The fabulous TV Guide Vault Twitter feed came up with a gem the other night—the original General Electric ads that ran during the inaugural broadcast of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at Christmas 1964. Santa’s elves from the show praise hair dryers, coffee makers, toaster ovens, and electric skillets in song, making each two-minute ad look a little like a music video. It has long been a tenet of mine that unless she specifically asks for it, you should never buy a woman a gift that has to be plugged in, but that was not a rule in the world of 1964. It’s easy to imagine families gathered around the glowing tube watching Rudolph, Mom oohing and aahing over some new electrified miracle, and Dad making mental notes.
The ads made me flash on Christmas shopping as a boy, and how important it was to find the right gifts for Mom and Dad. There would be a trip to town on a Friday night (and it was always a Friday night; although stores in my town may have been open on other nights during the holiday season, Friday was the big night), and we would split up—one of us would go with Mom and the other with Dad to pick out gifts, to Bauman’s Ace Hardware, Bahr’s Variety Store, and other places around the square. Before we had money of our own, or even gift ideas of our own, we were steered toward handkerchiefs for Dad or kitchen towels for Mom, and when we were all back together, we’d be bursting with the secret of what we’d chosen.
When we got a little older and had our own allowance money, we shopped on our own. I can remember the difficulty of deciding what to get, hoping it would be something they’d like, and frequently agonizing over the decision. One year I was particularly pleased with what I got my mother (although I don’t remember exactly what it was), only to be disappointed when my brother topped me, buying her a set of ceramic coffee cups that came with a metal tree to hang them on. The last time I looked, a couple of those cups were still in the cupboard in Mom’s kitchen, after at least 40 years in service.
Today, Christmas shopping for Mom and Dad still seems very important and is occasionally difficult. I always try to find something worthy of them, and everything they have made and continue to make possible for us, even as I understand that’s a tall bar to clear. Sometimes I find that kind of gift, and sometimes I end up giving gift cards to wherever the hell. What this year will bring is yet to be determined.
Back on this blog’s ostensible topic, here are five more random selections from my Christmas library, annotated Twitter-style:
“Carol of the Bells”/The Last Bison. A Virginia group in the mold of Mumford and Sons, their update of this is on the free Paste Magazine 2013 Holiday Sampler, which is terrific.
“Santa & the Satellite”/Buchanan and Goodman. Given the success of “The Flying Saucer” in the summer of 1956, a Christmas break-in record was inevitable. The surprise is that it didn’t happen until Christmas 1957.
“Joy to the World”/REO Speedwagon. REO’s Not So Silent Night, which is on the whole better than it has any right to be, still has its share of cringe-worthy moments. “He rules the world with truth and grace / And makes the nations groove” is either awesomely bad or just awesome, and I can’t decide.
“Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday”/Mighty Blue Kings. The late, lamented Chicago jump blues band’s single greatest performance. Posting it or linking to it is a holiday tradition at this blog since always.