A Brief Look at Christmas 1997

I’m working on a big huge end-of-year post, so this won’t be a long one. Even though it’s now the day after Christmas (Boxing Day for some of yous), two events occurred recently that made me think “hey, I can get a post out of this!” 1) I was digging through old family photos, admittedly with the purpose of an update in mind, and of which I had several prospects up for consideration. Of course I didn’t find the pic I had set out for, but this one here actually works better. 2) My brother went and picked himself up a brand new Nintendo Switch earlier today, and as he hooked it up for the first time, I was reminded of the same sort of feelings from Christmas 20 years ago. I had waffled back and forth on doing this post beforehand, and had finally decided to can it, but that event earlier today changed my mind.

And so here we are, with an absolute blast from my childhood’s past. Behold!

First off, that’s not quite everything received that day. The stuff to the left, with the exception of the TV, was mine. Everything to the right, which in actuality was in the middle of the floor, was “share.” (The TV was share as well.) I cropped out everything beyond, because those were my brother’s gifts and consequently I had little to say about them. He got a bunch of Beast Wars stuff, okay?

Why even bother with this post? Well, it felt a little strange not getting a ‘proper’ Christmas article up this year, but more importantly, I’m forever nostalgic and Christmas 1997 was one of the biggies for me personally. When I found this old photograph the other night, well, it fired the memory machine up – the very purpose of old photographs, I suppose.

While digging, I also found some pictures from Christmas 1998 and beyond, and there were some other good memories attached, to the point that I set a bunch aside and thought about giving each one a spotlight, but meh, I’ll just stick with this.

Here’s “my stuff.” Yes, I know it’s a little blurry; look, digital cameras wouldn’t be on our radar yet for a few more years. Plus, I obviously did some cropping.

So what are you seeing here? Starting from bottom-left, you’ll note that I too fell victim to the Giga Pet/Tamagotchi craze of the late-1990s. Yes, I got my very own Giga Pet! For those “not in the know” (do people still use that phrase?), these were little devices with an LCD screen that presented an animal of some sort. You were charged with taking care of said animal, with feedings and walks and so on and so forth. If you didn’t properly maintain your pet, it would up and die on you. No kidding, these things might seem pretty quaint today, but they were a big fad at the time. I don’t think I ever used mine much, and as such, my Giga Pet was probably constantly dead.

I’ve got no idea what the thing behind the Giga Pet is. I *think* it might have been a Tamagotchi carrying case of some sort. Don’t quote me on that, though.

Ah, but behind that are three VHS tapes that I still own to this day. From front-to-back, I received Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, Godzilla vs. Megalon, and Creature From the Black Lagoon. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I was very much into old horror and sci-fi films at the time (still am, too), and while it’s hard to fathom today, there was a time when a lot of these eventual-standards were still new and unknown to me, as these three movies were. I was (am) a big, big Godzilla fan, devouring any new old entry I could, so Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster and Godzilla vs. Megalon, I just loved it. And Creature From the Black Lagoon? You just can’t fault that flick! Like Godzilla, it was so great seeing new old Universal monster movies; I couldn’t get enough of ’em! (I know you can’t see Creature‘s cover, but trust me, that’s what it is.)

Next, I’m not sure what exactly the big Star Wars thing is, but look closely at what’s sitting in front of it: The Special Edition trilogy VHS boxset! Okay, even back then I wasn’t big on George Lucas tampering with the original films, but that did get them back in theaters, allowing me to see A New Hope on the big screen. So altered or not, that was cool. And besides, while in retrospect the Special Editions were the first indication that the Star Wars series could do wrong, the massive hype surrounding them in those pre-prequel days was certainly a lot of fun to live through. An extreme late-1990s throwback? Sure, but nostalgia can go a long way towards overlooking whatever problems a property may have had, and that’s the mindset I’m going with there.

Beside the Star Wars stuff: A pewter Superman statue, honoring the cover of the first issue of Superman proper. Next to that, a big two-in-one book, featuring the complete Frankenstein and Dracula novels back-to-back. I was (and am) an avid reader, and I did indeed read the Frankenstein portion, though I  never did much with ol’ Drac.

Finally, on the floor: I’ve loved praying mantis’ for years, so there’s some kind of wooden mantis kit there. Also, an Archie book of some sort. More importantly though, and I know you can barely see it, is what’s beneath both of those things: It’s the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide! I was a massive MSTie even then, but having discovered the show on the Sci-Fi Channel, the Comedy Central years were almost entirely a blank slate to me, save for the few VHS releases out there. The episode guide did much to fill me in. Not only was in ridiculously informative, but it was also (of course) very, very funny. I loved learning about the different MST’d movies featured on the show over the years, some of which I had seen unMST’d and some of which I would specifically check out later. It’s wild to realize that at that time there were only a few episodes released officially on VHS, and now we’ve gotten very nearly the entire series!

So, that was “my stuff,” which means we’ve come to the “share pile…”

Look, I’ve got severe memories tied to all of this, but man, this is where the nostalgia goes into hyper drive.

In the very back was one of those tabletop pinball machines, this one for Donkey Kong Country. Neat, but impossible to not be overshadowed by what’s right in front of it: A brand new Nintendo 64 console! I don’t even remember asking for a ‘next gen’ system, but man, N64 was just such a leap forward compared to the 16-bit era I had been stuck in. In fact, in the very front of this pile is a brand new Super Nintendo power supply (the old one had bit the dust) and Super Star Wars, which, 1997 or not, was and is timeless. But really, it was all about the N64 here.

Obviously a spare controller is present, and behind Super Star Wars is Super Mario 64 – I may not be able to find the words to properly describe Super Mario 64. The game was just so unbelievably great! The hours my brother and I spent on that during Christmas break and beyond, I’m not sure I want to know. There was so much to see and do in the game, and aside from a sometimes-wonky camera (hey, this was basically uncharted territory), it played fantastic. Heck, I think it still plays fantastic! Indeed, Super Mario 64 would absolutely find its way into my top ten favorite games list, should I ever be required to make one.

Even though the N64 would lose that respective console war, and there are any number of complaints gamers can (and will) lobby against it, you won’t find me among their ranks. Simply put, very rarely have I been blown away by gaming the way I was that Christmas 20 years ago, taking that first true plunge into the 32/64-bit era. The original PlayStation may have been better, but for as much as I love it, I could never love it more than the Nintendo 64.

(Oh, that Daewoo TV seen to the far left in the first picture up above? That was for the N64, so we could have our own TV to play it on without tying up the main one in the living room.)

So anyway, as my brother hooked up the Nintendo Switch earlier today and we played Super Mario Odyssey, to me the whole event recalled our first experience with Super Mario 64 (the similar controls didn’t hurt, either). As I said, that was the final thing that spurred me into writing this post. I wasn’t trying to break any new ground here, just trying to share some personal memories of one of my favorite Christmases. And 1997 was absolutely near the top for yours truly.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas yesterday. I’ll see you again before the year is out!

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