One of my favorite songs is “Toyland.” Even well past the Christmas season, I find myself humming its melody from time to time. Actually, “Toyland” is not really a Christmas carol at all, but it obviously is played throughout the holiday season because of its subject matter.

For the record, on January 21, 1903, “The Wizard of Oz,” a musical fantasy for children, was produced on Broadway. Shortly thereafter, Composer Victor Herbert added his music to the book and lyrics of Glen MacDonough in a work titled, “Babes in Toyland,” a studied attempt to write another “Oz” and capitalize on its giant success.

But like many faded carbon-copy imitations of the original, “Babes” soon was forgotten. However, the authors did hit on the idea of creating a Toyland as a setting in the stage spectacle that turned out to be a triumph in its own right and a childhood classic.

In the loosely constructed play, Toyland is a country dominated by the despot Toymaker. With a strange incantation, the Toymaker brings his toys to life (“March of the Toys”) and they sing a hymn to Toyland (“Toyland”), then band together to kill him. The 1934 screen version, which featured Laurel and Hardy, is titled “March of the Wooden Soldiers” (not to be confused with “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” an instrumental piece written by German composer Leon Jessel, in 1897). Ray Bolger and Ed Wynn appeared in the 1961 screen version. All of the above songs have evolved into familiar Christmas carols.

Regardless of when “Toyland” is heard, it is the words of the song that create such vivid memories of “Childhood’s joy land” and perhaps provide a glimpse of what heaven may be like as well. Here are the words:
Toyland, Toyland,
Little girl and boy land.
While you dwell within it,
You are ever happy then.
Childhood’s joy land,
Mystic, merry Toyland!
Once you pass its borders,
You can ne’er return again.

Many of us may hold fond memories of what it was like in the “little girl and boy land” called childhood. I remember actually feeling the magic of Christmas in just touching presents and leftover cookie crumbs Santa Claus himself most certainly had contacted. The former department store, Wolf & Dessauer, in downtown Fort Wayne, had a Toyland on its second floor filled with wonderful toys and goodies year ‘round including a huge electric-train layout. Seeing it and falling in love with this toy of all toys was the basis of my asking and receiving from Santa Claus parts for my very own Lionel train set every Christmas morning.

Several friends of mine about my age still have their train sets up and running year-round. I gave mine to my grandson and granddaughter living in Denver six years ago. That’s me in the photo with our son, Michael, and grandson, Jacob, and some of the train. I don’t regret that because they will enjoy the train long after I’m gone. But I do miss playing with it and the anticipation of receiving something from Santa to add to it on Christmas morning.

Toyland, of course, isn’t on a map or reachable with a GPS (Global Positioning System). The last lines of “Toyland,” – Once you pass its borders, You can ne’er return again” – still contain much poignancy whenever I recall that hollow feeling I had when belief in Santa Claus lost its plausibility. And once the child enters the world of adult skepticism, fantasy and make-believe fast disappear “ne’re to return again,” leaving only the harshness of reality in their place.

Vince LaBarbera
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Vince LaBarbera

Vince is a Fort Wayne native. He earned a master of science degree in journalism and advertising from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. LaBarbera is retired but continues to enjoy freelance writing and serving the Radio Reading Service of the Allen County Public Library. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer