Twas four weeks before Christmas, and out of the blue – the ads were back, Ryan’s Christmas jumpers in plain view. The night is upon us, “it’s hardly that time already?” – escapes each of our mouths, as we gather around the telly.
If you’re thinking of asking anyone what their plans are tonight, don’t bother. They’re either watching The Late Late Toy Show, or I’m heavily judging them. Somehow, in recent years I have managed to retreat into the annoying habit of being surprised when the faithful night returns each year as if I didn’t know it was approaching. “God, is the Toy Show this Friday?” emerged from my lips earlier this week before I realised, to my disdain, that I sound just like my mother. A yearly reminder that I am no longer a child, as, if I were, I would have been anticipating the holy evening for weeks in advance.
Gone are the years of excitement galore at the chance to preview the hottest toys off the block before I write up my Santa list, watching with envy the kids who were lucky enough to make it to the real thing. Of course, it has been years since I was young enough to be fully enveloped by the magic of Toy Show night. Still, I return to the show religiously each Christmas period, if for no other reason than it wouldn’t feel quite right to miss it.
This year, an overly tired version of me will watch the Toy Show at home with my mother, trying to suppress the college-related distractions and hoping I’ll sleep well before work the next morning. Oh, how times have changed.
If I was a bit more exciting, I may have organised plans with friends to play the infamous Toy Show drinking game. If you’re unfamiliar, the rules are simple – take a swig each time Ryan Tubridy (dressed in a ghastly-looking number) announces something free for everyone in the audience. Any Toy Show regulars will know that this is bound to get your head spinning. Play with caution.
If I was a bit more exciting, I may have organised plans with friends to play the infamous Toy Show drinking game
As the Toy Show opening draws ever closer, I do question (as I have for a few years now), why I’m willing to sit through demonstrations of miniature dairy farms, the latest doll that can somehow perform an array of bodily functions and a tutorial on how to make sparkly slime. After all, I won’t be getting any free stuff by watching remotely in my dressing gown.
While I can’t say I’m sucked into the whole affair by the magical energy that a younger me once appreciated, I think there is something to be said for the versatility of the show that caters to all ages by possession of some strange charm.
Being an adult grants the bonus of being in on the mature (although often cringey) jokes made by Tubridy that swoop right past the innocent ears of the children. Similarly, the show never fails to produce those few kids with impeccable talent for being hilarious. A personal favourite of mine was the budding farmer, Stella McGirl, who appeared on the show a few years ago, donning a fantastic Leitrim accent and a wit far beyond her years.
The comedians-in-the-making always guarantee some laughs – but are equally matched by a number of absolute dotes. Your heart is bound to be won over by the cute factor. Last year, six-year-old Adam King was undisputedly crowned the number one dote as he presented a heart-shaped cardboard cut-out hug to the lucky host. The “Hug For U” was warmly welcomed by the nation after a strenuous year of coronavirus restrictions, and little Adam quickly became a mascot of affection.
While, at face value, the Toy Show could be perceived as a capitalistic ploy to suck the children of the country into demanding the most popular new “things”, I believe the show has proven itself to be about much more than that.
Being an adult grants the bonus of being in on the mature (although often cringey) jokes made by Tubridy
Particularly in recent years, the Toy Show has taken to platforming toys from small local businesses that are made with care and sustainability in mind. Toys that will give back to our communities, while providing joy for much longer than just the antics of Christmas morning – after which the cheap plastic items are destined for breakage or eliciting boredom.
Highlighted, too, are toys that aid learning, help kids to practice mindfulness, or are specially designed for accessibility. Each year, the show seems to become more about what can truly benefit the children, and, as we are facing growing uncertainty about the future – this small way of caring for our younger generation provides a warm sliver of hope.
As the entire nation and our wider diaspora drop all other commitments to tune into the yearly phenomenon, we get to witness real dreams come true. Aspiring musicians are introduced to their favourite band, disadvantaged families gifted once-in-a-lifetime holidays, families reunited with a parent who had been away with the army. And, beyond the few heartwarming cases that we see on screen, there are an array of unseen families who will benefit from the donated toys and funds raised by the show.
What I most admire, however, is the show’s willingness not to shy away from whatever is the dark underbelly of our country that year. Coronavirus lockdowns, rising family homelessness, lack of support for disadvantaged communities – the show ensures to let the kids tell their own stories about it all. If change is to be prompted, I can’t imagine anything to be more effective than the testimonies of children.
Particularly in recent years, the Toy Show has taken to platforming toys from small local businesses that are made with care and sustainability in mind
So, now in my twenties, I will still halt all other responsibilities to catch each minute of the wholesome content that The Late Late Toy Show offers. It is a small chunk of escapism that I can count on each Christmas time, that will gift me a warm feeling in my belly and plenty to talk about for the weeks to come. In my opinion, it’s compulsory viewing.