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Krampus vs. Santa: A Boomer Showdown

In the which-came-first question of Christmas figures between Krampus and Santa, Krampus has been around for centuries. Many different cultures had a version of the Krampus figure, especially in Germanic tradition, where much of our current Christmas practices arose. Most often portrayed as a half-goat, half-demon whose main function was to punish poorly behaving children, Krampus evolved from pre-Christian times to be a counterpart to Saint Nicholas.

Saint Nicholas (later, Santa Claus) gave gifts to good children, but as every boomer knew, he kept a naughty or nice list. In early Germanic tradition, children set a shoe or boot outside their door on St. Nicholas Day (December 6). The next morning, they would be left either a present or a stick. Poorly behaved children could be visited by Krampus that night, whose very presence was intended to scare the bad behavior out of them. Krampus threatened to take bad children away with him, and carried a bundle of birch sticks to swat them. The Catholic church labeled the half-demon a pagan figure and sought to repress the notion and practice of townspeople dressing as Krampus, but the stick in the shoe continued and evolved into the lump of coal most boomers recall from song and maybe in their own lives. Boomers remember when houses had coal bins, so lumps of coal were readily available at least into the early 1960s, when most house furnaces were converted to natural gas. After that point, parents looking to get their children back to the straight and narrow might drop a charcoal briquet into a stocking as a reminder that Santa was watching, so they’d better change their behavior if they wanted a better Christmas gift haul next year.

Mister Boomer and his siblings had an encounter with Krampus one Christmas Eve in the late 1950s when they were visting his paternal grandparents. An uncle and aunt, with their four children, lived with his grandparents at the time. All of the children were under ten years old, with half being under seven. Gathered around the Christmas tree in the living room, the children heard banging and rattling coming from the basement. Mister B’s grandmother was perpetually in the kitchen, either preparing food or cleaning up, so he, his siblings and his cousins ran into the kitchen only to find his grandmother was not there. The door to the basement was in the kitchen, and with a sudden crash it flung open. There stood Krampus, giving a scary moan and swatting the air with a stick that looked like it might have come from the backyard cherry tree. Dressed in an old gray frock similar to a monk’s habit, Krampus had scraggly, long gray hair, pronounced wrinkles, a big nose set between dark eyes and a fierce frown.

Mister B’s cousins and younger sister were terrified, but Mister B’s first thoughts were wondering where his grandmother went, and if this was her, why she might dress up as this character. Brother Boomer had destroyed the Santa myth for him a couple of years earlier, so Mister B had developed a cynical eye at an early age. His first thoughts were quickly interrupted as Krampus looked at each of the kids in the eyes in turn and asked who had been bad while lifting the stick to emphasize swift justice. Waves of doubt and fear ran through Mister B and his siblings as this Krampus did not look, speak or walk like the sweet woman he knew as his grandmother. His cousins got on their knees and clasp their hands in a prayer mode, repeating the entire time that they would be good. Mister B and his siblings were silent and befuddled, not digesting what had happened. Krampus repeated that the children had best be good and disappeared back into the basement, closing the door in one swirling exit motion.

The children were far too afraid to open the door to the basement, and retreated to the living room. Mister B’s cousins told him they had a visit from Krampus every year. Mister B ran the features and demeanor of the character through his brain, and things did not add up. Could his grandmother be so committed to the role as to never sway from character for even a second? How would she have managed a first-class makeup job in so little time? While visions of Krampus still danced in their heads, their grandmother appeared in the living room in what seemed no more than a minute, wiping her hands on her apron as the children had seen her do so many times before. “What was all that noise about,” she inquired, as Mister B’s cousins told their grandmother that Krampus had been there. “Well I hope you will be good, then,” she said and disappeared back to the kitchen.

Today the Krampus figure is being celebrated in many cultures, especially in Germany, Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, and Slovenia. A variation has even arisen in North Africa and Syria.

How about it, boomers? Was there a Krampus tradition in your house?

posted by Mister B in Holidays,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Have Yourself A Very Boomer Christmas

Mister Boomer is caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season. So, this week, he suggests you check out these classic Mister Boomer posts of days of yore, and have a very Boomer Christmas:

Boomers Loved Rudolph
The post that answers the question: Just how did Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer become so much a part of every boomer’s Christmas?

The Christmas Lights Doorway Electrocution Incident
A fun Mister Boomer memory of a Christmas incident with his siblings.

Christmas Shopping the Boomer Kid Way
The whole Christmas shopping experience has changed dramatically since the boomer days of the 1950s and ’60s.

To Icicle or Not to Icicle? Boomers Answered the Question
Tinsel-draped Christmas live trees were the standard for many boomers. Mister B relates his family history regarding those silvery icicle strands.

Visions of Aluminum Trees Danced Through Boomers’ Heads
Did your family hop on the boomer-era bandwagon and adopt an aluminum Christmas tree?

posted by Mister B in Holidays,Pop Culture History and have Comments Off on Have Yourself A Very Boomer Christmas

Early Boomer Toys Became Classics — Part 2

Astute readers pointed out to Mister Boomer that in last week’s episode on classic toys of the 1950s, he ended the list with two that were released in 1960. However, Mister B would like to say this was not in error as he was planning to segue into this week’s review of some of the popular classic toys released in the 1960s.

Mister B knew there were lots of fantastic new toys introduced in the 1960s, so he included the two in the ’50s category based on their patent date rather than release date. So without further ado, check out this list of now-classic toys that got their start in the boomer years of the 1960s:

Game of Life (1960)
Originally created by Milton Bradley in 1860 as The Checkered Game of Life — a modified checkerboard — it became one of the most popular board games of the late 1800s. It was reinvented one hundred years later with the now-famous plastic spin wheel and other three-dimensional mountains and buildings imbedded into the playing board.

Mister Boomer’s sister asked for one for Christmas just as she was growing out of Candyland. She loved all types of board games, and would try to rope Mister B and Brother Boomer into the game. When she couldn’t get her brothers to play, she’d insist her father play the game with her. Mister Boomer was never all that interested in board games.

The Ken Doll (1961)
Did you know Ken’s full name was Ken Carson? He was named after Ruth Handler’s son; she had invented Barbie just two years earlier. He was conceived as a love interest for Barbie — the ultimate accessory for the doll who had everything. Ken came first with flocked hair, then with a plastic-molded crew cut in blond or brunette, and shipped with a red swimsuit, yellow towel and sandals.

Again, Mister Boomer’s sister got a Ken to go with her Barbie. However, Mister B recalls she generally preferred dressing up Barbie.

Duncan Butterfly Yo-Yo (1962)
The toy we call a yo-yo has been around in various forms for centuries. There is evidence of a yo-yo type of toy as far back as the Egyptians and Greeks. In the 1920s, a Filipino-American named Pedro Flores made the toy out of wood. Donald Duncan (the same entrepreneur who gave us Good Humor Ice Cream) bought the rights from Flores in 1929 and released his own version. In the 1950s, Duncan sponsored teen events and competitions to spur interest in his yo-yo. By the 1950s, Duncan’s version was made out of plastic, and in the following decade dozens of manufacturers became Duncan competitors.

In 1962, the company released the Butterfly Yo-Yo to try to regain dominance of the market. Looking like a butterfly-shaped spool, it had an inward-sloping center that made the toy easier to manipulate into tricks. Due to a national TV commercial blitz that year, interest in the yo-yo resurfaced to its highest level. Both Mister Boomer and Brother Boomer had several yo-yos made of wood and plastic, though he doesn’t recall owning the Duncan name brand or a butterfly style. Mister B remembers Brother Boomer performing trick with his yo-yo that lit up when it spinned.

Slip ‘n Slide (1961)
Who else but an American could conceive of a toy that consisted of nothing more than a sheet of vinyl? But when boomers set the family’s garden hose on it to wet the surface, hydroplaning action made it super-slick. Boomers could slide the length of the sheet face down or feet first.

Mister Boomer recalls somebody in the neighborhood having one, but he found all too often wrinkles in the vinyl could scrape the skin. He and Brother Boomer made their own version in their backyard using the vinyl liner of their 1950s kiddie pool, with unsatisfactory results since they didn’t repeat the experiment.

Vac-U-Form (1962)
Another in a series of scientific toys released in the Boomer Era, Vac-U-Form molded plastic sheets that were set over a heated metal plate. When the boomer child pulled the handle to pull the top of the mold over the plastic, a vacuum would form and force the heated plastic into the mold’s shape.

Brother Boomer got one, and Mister B watched the process with a fair degree of fascination.

Fisher-Price Chatter Telephone (1962)
Following the success of the Corn Popper in the 1950s,  Fisher-Price released the Chatter Telephone with a dial, handset and buttons that all made sounds when activated. The intent of the toy was to let kids mimic their parents using a telephone. It became the company’s best-selling toy throughout the 1960s and 70s. Original versions were made of wood, which was then replaced with plastic.

Easy-Bake Oven (1963)
Kenner gave us light bulb baking at its best in this super-popular home economics toy. The original version was made of blue plastic, which was changed to green the second year of production, then yellow the year after that.

Mister Boomer’s sister got one, but Mister B does not recall that she ever successfully baked a mini-cake.

Creepy Crawlers (1963)
Another toy that could potentially burn boomers’ fingers, Creepy Crawlers let boomers squirt a liquid rubbery substance into a mold that was heated by a hot plate. When the liquid cured, it became rubbery toy spiders, snakes and lizards.

Mister Boomer’s sister received the toy one Christmas, probably in 1963. Though he does not remember his sister burning herself, the toy was declared too dangerous for children and taken off the market in the 1970s. It was refitted with safeguards and re-introduced in the 1980s.

Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots (1964)
Two “robots” in a boxing ring could be controlled via joystick handles with push-button punching action. Boomer players would literally try to knock the head off the opponent’s robot. When struck correctly, the head would lift from the body along a metal shaft, which could be snapped back down for the next round.

Mister Boomer and Brother Boomer did not have one, but got to play the toy when they visited his cousin’s house.

G.I. Joe (1964)
Controversial in its time, G.I. Joe was called an action figure rather than a doll to counter calls that boys should not play with dolls. Designed as a macho hero from World War II, it was aimed squarely at boys. Articulated arms and legs allowed for action poses to interact with a plethora of weaponry, tanks and Jeeps (sold separately).

Neither Brother Boomer or Mister B had one, more than likely because they were out of the targeted age range.

See ‘n Say (1965)
Fisher-Price followed the success of the Chatty Cathy doll with talking toys for the younger set. Little hands could choose the sound they wanted to hear by turning the center pointer to a circular melange of potential sounds and pull a ring to hear it. Later the company made different versions to highlight particular categories of sounds, including the Bee Says, Farmer Says, Mister Music Says, and more.

Mister B recalls younger cousins having versions of the toy, especially Farmer Says.

Super Ball (1965)
Wham-O was on a roll with boomer toys, from the hula hoop and Frisbie of the 1950s to the Slip ‘n Slide and Super Ball of the ’60s. (See Boomers Had A Ball With This Fad)

Spirograph (1966)
A similar toy made of wood was available in the 1908 Sears catalog as The Marvelous Wondergraph. The toy used mathematical formulas to draw shapes by way of gears rotating on a fixed ring. Kenner’s 1960s version had plastic gears that were detailed so when a pen was inserted through designated hole, and the gear operated, would produce geometric designs.

Mister Boomer got one and was constantly enthralled by the geometry of the designs that could be drawn.

Barrel of Monkeys (1966)
Literally a plastic barrel filled with a dozen plastic monkeys, the game took its name from the phrase, “more fun than a barrel of monkeys.” Each monkey had “S”-shaped arms that could be linked with one another. Monkeys were dumped from the barrel to a table, where a player would grab one and try to make a chain by linking the arms of all the monkeys in the pile. A player’s turn ended when a monkey was dropped. One point was assigned for each monkey remaining in the linked chain. The first player to get to twelve points won the game.

Lite Brite (1967)
Hasbro was another toy manufacturer well known to boomers. The Lite Brite was essentially a small light box covered by a sheet of black paper. Kids poked small pegs through paper in templates that formed shapes and objects, or free-form, causing them to light up the resulting shape.

Hot Wheels (1968)
Following the success of Matchbox cars, Mattel went one better with Hot Wheels. The cars were insanely fast when pushed on plastic track accessories, thanks to special ball bearings invented for the purpose. If you are a mid- to late-era boomer male, chances are you had a Hot Wheels collection. Mister B and Brother Boomer were teens by the time Hot Wheels were introduced. In fact, Brother Boomer got his his first real car in 1968.

While this list is by no means all-inclusive, how many of these toys did you play with, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Holidays,Pop Culture History,Toys and have Comment (1)

Early Boomer Toys Became Classics

Once upon a time, every city of a decent size had a family-owned department store that served as headquarters for visits to Santa and, just as important, a Toyland. This area, usually positioned before the line to visit Santa, offered kids a hands-on look at the toys they might not have known they wanted. These Toylands opened with a great fanfare each year on the day after Thanksgiving, when Santa took up residence. Though most, if not all, of these stores carried toys year round, they expanded their inventory for Christmas, and especially for the most sought-after products.

Boomers had been influenced by TV shows and commercials right from the start. Peer pressure added to their wish list, but a trip through Toyland could cement their desires into a list for Santa. Of course, many parents of boomers had to explain that Santa was very busy, and had to have many helpers, so there was no guarantee that their kids would see the real guy on their visit. But, the tale continued, kids could rest assured that their requests were given directly to the Big Man. The parents of boomers tried to get their kids much more than what they had, and did everything in their power to fulfill the lists.

Every decade has its special toy debut, but the boomer era spawned some of the most iconic toys in the history of toy making. The earliest boomers mainly grew up with toys that originated and were popular in the 1930s and ’40s, like Slinky, Legos, Magic 8 Ball, bottled bubble solution, sock monkeys and Tonka trucks. The 1950s kicked it up a notch, introducing a vast array of toys that have gone on to become classics. A good many are still sold today. Take a look at just a few of the most popular toys of the 1950s:

Silly Putty (1950)
Mister Boomer and his siblings all received Silly Putty as a gift. The stuff was a terrific toy because it would bounce like a ball, could stretch great distances, break like taffy if a sharp motion was used, and it would lift images from the Sunday comics. Ink was petroleum-based then so the putty picked up the color. The image could then be stretched to outlandish proportions, and transferred to another piece of paper. Mister B recalls lifting images of Dennis the Menace and Beetle Bailey.

Colorforms (1951)
Shiny vinyl cut into simple shapes could be positioned and repositioned on a laminate background that Mister B recalls was black in the set that his sister had.

Mr. Potato Head (1952)
The first Mr. Potato Head kits were nothing more than a series of plastic parts with a pointed stick mounted on the back of each. Boomers would get a real potato (or other vegetable) and plug in a nose, eyes, lips, mustache, hat, and body. This is the kit Mister B had. Mrs. Potato Head arrived in 1953, and the plastic head for Mr. Potato Head was introduced in 1964. Mr. Potato Head made history in 1952 by being the first toy to ever have its own dedicated TV commercial.

PEZ Dispensers (1952 in U.S.)
Originated in post-War Europe, the PEZ dispenser was a way to attract more kids to PEZ candy. It came to the U.S. in 1952 as a plain cigarette-lighter shape. The earliest character dispensers, around 1955, were Santa, the Easter Bunny, a Halloween witch, astronaut and Popeye. Mister B had a Popeye dispenser but the head quickly broke. He continued to use the dispensing function without it. In the 1960s, additional heads joined the PEZ line up, with Casper, Bozo the Clown and Mickey Mouse, followed by a full line of Disney characters.

Wiffle Ball (1953)
One of the great things about Wiffle balls was you could bat them around a yard and not worry about breaking windows or hurting younger siblings. Mister B, though not having a Whiffle ball and bat himself, recalls playing games at his cousin’s house with boys and girls of varying ages.

Matchbox Cars (1953)
Tiny metal cars that would fit in a matchbox, boomer boys took to these toys right away. Mister Boomer was not one of them. He and Brother Boomer had small slot cars instead.

Play-Doh (early 50s)
Like Silly Putty, another strange substance from our youth, Play-Doh could be molded like clay, but was much easier to shape. It could also be baked into permanent items with the help of boomer moms. Mister Boomer and his siblings all had their own Play-Doh kits for several years.

Gumby (1955)
Gumby first appeared on TV in 1953. Gumby toys hit the stores in 1955. Boomers could not resist the bendable figures of Gumby and Pokey. Mister B had cousins who owned the toys, but he and his siblings did not.

Fisher-Price Corn Popper (1957)
A good many boomers had this early development toy that encouraged kids to walk. Resembling a lawn mower, as kids pushed it, small colored balls would pop inside a clear dome. Again, this toy didn’t make it into the Mister Boomer household, probably because he and his siblings were too old for it, but his younger cousins did have them. Fisher-Price also gave the world Busy Bee and Snap-Lock Beads in the 1950s.

Two-Handed Pogo Stick (1957)
A single vertical-poled pogo stick was around since the late 1800s, but a two-handed stick debuted in 1957. Mister B didn’t have one, but some neighborhood kids did. It took a while before he got the hang of it and could compete with the kids for highest number of consecutive bounces.

Hula Hoop (1958)
Based on a gymnast’s ring, which had been around for centuries in China, Wham-O introduced the plastic hula hoop in 1958 and launched a huge worldwide fad. Youngsters to teens were all mesmerized with the task of rotating the hoop around their waist for as long as possible. Advanced users could rotate them around their necks or arms. Mister B and his siblings each had one. Mister B enjoyed flipping the hoop. The proper flick of the wrist would send the hoop out and back to the place of origin.

Barbie (1959)
The doll that launched Mattel toy sales into the stratosphere for years began during the boomer years. Mister Boomer’s sister loved her Barbie, and Mister B and Brother boomer liked the fact that they could always count on getting a new outfit for her each Christmas, making gift buying for their sister that much easier.

Chatty Cathy (1959)
The first talking doll activated by pulling a string, the doll appeared in stores and in TV commercials in 1960. Mister B’s sister got one of these dolls for Christmas one year. (See Boomers Knew What a “Chatty Cathy” Was)

Etch A Sketch (1959 in Germany, 1960 in US)
Etch A Sketch has become one of the most iconic toys of the Boomer Era. The Ohio Art Company saw the toy at a toy fair in Germany in 1959, envisioned its potential, and brought it to the U.S. market as a new decade appeared. Mister Boomer had his for many years, eventually becoming proficient enough to draw circles using the horizontal and vertical control knobs.

Whether you were an early or late boomer, chances are good you or your siblings got one of these toys for Christmas. Which ones did you enjoy, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Fun,Holidays,Pop Culture History,Toys and have Comment (1)

Boomers Have a Cost-Effective Thanksgiving

It’s no secret to boomers and non-boomers alike that the cost of living continues to rise. Boomers, having been around longer, even revel in the fact that they can say, “I remember when…” to recount 10 cent Coca-Colas and 20 cent gallons of gas. Now, from the currently cobwebbed Good News Department, come reports that the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner is actually going down from last year’s high — to just under $50 to feed a party of 10 according to the annual Farm Bureau price survey.

This comes as a surprise to Mister Boomer. After all, on average virtually everything has risen in the past 50 years at a rate of approximately ten times what it was in the 1960s — everything except salaries, that is. The cost of housing, transportation, clothing and more have risen faster than the average weekly pay. Consequently, many boomers, including Mister B, pine for the days when a dollar would just stretch further.

In 1965, the median income in the U.S. was around $7,000, which more than doubled the median income in the 15 years from 1950. It was a boom time for the country, and it helped fuel the entire Boomer Generation. In 1960, the average cost of a Thanksgiving turkey — the biggest cost in the meal — was around 39 cents a pound. That meant a 20-pound turkey cost just under eight dollars. Add the cost of trimmings and the average cost of a Thanksgiving dinner in that decade ran between 20 and 30 dollars. That’s still a bargain when you consider that amounted to no more one third of an average weekly pay, and less than three dollars per person for a Thanksgiving holiday that is centered around the meal.

What boomer Thanksgiving would be complete without a jellied cranberry sauce that is shaped like the can? Today’s cost is between one and two dollars a can, where fifty years ago three or four cans could be purchased for the same dollar. Mister Boomer and Brother Boomer vied for the honor of opening the can of cranberry sauce every year. Mister B in particular enjoyed the slosh-plop as it slid from the can to a plate, ready to be sliced into thick medallions and eaten. It was the 1970s before Mister B was made aware that cranberry sauce could also be purchased with whole berries in a relish-like state. No can shape? Not very festive, now, is it?


In Mister Boomer’s household, generic brands were often purchased over national name brands. Mister B and Brother Boomer would, after taking off the top of the can, use the can opener to puncture the bottom so incoming air could facilitate the plop.

A survey of today’s national supermarkets shows the price of a turkey this year to be hovering around 60 cents a pound. Industry sources are stating that retailers are using the turkey as a loss leader, choosing to make their profit off the trimmings. Unfortunately for retailers, the trimmings have, for the most part, also dropped in price over their highest levels in the early 2000s. On the whole, most vegetables are lower while grains and some dairy are higher.

Boomers, now grandparents in a good many families, have helped shape Thanksgiving to the annual holiday-of-excessive-eating that we enjoy today. As such, regardless of their financial means, they are going to do their best to see that their families enjoy Thanksgiving as much as they did, lower prices or not. Nonetheless, if it really is true that we are spending less of a percentage of our weekly pay on a Thanksgiving meal than we did fifty years ago, then Mister B would have to say there’s one more thing to be thankful for this holiday.

Mister Boomer is thankful for your continued readership, and wishes you your very own can-shaped cranberry sauce this holiday. Happy Thanksgiving!

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Holidays,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Boomers Celebrate Thanksgiving With Family

The Thanksgiving holiday is right around the corner, and airline industry analysts expect more than 24-and-a-half million people will take a plane in the 21 day period between November 21 and December 2. That’s an increase of more than 31,000 people per day over last year. The reason is simple: people are headed “home,” which is now further away than it used to be in the Boomer Era.

Thanksgiving is the most quintessential of American holidays, and, as boomers can attest, has always meant spending time with family. It’s the most homogenous of the holidays, with turkey and all the trimmings, though the trimmings can vary slightly by region and ethnic origin. One thing hasn’t changed, and that is, it celebrates “home,” wherever that may be. At the turn of the century, over the river and through the woods was the way to grandmother’s house. By the end of the Baby Boom in 1964, the U.S. highway system meant travel by car was much easier than previous decades. The highway system had given a boost to the migration of people away from small towns and rural communities, which began in the 1950s.

The move from small communities was precipitated by a variety of factors. Soldiers returning home from the War had been subjected to stories of other places and future opportunities that stirred their imagination and wanderlust; employment was more plentiful in larger communities; returning soldiers may have married someone from a different region; the new national highway system and car travel expanded suburbs and locations that could be away but still within one day’s drive for burgeoning boomer families; and, as boomers themselves aged and became college students, life in another state was a real possibility.

After two decades of boomer families migrating away from small towns, there was a slight uptick of people moving back to those communities in the 1970s as the aging parents of boomers retired, but that quickly changed in the 1980s. Overall, in the period between 1950 and 2000, there has been a significant loss of 20 to 29 year olds in small town populations. Today only 37 percent of people continue to live in the hometown area in which they were raised. Plus, college graduates are more likely to have lived in multiple states than at any other time in history. That translates into more trips over Thanksgiving as boomers and now the children of boomers travel.

Nonetheless, for most boomers in the core boomer years of 1945 to 1964, “home” remained within a day’s drive from the place from which they were born. In Mister Boomer’s case, all of his aunts, uncles and cousins lived within a hour’s drive of each other. Many lived in the same city. Like many boomers, it was a move out of an urban environment to expanding suburbs during the Baby Boom for Mister B’s parents. As a result, Mister B’s suburb was literally on the edge of suburbia-meets-farmland. There was a working farm directly behind the row of houses across the street from Mister B’s childhood home until the early 1960s, when the land was parceled up and new homes were built. Getting grandparents and extended family together for Thanksgiving was a short freeway drive away.

Unlike a lot of movies and nightmare stories some people have of family gatherings, Thanksgiving for Mister B was a great American holiday designed for stuffing one’s self to the gills, even if it meant sitting at the kids’ table. (See: Boomers Had a Different Thanksgiving).

How far will you travel this Thanksgiving, boomers? Or is your family traveling back to you?

posted by Mister B in Holidays,Pop Culture History,Travel and have Comment (1)