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Boomers Know Real Christmas Music Classics

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?

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

Boomers Face A Christmas Tree Shortage

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?

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

Boomers Made a List for Sibling Gifts

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?

posted by Mister B in Holidays,Pop Culture History,Toys and have No Comments

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)