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?

Boomer Christmas Songs Fifty Years Ago

When boomers were young, they listened to whatever holiday music their parents played on the family record player, or radio station to which they happened to be tuned. Consequently, for most boomers in the early days, holiday music was a steady diet of singers popular in the 1940s and early ’50s, like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Patti Page, Perry Como, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé, to name a few. As boomers received their own transistor radios, they began to have some choice in their selection.

Unlike today, radio stations usually began playing holiday songs interspersed with their regular playlists on the day after Thanksgiving, starting with one song per hour and working in more each day until Christmas Eve. Boomers had the chance to hear music they claimed for their own, and not just their parents’ holiday music. There had been a tradition of Christmas songs by blues musicians for years, and rock ‘n roll musicians were beginning to add their own touch of modernity to the mix. Many are now classics in their own right, such as: Brenda Lee’s version of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (1959); Chuck Berry’s Run, Run Rudolph (1958); Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas, Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me and Santa Claus is Back in Town (all from Elvis’ Christmas Album, 1957 — all of which were reissued as singles in 1964). Popular bands of the 1960s began releasing their own Christmas singles or albums: The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album (1964) gave us Little Saint Nick; The Ventures’ Christmas Album (1965) echoed their surf-guitar sound; James Brown Sings Christmas Songs (1966) was truly like no other; and, what many people consider to be the quintessential Christmas album of the boomer era, A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector (1963). This album alone gave us the now classic versions of Frosty the Snowman by the Ronettes and the ever-popular, Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) by Darlene Love.

Nevertheless, most radio stations still played a healthy dose of the same music listened to by the parents of boomers, in all its sentimental, schmaltzy glory. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to find out that by 1968 — fifty years ago — a good portion of new holiday releases were by artists more in tune with our parents’ taste than our own. A case in point is Robert Goulet’s 1968 release, Hurry Home for Christmas.

Yet there were some touches of the rock and pop age to be had that year as well, though most are now all but forgotten. Among the highlights of holiday music released in 1968 that were more relevant to boomers were:

Back Door Santa by Clarence Carter (released as a single from the album, Soul Christmas, that same year)

Christmas Blues, an album by Canned Heat; that same year, the band released a Christmas boogie song with Alvin and the Chipmunks!

A Christmas Wish, an album by Bobby Goldsboro

My Favorite Things from the Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Christmas Album

Mister Boomer’s family was probably like most other boomer households in that his mother had her favorite Christmas albums, and dominated the holiday music playlist for the house. Brother Boomer, the primary buyer of rock ‘n roll in the household, didn’t pay much attention to holiday music. Mister B can’t think of a holiday single or album that he brought home. So, the annual tradition for Mister B and his sister — Brother Boomer being out and about by then — was his mom asking him to cue up her Christmas albums on the family record player in the living room. Her favorites included, Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams and Barbra Streisand’s Christmas albums. Mister B’s sister added the single of Snoopy’s Christmas vs. the Red Baron (1967).

What holiday music was playing in your house, boomers? And what did you like best?