At Christmas 1967, the Baby Boom was over and its earliest members had reached the age of twenty-one, while the last group of boomers celebrated their third Christmas. The year gave us the Spaghetti Western with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and A Fistful of Dollars, while Katharine Hepburn went on to win a Best Actress Oscar for her role in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, which debuted that year. America was transfixed by the Summer of Love and dazzled by Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival. That same month, The Beatles released the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
The world was rapidly changing, but the holiday landscape reflected Christmas traditions of earlier boomer years for the latest members of the generation, born 1960-64. Nonetheless, the celebration of the season was tempered with the backdrop of a full-scale war, though undeclared, going on in a place most people couldn’t find on a map. Here are some numbers and facts about our Christmas of 1967:
There were 3,520,959 births in the U.S. that year as the population rose to 203,713,081. Among the now-famous who celebrated their first Christmas that year are Julia Roberts, Will Ferrell, Laura Dern, Vin Diesel, Nicole Kidman, Kurt Kobain, Pamela Anderson, Jamie Foxx and a plethora of celebrities from all types of creative disciplines.
There were 485,600 troops stationed Over There. The Battle of Tam Quan was fought the first two weeks of December, resulting in 58 U.S. soldiers never celebrating another Christmas. In October of 1967, 100,000 people assembled at the Lincoln Memorial and around half of the protestors continued marching to the Pentagon in “The March on the Pentagon to Confront the War Makers.” In December there were protests against the Draft — with public burnings of Draft Cards — in San Francisco and New York. Anti-war protests increased into the next year.
Hot Toys of the Season
Spiro-Graph was named Toy of the Year by toymakers, but Milton Bradley’s Battleship game was the top seller. Other top sellers included Lite Brite, Matchbox cars, doll furniture and houses, Lionel train sets and Aurora slot car tracks, to name a few.
Dollars and Cents
Postage to mail a Christmas card first-class in 1967 was five cents. The average annual income was just over $17,000 and people spent approximately $340 each on Christmas gifts. By contrast, people are expected to spend more than $900 per capita this year, and it’ll cost 49¢ to mail a Christmas card.
Christmas of 1967 was an in-between moment for Mister Boomer. As a young teen he began to become aware of the surrounding world while embracing the music of the time; and it was the year he got his first pair of bell bottoms. It was to be a season of exuberant boomer family celebration as it had always been, though Mister B realized he wouldn’t be a kid forever.
Have yourselves a Merry Boomer Christmas! What was Christmas like for you fifty years ago, boomers?
Recently, Mister Boomer came across a seasonal article comparing the “Christmas Divas,” Mariah Carey and Gwen Stefani. While Ms. Stefani has released her first Christmas album this year, Ms. Carey has connected her brand with Christmas music since her smash seasonal hit, All I Want for Christmas is You, twenty-three years ago in 1994. Mister B recalls hearing it somewhere through the years, probably in a retail setting somewhere around Halloween. That song, according to the article, is now considered a classic. A classic? Mister Boomer has socks older than that song.
That got Mister Boomer thinking about the Christmas music classics that we heard as kids, and occasionally hear today. The market for Christmas music, like so many things, grew exponentially after WWII as boomer families got their first record player or phonograph/TV console.
While stars of earlier decades — such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Dean Martin — dominated Christmas music into the boomer years, Mister B, like so many boomers, considered them old fogeys. As far as classic Christmas music of the boomer years is concerned, Mister B points to Gene Autry’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer from 1949. It was timed right for the Boomer Generation, and got an extra boost thanks to the classic stop-action animated TV special of the same name in 1964.
The 1950s added to the roster of classic Christmas music with titles that are sure to jingle nostalgic bells for boomers: I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Jimmy Boyd (1952) Santa Baby, Eartha Kitt (1953) Nuttin’ for Christmas, Art Mooney (1955) Jingle Bell Rock, Jimmy Boyd (1957) [Brenda Lee’s version was released in 1964] Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me, Elvis (1957) Run Rudolph Run, Chuck Berry (1958) Christmas Don’t Be Late, Alvin and the Chipmunks (1958)
Nestled in that list is Elvis Presley, with songs from his Elvis’ Christmas Album (1957). A multitude of songs from the album are classics in anyone’s book, including Blue Christmas and Elvis’ interpretation of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. It is the best-selling Christmas album of all time. When it was released, Elvis’ rock-and-blues version of White Christmas so irked Irving Berlin that he tried to have it banned from radio airplay. Instead, the song went to the top of the charts, and between 1957 and 1969, boomer families bought three million copies of the album. It was reissued in 1970, and together with various reissues since then, the record has sold more than 20 million copies. How is that for a classic?
Mister Boomer’s father gravitated toward Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, but his mother loved Elvis’ Christmas Album. She would ask Mister B to play it on “the Victrola,” which is what she called the family record player that sat in the living room.
The 1960s saw an explosion of current groups recording Christmas music, as record companies saw potential dollar signs dancing in their heads. Consequently, practically every popular group released 45 RPMs or Christmas albums. The Everly Brothers got into the holiday spirit with Christmas with the Everly Brothers in 1962 while The Beach Boys Christmas Album was released in 1964. The 4 Seasons’ Christmas Album hit in 1966 and in 1968, Otis Redding released Merry Christmas, Baby.
No mention of 1960s classic Christmas music would be complete without naming Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You. The album had the unfortunate circumstance of being released the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated — November 22, 1963 — and was not well-received right away. As time went on, the album gained in popularity as people discovered the songs by The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, Ronnie Spector and of course, Darlene Love.
Already a classic song by a classic performer, David Letterman so enjoyed Darlene Love’s performance of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) on The Late Show in 1986 that he asked her to come back and sing it every year until the show ended in 2014. Take that, Christmas divas!
By the time the 1970s arrived, it looked like the creative burst of popular Christmas music had run its course. The Temptations Christmas Card, released in 1970, rehashed some old chestnuts to little fanfare. As far as Mister Boomer is concerned, the nail in the coffin of classic Christmas music came with two songs released in the 1970s: Jingle Bells by the Singing Dogs and Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer, by Elmo ‘n’ Patsy in 1979. Like an ice bucket challenge gone awry, Christmas music has all but been the fruitcake gift for boomers ever since. Is it any wonder why so many people dislike Christmas music these days? If only they were there when we were, they’d see that classic Christmas music was more than a holiday novelty, it was good music.
What’s your take on classic Christmas music, boomers?
Not since the Great Thanksgiving Cranberry Scare of 1959 (previously posted by Mister B), have boomers faced a holiday staple shortage like what is expected this season — and for the next few years — with real Christmas trees. The causes for this shortage are varied by region, but are mostly due to the economic climate 8 to 10 years ago; experts predict overall that prices may rise by ten percent. In some areas, shortages will be made up by importing more trees from Canada or by early cutting by some growers.
The market for real trees began dropping after the boomer years, due to the proliferation of aluminum and artificial trees (previously by Mister B: Visions of Aluminum Trees Danced Through Boomers’ Heads). One might assume that as time has passed, the two generations since the Boomer Generation would prefer artificial trees for their convenience and, in recent years, life-like appearance. While that assumption is mostly correct, the market for real trees perked up and leveled off as boomers had families of their own. Some say it was pure nostalgia, while others actually attribute it to the annual airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas.
In the early 2000s, there was a glut of the supply of trees, and then the Great Recession of 2008 entered the picture. As growers reduced the number of plantings to adjust for the drop in sales, a triple whammy of seedling shortages, drought and wildfires hit across several states that grow the majority of trees in the country. It takes approximately 10 to 15 years for a tree to grow to the average height of six to seven feet to be ready for harvesting. Drought and wildfires can delay or eliminate an entire crop for a decade or more. Add an increase in diesel fuel prices over last year and we are faced with this year’s circumstances.
Growers say shortages may be spotty, since Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states and Canada. A shift to other types of trees may also help adjust for shortages in some areas. The top five types of trees sold for Christmas are Balsam Fir, Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir, Noble Fir and Scotch Pine. An expected 25 to 35 million trees from Christmas tree farms will be sold this year.
Mister Boomer’s family did not own an artificial tree of any kind during his years in the family residence. His father saw the hunt for the perfect tree as an annual challenge that was meant to be shared with his two sons. His sons were mostly cold and tired of drifting from lot to lot, only to get back into the car when prices weren’t negotiable or selection not to Mister Boomer’s father’s expectations.
Mister B’s dad, like most people of the time, preferred Scotch Pine. The type is known for its perfect Christmas tree shape and sturdy branches that hold up to family heirloom ornaments. For many years Mister Boomer wanted his family to try Fraser Fir. The shorter needles and bluish tinge were appealing to his burgeoning design style, and besides, since he regularly watered the tree and vacuumed up fallen needles, the Fraser was practically maintenance-free compared to the other types. Nonetheless, his father almost always chose Scotch Pine or Douglas Fir.
When it comes to nostalgia, Mister B is feeling it. The natural aroma alone of waking up and smelling the pine scent of the tree is a memory that will never be triggered from any pine-scented air freshener for him. After speaking with many boomers of various ages, he discovered that it was practically universal for us to, at some point, lie down under the tree and stare up through the branches, enthralled by the scent and mesmerized by the colors glowing from the branches. Now that’s a boomer memory brought to you by the growers of real trees!
Mister Boomer has always been conflicted when it came to real Christmas trees. The philosophical duality for him were weighing the incredible experience of living with natural trees in the home against the violent act of cutting these things of beauty from their outdoor surroundings, gussying them up for a few weeks with lights and decorations, then unceremoniously discarding them after New Year’s (Three Kings Day in Mister Boomer’s house). As Mister Boomer’s awareness grew with the Environmental Movement of the 1970s, he decided that he comes down on the side of real versus artificial. Real trees are a renewable resource, provide habitat for wildlife, put oxygen into the air and Christmas tree farms plant one to three seedlings for every tree that is cut. More communities are sponsoring recycling events for trees after the holidays, too. Now trees are not simply left to decompose in landfills (naturally, of course), but are chopped into mulch that is used in city, community and personal gardens from coast to coast. These are the gifts that real trees give us. As far as Mister Boomer is concerned, the memories of Christmas Past would not be complete without the search for the tree, decorating it and enjoying its presence for a few short weeks.
Christmas comes along once a year; isn’t it worth a few extra dollars or a couple of hours of searching to give your family the memories that we had as young boomers? From Mister Boomer, may your trees be real and bright, and may all your shortages be light.
Did your family prefer real over artificial trees, boomers? How do you feel about the Great Tree Debate today? Will a shortage of real trees affect your purchase this year?
If your family was anything like Mister Boomer’s, you had brothers and sisters. Between 1950 and 1960, the U.S. population grew 19 percent to pass 179 million. In 1960, the average family had two children, and 60 percent of U.S. households had children under the age of 18. In Mister Boomer’s experience, almost every house on his block had at least three children, and often, more. Growing up with brothers and sisters posed lots of challenges, and one of them that surfaced annually was what gifts to get them for Christmas.
Once Mister Boomer’s younger sister hit the preteen stage, the Boomer children got together and decided to solve the dilemma by giving each other suggested gift lists, with a promise to adhere to the written word. This would ensure that no one got the gift they did not want. Mister B does not recall which of his siblings suggested the list, but all were enthusiastic about the prospect of avoiding the dreaded dud present.
In the earliest days, Boomer Sister would ask for board games, card games and View-Master slides. As she crossed into early teendom, Barbie dominated the lists. It was a welcome addition for Mister Boomer, since she would spell out exactly which ensembles to purchase, and since the cost was within his hard-earned budget, he managed to gift two on occasion.
Brother Boomer enjoyed building things, so model cars and Testor’s paint were often a safe bet for his lists. As he reached high school age, music was right up there on his lists. He would often buy 45 RPMs himself, but Christmas afforded the opportunity to ask for albums.
Mister Boomer always felt funny about asking for gifts, but also wanted to avoid receiving things that were unacceptable. His early lists might include model cars and planes, or building sets. In his late teens, music — albums and 8-tracks — made the list. Almost never would Mister B, Brother Boomer or Boomer Sister put clothing on the lists, but if they did, correct sizes and colors were a must.
As far as Mister B’s parents, they would go their own way in buying gifts for the kids, regardless of whether the kids gave them a list or not. Of course, that didn’t stop Mister B and his siblings from pointing out a commercial or two during Saturday morning cartoons. It was a given for the Boomer children that there would be socks and underwear. And long johns were a must in Midwest winters, so if the kids had outgrown the pair from the year before, Christmas gifting was the clothing staging center for the impending coldest winter months.
Mister Boomer’s father was always a big kid himself, so he enjoyed buying toys for his children. Though Mister B was always aware the family was on a tight budget, his father saw to it that each kid got one “big” gift every year. For the boys, it might be a football, ice skates or hockey sticks; and for his sister, Easy-Bake ovens, Creepy Crawlers and Operation. Every child had their own sled as well.
The idea of exchanging gift lists continued with Mister B’s brother and sister until one year, when all three children lived in different states and both his brother and sister had children of their own. It was agreed that they had exchanged enough gifts and sibling presents could stop; then the lists that circulated were for their children.
How did you treat gift buying with your siblings, boomers? Did you exchange suggested gift lists?
Mister Boomer’s mother-in-law passed away last month at the age of 90. Since this Thanksgiving will be the first holiday the family will be marking without her presence, it seems fitting that Mister B honor her memory with this classic Thanksgiving post from 2011 — the only time he specifically mentioned his mother-in-law in misterboomer.com history. She will be missed this holiday.
Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Soup Bones
The Thanksgiving meal had ended, and the clean up had begun. Mister Boomer’s father-in-law was carving the remainder of the turkey and removing large chunks of meat from the carcass. “I get all the bones!” Mister B’s mother-in-law stated emphatically. Befitting a person of her generation, nothing would be wasted on this holiday bird. That sent Mister B on a trip down Memory Lane.
When Mister Boomer was a child, leftovers extended as many days beyond Thanksgiving as the remaining turkey would allow: turkey sandwiches; turkey casseroles; hot turkey open-face sandwiches; and turkey soup were on the family menu. The turkey carcass, like all meat bones, were used to make the soup. It was common for the parents of boomers to wring as much use as they could out of whatever food they purchased. Whether it was from a time when people held a different train of thought that had been ingrained into their being from their immigrant parents, or a result of living with food rationing during World War II, “waste not, want not” was the order of the day.
It was common for the parents of boomers to use every bit of the holiday turkey, including making soup stock with the bones. The leftover bones of any family meal could end up flavoring a pot of soup.
Turkey carcasses weren’t the only animal bones utilized in the Mister Boomer household. When he was a youngster, money was tight in the Mister Boomer home. That meant the leftovers from any family meal would help make up a meal or two during the week. At least three other meals per week were either meatless or executed as economically as possible. Fortunately, Mister B’s father loved soup in any iteration. The soup-cooking trinity for Mister B’s mom were carrots, celery and onions. Aside from being among the most inexpensive and readily available of fresh vegetables, they could impart real flavor to water to become the basis for any soup.
Mister B recalls his mother sending him to a corner store a couple of blocks away. “Ask the man behind the counter for soup bones,” she would say. At the store, the meat man would know exactly what she was talking about. In the late fifties and early sixties, soup bones could be gotten for free, or in some instances, for only pennies per pound. Most often Mister B would return home with oxtails or ham shanks. One time in particular, Mister B recalls the butcher wrapping ham shank bones in paper. Without any charge, he was free to walk out of the store with the paper package, as large as a school book, tucked under his arm.
Mister B’s mom dropped the ham shank bones into the pot she had used to caramelize her vegetable trinity and covered the ingredients with water. Then she’d add a package of split peas and some salt and pepper. A few hours of simmering later, the family had split pea soup for dinner. Sometimes, there would be fork-sized chunks of ham still on the bones, adding an extra salty, meaty flavor to her thick soup; Mister B’s father would sop up every drop with the help of a slice of white bread. As a change of pace, butter beans were substituted for split peas.
These days, Mister B prefers to make vegetable soup, but he doesn’t care for onions. Nonetheless, the same basic steps hold true: inexpensive ingredients, starting with celery and carrots and combined with whatever is on hand in the fridge; every vegetable and protein is fair game for a great soup concoction on a fall night. Mister B learned his frugality lessons well.
Whether we’re personally in a situation of plenty in our lives, or experiencing tough times, perhaps we should take a page from the book of our economically-minded parents, beginning with making full use of all the food ingredients at our disposal. “Waste not, want not”; now that’s something to be thankful for.
What visions of soup bones dance through your memories, boomers?