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20 Ways Christmas Was Better in the '90s

Between Home Alone and Tickle Me Elmo, there was nothing like a '90s Christmas.

Things seemed simpler in the '90s, and Christmas was no exception. Back then, festive film favorites were still fresh, boy bands were putting out Christmas classics, and stressful "shopping holidays" like Cyber Monday didn't even exist. Yes, the '90s really gave us some of the best Christmas traditions and memories of all time—and for that, we will always be thankful. Here are the things that made Christmas in the '90s the best.

Picking up holiday movies at Blockbuster

Salida, California, United States - April 22, 2010: Racks of long-forgotten and weather beaten, sun-bleached VHS tapes as seen through the window of an abandoned video rental store.

With streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu, kids nowadays will never understand the novelty of heading to the video rental store to pick out which Christmas movies to watch. In order to have a holiday movie marathon in the '90s, you'd have to pester your parents to drive you to the nearest Blockbuster, figure out which DVDs (or VHS tapes!) were still available, and physically rent them for your viewing pleasure. But that extra effort made it all the more satisfying when you finally got to relax with your copy of Jack Frost.

And renting National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Image via IMDB/Warner Bros.

On Dec. 1, 1989, the world was introduced to one of the greatest Christmas comedies of all time: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. It has everything you could ever want from a Christmas flick—a John Hughes screenplay, performances from icons of the era like Chevy Chase and Randy Quaid, and slapstick comedy galore. We can still watch this classic Christmas film, but nothing compares to those first few years in the '90s when the jokes were fresh.

Singing "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells"

Kids hanging out on Christmas in the 1990s
Steve Skjold / Alamy Stock Photo

Who could forget the very first episode of The Simpsons, in which Bart ruins the Christmas pageant by singing, "Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg!" It might not have been the first time this rendition of "Jingle Bells" was sung, but the 1989 episode helped popularize the song parody throughout the '90s.

Flipping through JCPenney's Christmas catalog

JCPenney Christmas catalog 1990
Image via JCPenney

In the '90s, online shopping wasn't a thing. So when people wanted to do their Christmas shopping, they had to browse the bulky, enthralling, and sometimes embarrassing JCPenney Christmas catalog. Inside, you could find advertisements for everything from bubble dresses to fanny packs. All you had to do was pick up the phone and call the store to place your order!

The lack of Cyber Monday

A0KYT9 Canberra Australia Shopping Centre At Christmas. Image shot 1990. Exact date unknown.
Art Directors & TRIP / Alamy Stock Photo

Cyber Monday wasn't created until the mid-2000s, so people celebrating the holidays in the '90s didn't have to worry about logging on at midnight on the dot just to grab deeply discounted TVs and other electronics. There weren't even that many gadgets to snag—discounted or otherwise! The only shopping that happened in the '90s occurred either at the mall or via mail order. Ah, simpler times.

The euphoric feeling of snatching up a Tickle Me Elmo

Tickle Me Elmo Toy 1990s Parents

Tickle Me Elmo was the must-have Christmas toy of 1996. As The New York Times reported at the time, Tyco—the parent company of the Elmo doll—shipped out one million dolls before the holiday, and even that wasn't enough to keep up with demand. They completely sold out.

Remember, parents couldn't order one online for their kids. No, they had to elbow through crowds in stores and pray that there was an interactive Elmo still available on shelves. It was the toy craze that resulted in the trampling of a Walmart employee, and it won't soon be forgotten.

Or finding a Game Boy under the tree

An original game boy from the 1990s
Image via Flickr/Jared Cherup

The very first Game Boy console was released in America in the summer of 1989. And it didn't take long to become popular: In a Dec. 21 article written that year, The New York Times noted that Game Boys were "expected to be one of the top sellers" during the Christmas season. All throughout the '90s, kids continued to receive various versions of Game Boys for the holidays: Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Light, and Game Boy Color, among them.

Snuggling up to watch Home Alone

home alone
20th Century Fox

On Nov. 16, 1990, Home Alone was released, and nothing has ever been the same. The movie might have given us unrealistic expectations about our ability to defend ourselves against burglars—not to mention a dangerously cartoonish depiction of violence—but just try to listen to that John Williams score without feeling like a kid at Christmas again. It has become one of the most enduring holiday classics.

And causing trouble like Kevin McAllister with a Talkboy

Kevin McAllister with a Talkboy in Home Alone
20th Century Fox

In the 1992 sequel, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, mischief-maker Kevin McCallister uses a Talkboy to change his voice and trick a hotel front desk into giving him a room. The Talkboy got turned into an actual toy, and in conjunction with the film's release, it was sold in Toys "R" Us stores nationwide. The only thing better than the toy itself was the commercial that went with it.

Singing along with The Muppet Christmas Carol

A Muppets Christmas Carol
Image via Walt Disney Pictures

In 1992, the Muppets released their take on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Titled, appropriately enough, The Muppet Christmas Carol, this feature film was the first to be released following the death of Muppets creator Jim Henson. For '90s kids, this is the definitive telling of the oft-adapted tale, and there's really no denying that Michael Caine is the best Scrooge of all time.

All of the SNL Christmas episodes

SNL Christmas Special for the 1990s
Image via YouTube/NBC

Though Saturday Night Live still puts on Christmas specials every year, they're nothing like they used to be in the '90s. During this decade, the cast featured SNL icons like Mike MyersDana CarveyAdam SandlerRob SchneiderDavid SpadeJulia Sweeney, and Chris Farley, and classic holiday songs like "Let's Pretend We Like Each Other (This Christmas)."

Boy bands putting out some of the greatest Christmas singles

NSYNC Home for Christmas CD
Image via Trans Continental

"Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays" by NSYNC. "Christmas Time" by the Backstreet Boys. "Everybody Knows The Claus" by Hanson. "This Gift" by 98 Degrees. If there's one thing that the '90s had a lot of, it was boy bands, and it seemed like every one of them was required to have a Christmas single. We weren't complaining!

The polar bear Coca-Cola commercials airing nonstop all season

Coca cola Christmas bears
Image via YouTube/Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola and Christmas go hand-in-hand: Coke is basically responsible for Santa Claus, and in the '90s they made holiday season polar bears happen. They first used polar bears in an iconic 1993 TV spot depicting the Northern Lights, creating one of the most memorable Christmas ads of all time. They even brought the bears back for the 25th anniversary last year.

And the Hershey's Kisses "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" commercial

Hershey Kisses Jingle Bells commercial
Image via YouTube/Hershey

Food and drink ads were a big part of '90s Christmas—remember that we watched a lot more commercials before the age of streaming. During the holiday season, you couldn't flip through the channels without coming across the Hershey's Kisses rendition of "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" at least once. It was simple, sure, but it was fun and festive, and somehow never got old.

Hearing "All I Want for Christmas Is You" for the first time

Mariah Carey All I Want For Christmas is You
Image via Columbia

Just in time for the 1994 Christmas season, singer Mariah Carey released one of the most popular holiday songs of all time, "All I Want for Christmas Is You." We couldn't have known that it would prove to be the most enduring modern carol ever. More than 20 years later, it's still going strong: In 2019, it finally reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. At long last, we made Mariah's wish come true!

The birth of Festivus

Festivus for the Rest of Us Seinfeld episode
Image via YouTube/NBC

In 1997, Seinfeld gave secular folks something to celebrate when they introduced viewers to Festivus. It's a non-religious holiday—a festivus for the rest of us, if you will—that occurs on Dec. 23, and involves both dinner and activities like the "Airing of Grievances" and "Feats of Strength," during which the head of the household is wrestled to the floor.

Getting your first home computer for Christmas

Asian girl using a PC home computer in 1990s
Robert Clay / Alamy Stock Photo

Though home computers were around as early as the '70s, they were far from affordable. It wasn't until the '90s that technology improved and these devices became more modestly priced, allowing for the average household to get one. In the '90s episode of Christmas Through the Decades, The History Channel notes that "by 1995, one in three American households had a home computer" and that during this time, "more and more people were finding one under the tree on Christmas morning."

Tim Allen as the one true Santa

Tim Allen in The Santa Clause
Buena Vista Pictures

On Nov. 11, 1994, Santa Claus was revealed to be none other than actor Tim Allen. OK, not really, but following the release of The Santa Clause, it at least felt like Allen and Old St. Nick were one and the same. That's just the beauty of movie magic!

Beanie Babies being all the rage

1998 Christmas Beanie Baby
Jess Merrill / Alamy Stock Photo

Nobody over the age of 10 wants a stuffed animal for Christmas. But back in the '90s, one stuffed animal in particular was on everyone's Christmas list: a Beanie Baby.

The Beanie Baby craze was so intense that adults weren't above trampling children just to score a rare one. Seriously. Other families went broke trying to keep up with all the latest additions to the Beanie Baby family. We were told these plush dolls would become lucrative collector's items, which… didn't really happen. And yet, we can't help but miss them.

Gift cards as a novelty, not a last-minute gift

close up of people holding a gift card

Blockbuster might not be around anymore, but one of their major innovations certainly is. As Smithsonian notes, the rental company (along with Neiman Marcus) is responsible for modern gift cards. They introduced them in stores back in 1994, and since then, the plastic cards have fully replaced sad paper gift certificates. When you got a gift card as a Christmas gift in the '90s, it wasn't a cop-out—it was a novelty.

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