How Boomers Played Between the Holidays

Christmas has passed and the year is rapidly progressing to its inevitable end. Throughout the country, girls and boys are home for the holidays, on leave from school until after the first of the New Year. How are kids filling this time between the holidays these days? According to multiple sources, the bulk of their time is spent on screen. Phones, tablets, computers and video gaming on TVs have captured our youth, in many cases, to the exclusion of most other things, including outdoor play.

Things could not have been more different for boomers. In Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, the days between Christmas and New Year’s were all about outdoor play. Sleds, ice skates and hockey sticks, as well as gloves, hats, boots and scarves, were common Christmas gifts. The week between was a good proving ground for the equipment.

A typical day for Mister B and his siblings could start as early as 7:00 am, roughly the same time the Boomer kids got up for school. After feeding themselves cereal and milk (and possibly a slice of fruitcake or a Christmas cookie or two in Mr. Boomer’s case), the Boomer kids were out the door and calling on neighborhood kids, who were already assembling to decide what was first on the day’s to do list.

Very often, sledding started the day. More often than not, there was plenty of snow on the ground. It was one activity that kids of every age, girls and boys, could do at the same time, in the same general vicinity of each other. A walk to a nearby school that had a suitable incline situated alongside, which provided a ready-to-sled opportunity, though it was tame in its angle. The city had built a sledding hill in a neighborhood park, but the experience was more structured; the park teen-hires maintained order as best they could, keeping kids in line for their turn down the slope. Brother Boomer showed Mister B the correct timing to bypass the park workers, and the line, and sneak off to sled the back side of the hill. It was forbidden because of its sharp angle and abundance of trees. That was exactly why kids wanted to sled it; the speeds were fast and steering was essential to prevent an accident. There were a few casualties along the way, with sleds ramming into trees, acquiring cracked wood and bent runners, while the occupants endured everything from a few bumps to bloody lips. If the workers caught the kids going down the backside, they would not be allowed back up the hill for another run, even on the “legal” side.

After a few hours, kids were cold and ready for some quick nourishment. Mister Boomer does not recall a time when he and his siblings ever stopped for an actual lunch. Rather, it was more like a pit stop. Mister B and his siblings would return home with their sleds through the back door of the house, where they could bring the sleds to the basement. Back up the stairs to the landing, they could remove coats and boots, as well as wet socks and wet gloves. It was the age before polyester outerwear, so boomer kids dressed in layers of mostly cotton and wool.

A quick jaunt into the kitchen was intended to warm them up a little. While they were there, they could grab a few Christmas cookies and maybe a slice of lunch meat; Mister Boomer’s parents always had ham, bologna and olive loaf, and sometimes salami, available. Snack in hand, Mister B and his siblings would get fresh socks and gloves, and repeat the process of dressing for the afternoon’s outdoor happenings. Two possible activities would be next: either ice skating for all, or a split between the girls and boys, so the girls could make a snowman while the boys built snow forts and had snowball fights.

There were no indoor ice rinks in Mister B’s area. All available skating ice was formed naturally in depressions in the landscape of a nearby park. There were multiple spots of varying sizes available to kids, so smaller “rinks” the size of a kiddie pool were often taken by kids learning how to skate. Mister B and his siblings had started that way, on skates with double blades, then “graduating” to full adult, single-blade ice skates through a Christmas gift package a couple of years later.

Sometimes, Mister B and his brother would bring their hockey sticks and play with neighborhood kids on the largest patch of ice. Goals were formed out of lines of mounded snow, but skating around and taking the puck from each other seemed to be the biggest attraction. Kids would stay until the setting sun took enough light away to see what was going on.

In every instance, boomer kids were outside for hours at a time, completely unsupervised by adults (except the city-controlled sledding hill). Kids might return home with a few bumps and bruises, broken glasses or a little blood here and there, but nothing that a mother’s kiss and a little mercurochrome couldn’t fix.

How about you, boomers? How did you play in the week between Christmas and New Year’s?

Boomers Didn’t Want Christmas to Be Late

The only Christmas song that achieved the number one position on Billboard’s Top 100 during the boomer years was knocked off its six-decade throne by a relative newcomer this past week. In case you missed the news, the former number one song to which Mister Boomer refers is none other than The Chipmunks Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late), originally issued in 1958. It was the first holiday record to reach number one on the Billboard charts, a title it held until December of 2019. The song that replaced its 61 year reign was All I Want for Christmas, by Mariah Carey.

The remarkable thing about this musical usurping is that Carey’s song was first released in 1994. Ok boomers, you do the math. It took her song 25 years to reach number one, a feat the Chipmunks did in one month. Does that say anything about the Boomer Generation? Who knows? But Mister Boomer prefers talking about his generation …

Recorded under his stage name of David Seville, Ross Bagdasarian Sr. wrote, sang and produced The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) as a novelty record featuring his fictitious anthropomorphic animal group, Alvin and the Chipmunks. Within seven weeks, the record had sold 4.5 million copies. It went on to win three Grammy Awards in 1958: Best Comedy Performance, Best Children’s Recording, and Best Engineered Record (non-classical).

If the name David Seville sounds familiar outside of the Chipmunks records, TV shows and movies, it is because he (Ross Bagdasarian Sr.) released another Top Ten hit in 1958: Witch Doctor. In that single, which reached number 4 on the charts, Bagdasarian utilized the sped-up vocals that became the signature sound of the Chipmunks a few months later. Hardly the first to speed-up vocals on record, Bagdasarian saw the potential for an entire band of singing Chipmunks within the technique. He sang all the parts on the record, changing the speed and pitch to individualize each singing Chipmunk.

It’s hard to say why boomer kids took to this song so completely. It may have been the mischievous Alvin character, who kept singing about wanting a hula hoop for Christmas. It may have been that there was an established tradition of singing animals already present, thanks to decades of Disney films. Yet, Mister B has to say, it was not incredibly popular in his household. His sister, all of two when the song was initially released, would rock back and forth to the Waltz-like tempo. Mister B did try to imitate the Alvin voice, uttering an occasional “OK,” when told to do something by his parents during the Christmas season for a couple of years, but that was about as much attention as the song got.

Despite its novelty status, it was quite a feat to reach number one considering the catalog of Christmas music that came before and after it. Billboard changed the rules and stopped counting holiday songs in the Top 100 from 1963 to ’72, then again from 1983 to ’85. During those years, holidays songs were charted separately. Think about that boomers. All the songs released by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and even Elvis could not do what Alvin and the Chipmunks did.

What other Christmas competition did the song have in 1958? Some real Christmas classics came to us that year:

Winter Wonderland by Johnny Mathis (his version of the 1934 classic)
Run Rudolph Run (aka Run Run Rudolph) Chuck Berry (incidentally, the song was written by Johnny Marks, the same songwriter who gave boomers Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, popularized by Gene Autry, in 1949)
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee (also written by Johnny Marks, the song did not catch on until 1960, and has been considered a classic ever since. Marks also gave us Holly, Jolly Christmas in 1962 )

The Chipmunks Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) was reissued in 1959 and again in 1961. Both times it charted into the Top 100, reaching number 45 and number 39, respectively. However, it could not repeat its 1958 rise to number one.

How about you, boomers? Do you have any specific memories of Alvin and the Chipmunks singing Christmas Don’t Be Late?