24 retro Christmas toys from the past that we had to have

‘Twas the chaos when all through the land, panicked parents stopped at nothing to get their hands on the latest festive craze. Michael Hogan lists the 24 toys we had to grab.

Christmas toys from the past
Don’t come home without one! The Cabbage Patch Kids craze hits the UK, causing mayhem at London’s Hamleys in 1983. Image: Staff/The People/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

1. Slinky

This simple-but-clever metal spring (below) appeared to perform tricks, like walking down stairs or levitating. Ubiquitous during the 60s and 70s, it was a rare example of a truly unisex present. As the TV advert said: ‘It’s a wonderful toy… fun for a girl and a boy.’

2. Girl’s World

This 70s ‘make-up and hair-styling model’ was a plastic doll bust with flicky blonde hair, suction pads on the base to hold her still and a veritable armoury of accessories. Sheer glamour. Going anywhere nice for your holidays, babe?

3. Tamagotchi

Japanese toy maker Bandai’s hand-held gadget allowed 90s kids to look after a crudely pixellated ‘digital pet’. Well, until you got bored and forgot, causing it to die with little crosses for eyes. The name translated as ‘egg watch’, fact fans.

4. Cabbage Patch Kids

A round-faced phenomenon, by 1984 20 million of these squishy dolls had been sold worldwide. each came with its own name and birth certificate, while the price was called an ‘adoption fee’ – creepy now but cool at the time. There were news stories about how they caused punch-ups between parents at toy shops – always the sign of a classic Christmas craze.

5. Furby

Basically a 3D Tamagotchi, these fluffy robo-pets caused ‘Furby fever’ in the late 90s. They even seemed to learn language skills, talking to each other in ‘Furbish’ and, over time, to their owners in English. Sinister.

6. Spice Girls Dolls

I’ll tell you what I wanted, what I really really wanted. No girl-powered late-90s childhood was complete without owning the bestselling celebrity dolls of all time. Collecting the full set was the dream but which to go for first – Baby, Scary, Sporty, Posh or Ginger in her Union Jack dress?

7. Mr Frosty

Cashing in on the popularity of Slush Puppie drinks, this cutesy early 80s gadget claimed to let you make your own at home. The snowman-shaped ice crusher came with flavourings, moulds, cups and ice trays. The drinks were ultimately disappointing.

8. Rubik’s Cube

This evilly addictive 3D puzzle (above right) was the world’s bestseller in the early 80s. The craze spawned books on how to solve it, ‘speedcubing’ tournaments and different shaped spin-offs, including the Rubik’s Snake.

Christmas toys from the past
Getty Images


9. Robosapien

Parents cursed Jonathan Ross in 2004 when he said: ‘Kids, if you wake up on Christmas morning and don’t have a Robosapien under the tree, your parents don’t love you.’ Cue a clamour for these £79.99 robots.

10. Etch A Sketch

Like a sort of prehistoric iPad, this mechanical 60s drawing toy had a red frame, grey screen and two white knobs to twiddle. Experts could draw amazing things on them. All we ever managed was our name, a smiley face and something rude. Quick, shake to clear it – Mum’s coming!

11. Big Trak

During the 80s, it was only the rich show-off kid in your class who owned this programmable six-wheeled sci-fi tank. It made you hate him more. And desperately want one, too.

12. Sylvanian Families

These furry 80s favourites came in traditional family sets all with old-fashioned outfits, jobs and homes. Nobody questioned why woodland animals were wearing suits and ties. That would spoil the fun.

13. Cadbury’s Chocolate Machine Money Box

Back in the 80s, your very own vending machine seemed impossibly thrilling. The mini blocks of Dairy Milk were a bit of a rip-off but the sheer joy when they dropped out made it worthwhile. Besides, you weren’t spending, you were saving.

14. Buzz Lightyear Action Figure

After Pixar’s first Toy Story film broke box office records, demand for the space ranger spin-off toys went to infinity and beyond. A shortage in 1996 saw the coveted £20 Buzzes fetching £100 on the black market. We always preferred Woody anyway.

15. Tickle Me Elmo

This red Sesame Street plush became a late-90s fad, changing hands for hundreds on Ebay. When squeezed, Elmo vibrated and emitted his trademark giggle. Bit annoying after a while, to be honest.

16. Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle

This 70s playground tribute to the US daredevil had to be cranked up via the ‘energiser’ before releasing the Evel figure on his white plastic motorbike to perform death-defying tricks. Inevitably, he just fell over.

17. Care Bears

In the mid-80s, you couldn’t move for these multicoloured teddies with ‘belly badges’. Originally designed for greetings cards, they spawned soft toys, which led to films, games and a TV series. They lived in Care-a-lot – you know, near the Forest of Feelings.

18. Polly Pocket

These plastic compact cases opened to form a doll’s house or playset, populated by miniature dolls. A 90s stalwart but, sadly, their dinky size meant they were prone to getting lost/trodden on/eaten by the dog.

19. Fisher Price Chatter Telephone

A classic first made in 1962 and still going strong today. With its friendly face, blue wheels, red receiver and dial for shoving chubby fingers into, it was irresistible to pre-schoolers from ye olde landline era.

Christmas toys from the past
Alamy Stock Photo


20. Bop It

Twist it! Call it! Pass it! Hasbro’s addictive audio game has been constantly upgraded since its 1996 release without its popularity ever waning (30 million have been sold worldwide). Like a reboot of 80s classic Simon, you follow commands as the pace gradually increases. Futuristic fun.

21. Mouse Trap

One of the first mass-produced 3D board games, back in the 70s Mouse Trap looked cartoonishly cool. Unfortunately, building the Wallace and Gromit-style contraption was way more fun than the actual game part. It rarely worked first time either.

22. Sodastream

‘Get busy with the fizzy!’ went the 1979 advert. This carbonation kit meant you could make your own fizzy pop at home. Except it wasn’t as tasty, plus your parents soon got grumpy about buying endless gas canisters and syrups.

23. Operation

Adam’s apple! Spare ribs! Funny bone! Oops, bzzzz! Every 70s kid fancied playing surgeon with those tiny tweezers, trying to remove organs from patient ‘Cavity Sam’ without making his red lightbulb nose glow.

24. My Little Pony Dream Castle

Friendship is magic! Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash and their luxuriantly maned, cutie-marked pals have been a firm fave since the 80s. This impressive playset was the ultimate accessory, strictly for spoilt princesses only.