift received, but a gift given. My father read a book called Houdini Paper Magic which had two origami animals in it. He learned how to do the bird, but could never figure out the frog. He said that he probably spent thirty hours over the course of several years trying to make the frog. Someone gave me a book on origami, and with added experience, I did the frog. Since I did it a couple of days before Christmas, I wrapped it and gave it to him, along with whatever else I bought. It was the most appreciated Christmas gift I ever gave and it cost me a piece of paper.

  9. My heart goes out to you for having to endure a cruel heartless Mother!! I’m not close to my own Mother but she wasn’t cruel like that.
    I suppose my favourite Christmas toy was a doll I called Mary. She had a blue polka dot dress and white shoes and socks. She also had long brown hair. She is sitting on my dressing table in a doll size cane chair as we speak. Her clothes are long gone but I was always knitting and crocheting new ones for her so she is well dressed. I practiced hair dressing on her when I was young so her fringe is gone also. One eye doesn’t work properly anymore either. She’s 52 years old this year and I would’t part with her for the world.

    • Teresa, Mary sounds so sweet. Imagine all the love contained in her little doll heart. Knitting and crocheting for our dolls was such a fulfilling pastime. Sorry her one eye doesn’t work…but she is loved and that is all that counts. 🙂

  10. Barbara,

    I read your story about your stolen lost bride doll with an achey sort of tightness in my throat. What a cruel thing to do to a child.

    My favorite Christmas gift memory also has to do with dolls – or rather, a doll house. My sister and I shared a bedroom in the basement, and the room on the other end of the basement was where my dad had a workbench. One year, we could hear him working late into the night almost every night leading up to Christmas – cutting, drilling, pounding nails, sanding, etc., but both my sister and I were forbidden from going anywhere hear the workbench. I recall peeking through some shelving and seeing something large with a tarp over it. When the sounds stopped, we could smell the paint. On Christmas morning, there it was, a large, four room dollhouse with stairs that led from the kitchen and living room up to the two bedrooms. Dad had nearly finished it. (It never did get a chimney.) My mother had made some of the furniture and “upholstered” other items. My sister and I already had the dolls. Many, many happy hours were spent playing with that dollhouse. When I married and moved away, I always thought I would be coming home to get it one day when we had a bigger place, but then my dad was transferred to Arizona and I was living in California – my sister was away at college, and my mom gave scads of furniture away to relatives to downsize for the move. She couldn’t remember who got the dollhouse. I was really, really sad, but took some comfort in the hope that at least it was a relative who had it.

    Fast-forward 8 years, and my husband and I were returning to Utah from California. My brother was looking to sell his home at the time, so we took a trip to Utah to look at the house and decide if we were going to buy it. There, in a corner of the basement, was the dollhouse. My sister-in-law, thinking she may someday have a daughter, had taken it from my mom’s giveaway. I was overjoyed that they had it. My SIL had three sons and after the third, had her tubes tied. I, on the other hand, had a four-year old daughter who loved dolls. My brother generously offered to give me the dollhouse back and I gratefully agreed. I returned to California to finish packing and make the move. My sister-in-law was jealous that I had a little girl and angry that my brother had given me “her” dollhouse. She promptly donated it to a local thrift store, and it had been gone for weeks by the time I returned to Utah. When I saw the empty corner in the basement, I asked my brother where it had gone and he was surprised that it was gone. She hadn’t mentioned her “donation” to him. I’m sure it was snatched up nearly as soon as it hit the thrift store. (It was still in good condition.) I sincerely empathize with your hope that someday you will come across that bride doll and be able to reclaim her. I have a similar sort of hope myself.

    • Diana, What a story. I am sitting here with tears in my eyes. I was so excited to hear you had rediscovered the dollhouse. How painfully petty some people can be. I ache for you and the loss of the dollhouse. Perhaps my bride doll is happily married and living in your dollhouse. One can hope…

      (I love dollhouses!)


  11. Oh how sad. I can’t believe you had to go through that. If I could find one I would happily send it. We didn’t have a lot when I was a child but at least I got to keep my gifts. I think my favourite was a walkie talkie big doll which my dad mended several times over the years. Belinda survived until my niece and nephew as children were fighting over her and pulled her head off! The dolls hospital couldn’t fix her so my own daughter never got to play with her but I still have the one I bought her but she has 2 little boys and my son has twin boys so she might have to stay in storage. Thanks for this post and I hope all your Christmas and Birthday gifts are now yours to keep ?

    • Glynis, What a sweet story. Was your walkie talkie big doll like Chatty Kathy? I remember her. It is so traumatic when someone beheads your favorite doll. 🙁 Thank you for the well wishes. Happy Christmas!

      • I had my doll in the fifties and if I held her upright and moved her from side to side her legs walked and if I laid her down and picked her up she said Mama and I loved her..i really hope you find your doll someday.

  12. I hope someday you will come across your bride doll and that Christmas has gotten better for you as an adult. My favorite memory of a holiday gift is an Atari game system. It was a joint gift for me and my siblings and we were all so excited to play it that following our meal, my dad set it up and the whole family (parents included) took turns playing it the rest of the day.

    • darcybennett, Aww…how sweet. It is extra special when the entire family can enjoy a gift together. Thank you for sharing a lovely memory.

    • Jen, Thank you. She’s sitting in some antique shop somewhere…
      You didn’t mention your favorite gift. ?

  13. Barbara, if I could I would give you a huge hug. Your Christmas memory is heart-wrenching. May you be blessed with love and kindness for the rest of your life, my beautiful friend.

    My most memorable gift was a huge tome of a book called Aesop’s Fables. The wide spine was red, the front and back covers were made of a pretty paisley print… and the stories! Oh, my. The book was a Christmas gift from my aunt. I was about eight years old at the time. I still have the book. It is one of my greatest treasures.

  14. My goodness, Barbara, that’s a terribly dark memory to have of Christmas. It’s a wonder you can write such light-hearted works now.

    For reasons which escape my memory, two of the things my sister and I always wanted were a desk-and-chair set each and a toy typewriter each. We received them at successive Christmases. Our parents didn’t have a lot of money way back then so there was no possibilty of getting both together but they always used to get us something we called “a bonus present” too, which was always a surprise. One year, probably the year Santa brought the typewriters, we unwrapped a mysterious parcel containing some colourful printed canvas and a lot of metal rods. It turned out to be a “wendy house” that we had to erect by constructing the metal frame and then covering it with the canvas. It became our “Office” as there was just enough room for the desks to fit inside. We spent many happy hours in there, both inside the house in winter and in the garden in warmer weather.

    • Anji, That is so darling for many reasons. A Wendy House! My goodness. And typewriters and desks! Do you think perhaps you were set upon an author’s path at an early age? I can so imagine the many happy hours you spent playing office. How delightful.

  15. Oh, Barbara! What a dark memory! I wonder that you write of Austen rather than the Brontes. I may be accused of having a spotty memory, but for one or two exceptions, I don’t remember wanting a specific gift. However, when I was 12 I wanted a “grown-up” record player. I felt I was way beyond players with pictures of Cinderella on the lid since I wanted to dance to rock and roll. In addition to the “grown up” player, my dad bought me a Chubby Checker album, not because he wanted me to dance The Twist. Rather there was a song on it called “Your Feets Too Big”: you see, I hadn’t yet grown to my adult height and my feet appeared to be too big for my body. My father was always finding things like that to tease me. But I did The Twist anyway, and was good enough to win a dance contest and a ribbon declaring me “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas”.

    • Katherine, How cute! I can understand how the music would sound more grown-up without Cinderella gracing the cover. I remember that wonderful transition from Disney to rock n’ roll. Your dad and his teasing reminds me a bit of Mr. Bennet. laughing I do not remember that classic… “Your Feets Too Big.” I must google it. 🙂 Congratulations on winning that dance contest. Good for you!

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