Back in the Day: Christmas TV specials, music from back when

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By Tony Wade
Published in the Fairfield Daily Republic on Dec. 5, 2014

As a kid, Christmas involved setting up our silver aluminum Christmas tree next to the cardboard fireplace (Cape Hart Navy housing in Norfolk, Virginia, didn’t have fireplaces) and huge multicolored bulbs festooned on the outside of the house.

But what really heralded the Christmas season were the specials on television, coupled with traditional music.

Cartoon classics like “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” were must-sees each year, but I really loved the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated specials. They included “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.”

Rankin/Bass’s “The Year Without a Santa Claus” debuted Tuesday, Dec. 10, 1974, when I was in fifth grade. The next day at school, me and friends like Sam Inabinet relived the hilarious/poignant story. Decades before there were opposing camps for lame “Twilight” characters, we pioneered the concept with Team Heat Miser and Team Snow Miser.

The wonderful music in the specials helped make them memorable, like the respective Miser songs and “Put One Foot in Front of the Other” from “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.”

One year at my elementary school, a local R&B group came and did Christmas songs for us and one song I loved was “Up on the House Top” in the style of the Jackson 5. That was the coolest thing we’d ever seen next to “Emergency!” and “Kung Fu” lunchboxes.

I used to hate my mom’s Christmas albums, like the Goodyear “Great Songs of Christmas” ones featuring artists like Mitch Miller, Robert Goulet and Mahalia Jackson. While I now prefer rock ’n’ roll Christmas music by groups like Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I found one of those old traditional albums and now love it because it reminds me of my mom.

Other locals shared memories:

JoAnn Hinkson Beebe: Our favorite was “Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.” The girls would all sit on my lap and we’d laugh and cry. Such special times shared.

Paula Lindsey: Every time I hear “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” it takes me right back to our small kitchen and my mom, still wearing her long robe, dancing around my dad while singing the song. Usually she was making breakfast and so had a spatula in one hand and the ever-present coffee mug in the other.

Diana Lynn Paladin: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was my favorite. Boris Karloff was perfect as the narrator and the ongoing song always cracked me up. My younger sister Cindy spent years being called “Cindy Lou Who” after the show would air and the show’s dog, Max, looked remarkably like our dog.

Donna Kilpatrick Stockebrand: My mother grew up poor in rural East Texas. She told me that they would write notes to Santa, hang them on the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, then on Christmas morning, they would read Santa’s answers.

My parents bought a new house on Kansas Street in Fairfield when I was 7, and when I was 8, I wanted a dog so I wrote a few notes asking Santa for one and hung them on the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning, there was no dog and Santa had answered my notes with about 10 different reasons why owning a dog would not be a good idea! I did get a Chihuahua the next year, but it wasn’t for Christmas.

Lisa Anglin: When my dad was in Vietnam, I used to like watching the “Bob Hope Christmas Special.” I remember I would look at all of the faces of the men, trying to find my dad. Never mind that the show was never near any place my dad was, I just had to find him. I’m happy to say that he came home safe. I just wish everyone had.

Christina Dye: My sister and I had wonderful parents who loved music and would buy us records at the base exchange every few weeks. One year they bought the Chipmunks Christmas album. We listened to it every day, loudly singing along to all the parts. By February we were told that if there was one more peep from the chipmunks, the record would be gone.

Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at toekneeweighed@gmail.com.