Merry Christmas in Ten Pieces

Some things haven’t changed in 75 years: In 1947, Robert Yoder wrote about parents on Christmas Eve frantically striving to put together toys that came in many baffling bits.

Illustration by Carl Rose (©SEPS)

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The Christmas Eve of 75 years ago in many ways resembled the Christmas Eve of today. There was a tree in the corner, stockings hanging from the mantle, and milk and cookies on the counter. After the children were put to bed, parents would pull the bicycles, doll houses, and mini-kitchens from their hiding places and get them ready for their appearance under the tree. And then, as now, they confronted those dreaded words: “Assembly required.”

In his article that appeared in the December 20, 1947, issue of The Saturday Evening Post, Robert M. Yoder bemoans the state of the instructions:

They are written in the special language of directions, a mechanical gobbledegook achieved by writing the directions first in Ruthenian and then allowing the translation to curdle. A stop sign from the same mumbling pen would take 200 words.

As he progresses, piece by piece, in the assembly of the last-minute gift, the outcome becomes more and more grim. With the end in sight, the instructions suggest that

‘It may be necessary, for best results’ — meaning, to make the thing work at all — ‘to enlarge aperture in Arm Y. This can be done quickly and easily by using a 16.3 metal file without tang, a 13-oz. dinging hammer, and some Australian-canoe-builders’ flux.

Finally, the task is complete: “If it holds together until Christmas afternoon, you will be agreeably surprised, and a glance at the clock tells you that won’t be long.”

To all of the parents confronting this Christmas Eve nightmare, take comfort in the fact that you weren’t the first parents to face the baffling instruction demons, and you won’t be the last.

Read “Merry Christmas in Ten Pieces” by Robert M. Yoder from the December 20, 1947, issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Become a member for digital access to 200 years of issues.

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Comments

  1. As if the Holidays aren’t stressful (and horrible) enough already, to add this on Christmas Eve is unthinkable to me. “If it holds together until Christmas afternoon, you will be agreeably surprised, and a glance at the clock tells you that won’t be long.” Said with an absolute straight face, it’s most likely true.

    Working on the base of the tree so it’s tight enough from all 3 sides once inserted to properly hold it is one thing. I’ve done it, but usually by the 12th of the month. To have to do that at the last minute and put together ‘assembly required’ kids toys gets into insane territory.

    Thank God those banana seat bikes with the chopper handle bars required no assembly (just money) from the bike shop, nor did my Hot Wheels race tracks other than a few snap togethers. Mattel’s Thingmaker, Creeple Peeple, the groovy Flower Thingmaker my sister loved, outlawed today, naturally. We just opened the boxes, plugged it in, let the melted plastic get extremely hot, and away we’d go, making all kinds of things.

    Artificial trees reigned in my house. I went a little overboard at 3 with the new ‘flocking’ for the Christmas tree using the vacuum cleaner in reverse. It was never done again, thus the silver slot-in branched fake tree. Oh yeah, several years later Mom got her hair ‘frosted’ when she thought it was phony just weeks earlier. Same with mini-skirts. Contradicting herself was one of her most endearing features, but not to my Dad. What can I say…?

    Today I just have a nice small tree with mini-lights that’s just right for the condo. I admire the parents that will go to such extreme lengths on Christmas Eve, but I couldn’t/wouldn’t do it myself. Fortunately, dogs are just the best in that category too, aren’t they? All they want for Christmas is you!

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