A Very Special Christmas Gift


It’s better to give than to receive.”  Have you ever found THE perfect, extra-special gift for someone? A gift you were so excited to give to that you could burst from anticipation? Last Christmas, I found such a gift- something special that truly made me feel like Santa Claus! 

My parents always made Christmas magical! Everything was just right – with perfect gifts under the tree, my mom’s decorating and baking, stockings stuffed with joy, visits to Santa, and my dad’s beautiful gift wrapping with handwritten tags so lovely the letters looked like calligraphy.

Christmas 1970-something, my dollhouse Daddy made, with my brother peeking through the window

Christmas 1970-something, my dollhouse Daddy made, with my brother peeking through the window

I’ll never forget my best childhood Christmas, when I received my handmade dollhouse. After losing my beloved dollhouse during a move as a teen, I never forgot it. I’ll also never forget the Mother’s Day when my husband and daughter gave me a vintage dollhouse almost identical to mine, lost over thirty years before. It’s like having a special piece of childhood.

My mama is on the right.

My mama is on the right.

I’ve always heard about a Christmas my mama and her twin sister shared at age eleven. “The twins” grew up in a modest little house in Houston. As twins, presents were often meant to be shared, like one pair of skates. But my grandparents always made sure that EACH twin got her own gift at Christmas. “We knew if we asked Mother or Santa for something special, we’d surely get it on Christmas”, Mama says. 

It was 1952. With no television in the house yet, “the twins” would walk a block to the local movie theater to watch Christmas commercials shown before films. That year, their only wish was for “Toni dolls”! Named for the “Toni Home Permanent”, the sweet little dolls, manufactured by Ideal from 1949 – 1953, came with perm rods, papers, and sugar-and-water “perm solution” so girls could style their dolls’ hair. Mama and Aunt Barbara’s friends Kay and Sue-Sue had beautiful Toni dolls, and they were so dreamy! Watching those Christmas commercials was exciting! They’d get so excited at the thought of their own Toni dolls, they’d hug each other and squeal with delight. The anticipation of Christmas was thrilling!

Before the holidays, my grandmother had gone into Foley’s Department store, putting two beautiful Toni dolls on layaway, with dark hair, just like her precious twins. 

Twins, squared! My mama, her twin, and her Daddy with his twin (all fraternal)

Twins, squared! My mama, her twin, and her Daddy with his twin (all fraternal)

Christmas Eve, Mama and her sister would hang their little white socks from the fireplace. The next morning they’d be filled with nuts, fruit and chocolate kisses. My grandfather would get a small tabletop tree that would stay up through New Year’s Day. My grandmother made chicken, dressing and cranberry sauce, with pumpkin or cherry pie. She was the best cook! 

When Mama unwrapped her Toni doll that special Christmas morning, she said, “She was the most beautiful doll you ever did see”.  She wore a red-and-white ruffled dress, and her beautiful dark hair was shiny. Her eyes blinked with long lashes, and her skin was alabaster plastic. It was magical; her best Christmas ever. 

The dolls were well-loved. Mama and her sister didn’t have a lot, but they appreciated what they had. My grandmother sewed the finest doll clothes, with matching outfits for her daughters. She once made red wool top coats with real white rabbit fur trim for each doll. Unfortunately, my mom’s special doll was lost as a teenager when her baby sister was too young and played too harshly with it. 

I’d always hear Mama talk wistfully about her Toni doll. The memory of that perfect, magical Christmas stayed with her forever.

I never saw a Toni doll until last summer in an antique store. I knew right away she was a blonde, adorable Toni. Inspired, at home I started researching eBay and Etsy to see if a brunette doll like Mom’s was available. Prices were all over, and some quite expensive! I found a pretty brunette, not very costly. Mama said she didn’t want anything she’d need to dust, so I thought the Toni would look cute in my sun room. 

I’d never restored a doll before, but before long, my Toni doll looked fresh as could be. When I sent a picture to my mom, she got teary on the phone, remembering her doll. Still, she insisted she didn’t want to take mine. 

My “Toni” doll. She did NOT look like this when she arrived; I am proud of how she turned out. I love her. She reminds me of a doll I had as a child that my parents’ friends had brought me from Germany.

My “Toni” doll. She did NOT look like this when she arrived; I am proud of how she turned out. I love her. She reminds me of a doll I had as a child that my parents’ friends had brought me from Germany.

I decided I wanted Mama a doll for Christmas! Could I get lucky again? I sent her pictures of ones in my price range, under the guise that I was looking for another for under our tinsel Christmas tree. She squealed seeing one whose face looked like her childhood doll! (The dolls’ faces were hand-painted, so each one had a unique look). 

When the doll arrived, she was worse for wear, and stinky. After airing her out, I gently used a damp cloth and Magic Eraser on her plastic body. A wire doll wig brush gently styled her hair. I added missing socks from an Etsy store specializing in 50’s-era replacement doll clothes. I cleaned the dress the same as with vintage linens, soaking gently in OxyClean, hand-mending it. 

Together, the dolls look like the “twins”!

Together, the dolls looked like the “twins”!

I refreshed the tired, yellowed hair bow with a shiny red satin, adding a sash at the waist. When done, Mama’s present gleamed like a brand-new doll! 


I had to ship it, so I needed a box, and wanted to recreate that special moment when she first opened the doll in 1952. Finding a box in the garage holding painter’s plastic,  similar in size to the original doll box, I spray painted it with leftover patent-pink paint. I found an old advertisement for Toni dolls, so I  printed it out and glued it to the front. I placed Toni in the box with crisp tissue. 


Usually, I use brown paper for wrapping, but found reproduction 1950’s Shiny-Brite paper at TJ Maxx. Once I mailed the doll to Mama, I could barely wait for Christmas!

On Christmas morning, my stepfather filmed and photographed Mama as she opened the box.

My beautiful Mama, Beverly, Christmas 2018. I won’t be able to top this gift!

My beautiful mom, Beverly, Christmas 2018. I won’t be able to top this gift! She says she named the doll “Nicole”.

There were squeals and happy tears. For a moment, Mama was eleven again. I had so much fun fixing up those dolls; I only wish we hadn’t lost my aunt at the holidays two years back. I would’ve loved sending her my doll! 

I won’t be able to top that special Toni doll for Mama, but I hope every time she looks at it she feels a little spark of that childhood Christmas Magic. 

I hope you find magic in your holidays…Merry Christmas, Happiest of Holidays, and Wishing You a all a Happy New Year! Thank you to all my Farmgirl Friends for another wonderful year. See you in 2020!


Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole


  1. Denise says:

    how very sweet, and fun!!

  2. Debbie Fischer says:

    That was such a beautiful and wonderful gift Nicole. You did a great job restoring it with patience and love.
    Your mom will cherish it for the rest of her life, and now she will have two Toni Doll stories to tell!
    Debbie F.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Thank you, Debbie! It was so much fun to bring those dolls back to life…you should have seen them “before”! Have a wonderful Holiday season. Thank you for reading and commenting! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  3. Sylvia Jacobus says:

    Awesome and so special

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Sylvia, Thank you so much. It was exciting to find for my mom. I won’t be able to top it! Have a wonderful holiday season! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  4. Maureen says:

    Perfect and soooo thoughtful. Many Blessings.

  5. Andrea von Amelunxen says:

    What a beautiful thoughtful gift. I know your Mum will treasure it forever!!

  6. Judith says:

    What a lovely thing you did for your mother. You did a great job of restoring the Tonis’
    My little sister had a Toni doll; she named it Toni Curtis 🙂

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Judith! How adorable- “Toni Curtis”! Love that. Thank you for reading and commenting. I wanted it to be special, and I will always have the memory of fixing the dolly up! So much fun. Have a happy holiday season! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  7. Marilyn says:

    What a beautiful story. One of my special Christmas memories was when my identical twin sister, Marion and I received Ginny dolls. We also got a trunk full of clothes each and some furniture. I am happy to say that we still have those Ginny dolls.
    Merry Christmas

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Marilyn, thank you. I remember Ginny dolls! My mama got me one when I was little, with the little trunk of clothes. Unfortunately, all my dolls (and dollhouse) were lost in the move when I was teenager. That is good you have yours; what a treasure! Thanks for sharing. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  8. Beverly Battaglia says:

    What nice comments you received! I feel the same and I will treasure her always and named her “Nicole”. I know you went to a lot of trouble finding the right doll, clothes, and making a new box. She is beautiful! Just like my Nicole! I love this doll and appreciate your tedious work. Pictures look great!
    You also found a Coca Cola 1940’s ice chest music box like I had when I was a child.
    Love always,

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Mama, I am so glad you love the doll. It was fun to do something so special for you. I still can’t believe it took me 46 years to see a Toni doll in person! They are just the cutest, and I am glad I got to do this for you. Love you so much! Nicole

  9. Lisa says:

    Awww…how sweet! Love this story!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Lisa, Thank you so much! I am so glad you enjoyed the Christmas blog. Happiest of holidays…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  10. Sandi King says:

    Nicole, such a lovely story and a wonderful gift for your mom. You are a special daughter also. It’s stories and actions like this that make for a great genealogy package; I hope you store them for your descendants to treasure for a long time to come. Our personal history is something we can leave for our children and children’s children etc. Not just the good and fun stories but also the ones that weren’t so good or didn’t turn out well as that is part of it and can be useful for future generations. God bless you and farm hugs for a job well done. Merry Christmas and may the New Year be as special as we all can make it.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Sandi, thank you so very much for this comment. I agree with you wholeheartedly! Family history is so important. Your words here mean so much to me! Many blessings to you in the New Year. Thank you again. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  11. Diane says:

    I loved your story. I know your aunt would have been overjoyed as well. You will treasure those memories.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Thank you, Diane. I wish I could have surprised my aunt with a doll. I did make her very happy on her birthday; I found a decorative plate of two twins girls, playing outside in a garden in the month of “June”, which was her birth month. It reminded me of my mom and aunt as little girls. I also sent in the box an antique candy dish filled with themed “1950s” candy. She loved both gifts. I did not know at the time I bought the plate (paid very little for it at a thrift store, just thought it was cute) that it was from a favorite artist of my aunt’s, and was signed! My aunt was so excited! I am glad she loved it. I love to give special presents. 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  12. grace says:

    Oh Nicole.. what a sweet gift for your mama. You are ‘sew’ talented and creative…
    Blessings to you and your family this and every Christmas season.

  13. marlene burns says:

    Your christmas story about the toni doll for your mom is precious. how lucky you could find the doll and repair it. that is a wonderful gift for your mom. I love the photo of your dollhouse. I still have the tin dollhouse I received as a child. The furniture has disappeared so I look at thrift sales to see if I can find any to replace what was with the doll house. When we bought the farmstead my husband was moving an old shed and under it we found doll dishes from my childhood. I was so excited to see them. I think the shed might have been a temporary play house for my siblings and I. Thank you for the lovely christmas card and letter. I need your house number to reply. the envelope was torn a little. Wishing you a Happy New Year. Marlene

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Marlene, How lovely to hear from you! Thank you for the nice comment. I love the story of how you found your childhood doll dishes under the play house/shed! I bet that was so exciting- finding a treasure such as that. I will pm you my address. Happy New Year, Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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