Boomers Loved Elvis Christmas Music

There are many things in boomer cultural history that have lasted well beyond our Wonder Years to become classics in their own right, but perhaps none more prevalent this time of year than Christmas music from Elvis; more specifically, music from Elvis’ Christmas Album, originally released in 1957. No matter to which part of the Boomer Generation you belong, you probably have favorites and know the words to several of these songs, played annually on radio stations — and therefore our transistor radios and car radios — ever since the album first arrived.

The album was quintessential Elvis: a mix of blues, gospel and rock, with a flair that only the King could covey. The two sides of the record were divided between traditional and secular, with some standard classics and some written specifically for the record. Elvis could exercise his gospel chops on one side, and rock and blues his way through the other. It was reissued several times, including while Elvis was in the Army and was stationed in Germany.

Mister Boomer heard the songs annually on the radio, like most every other boomer. But his mother acquired the reissue of the album in 1970. When she wasn’t playing Andy Williams singing Ave Maria on the family “Victrola,” as she called the stereo (she called the refrigerator the “ice box,” so there you go), then her Christmas music of choice was the Elvis album.

Mister B was partial to the secular side. Three songs from that side were released as singles at various points in Elvis’ career, and they happen to be Mister B’s favorites from the album:
Santa Bring My Baby Back (to Me)
Blue Christmas
Santa Claus is Back in Town

Santa Bring My Baby Back (to Me) was commissioned for Elvis. The writers of the song, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, were also responsible for songs that became hits for Elvis and other people before him. The team wrote both Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock! And get this, the duo also was responsible for Santa Claus is Back In Town on the same album, written especially for Elvis!

The song, Blue Christmas, was around nearly a decade before Elvis recorded it. Written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson, it was first recorded by Doye O’Dell in 1948. That same year, Ernest Tubb released his version and had a hit with it. Subsequent releases, including orchestral instrumentals of this country-tinged classic, made it a staple on country stations at Christmastime. Elvis took it to the next level with his 1957 release. At this point, it’s Elvis who comes to mind when someone says, Blue Christmas. It is a cross-generational classic.

The traditional side had religious and pop Christmas standards, but was the side of the album that garnered the most controversy. Elvis patterned his arrangement of White Christmas after the doo wop version released by The Drifters in 1954. Their version of the song charted at R&B stations, but did not gain widespread radio airplay. Then Elvis’ version hit the airwaves. When Irving Berlin — yes, THAT Irving Berlin — heard his song performed by Elvis, he went ballistic. Bing Crosby had made White Christmas famous in 1942, and by the 1950s, it had attained classic status. So, Berlin thought Elvis was destroying his music. He called radio stations and tried to have the Elvis record banned from airplay. For the most part, stations ignored him, though some Canadian station chose not to play it.

OK, boomers! What is your favorite Elvis Christmas song? Did you have the 45 RPM singles or the album?

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?