Holly Jolly: Celebrating Christmas Past in Pop Culture
Review by KC Carlson
Holly Jolly: Celebrating Christmas Past in Pop Culture is a really fun book, especially since it’s designed very well, with lots of great (and possibly long-forgotten) graphics starring such Festive Folks as Babar the Elephant, Gumby and Pokey, Santa Claus (and his helper, Batman. Wha…?), Frank Sinatra, a whole gaggle of Scrooges, I Love Lucy, Linus and Charlie Brown (of course), and what seems like hundreds of other touchstone holiday characters. It’s written by Mark Voger, who has also published with TwoMorrows the books Monster Mash and Groovy: When Flower Power Bloomed in Pop Culture.
Most of the entries are 1-4 pages long and are crammed with even more holiday graphics! But the entry that you will most likely refer to the most is a four-page Timeline of Christmas from 4 BC (Jesus Christ is born. But Voger points out here that December 25 is an “arbitrarily selected date.”) onwards. The midpoint of this timeline gives Voger a chance to point out my favorite holiday story; it stars Scrooge McDuck (in his debut as a character) in the classic story “Christmas On Bear Mountain”. It debuted in 1947 in Dell’s Four Color Comics #178 (and has been reprinted numerous times over the decades since).
But it’s not all fun and games here as Voger spends much of the early section of the book discussing Christmas media (including his many personal experiences with the holiday in “real life” as a young Jewish lad — like wondering if Santa knew of the times he was mean to his little brother). There’s also a short bio of Charles Dickens and generous helpings of Christmas-related artwork over the decades, including “St. Nick, soldier boy” with examples of Santa’s help during various wars and conflicts. (And don’t miss a very young Santa, helping out by peeling potatoes!)
There’s a very nice collection of Little Golden Books about Christmas, originally “hosted” by folks like Frosty the Snowman, The Animals’ Merry Christmas, and (of course) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. In later years, they gave way to more popular (?) characters from television like Huckleberry Hound, Mighty Mouse, Tom & Jerry, and Yogi Bear. These books meant a lot to me, because I learned how to read from “reading” them over and over until I had memorized them. (Or accidentally turning them to dust, by “over-reading” them. Is there such a thing?) And of course, we can’t forget what the Grinch (almost) stole, whether we first read it in a book or were captivated by it on TV while still youngsters.
There are also galleries of classic TV toys, including Silly Putty, Lincoln Logs (made with real Lincoln, an old friend told me when I was still young and dumb), Candy Land, Mr. Potato Head, Twister, Vac-U-Form (which, for me, only lasted for mere minutes before I was rushed to doctor with a burned hand!), Chutes and Ladders, Creepy Crawlers (see: Vac-U-Form), and those stupid electric vibrating football players, who just wandered around aimlessly until we all got bored with it/them.
Much cooler toys included the Frosty Sno-Man Sno-Cone Machine, Etch-a-Sketch, Slinky (I lost count of how many of these things I accidentally bent), and the world’s most annoying board game — Operation! I still have nightmares with that buzzing sound… (if you can call it a sound…)
Which brings us to page 63 in the book… which suddenly became very personal to me. You see, when I was around three years old, I was given the stuffed Boo-Boo Bear toy pictured in the center of the page for Christmas. And he became inseparable to me. So inseparable that within a year, I had worn holes in his fur from dragging him around the house. So, at that point, my mother (who didn’t sew well) and my grandmother (who sewed a lot!) conspired to make a new suit for Boo-Boo. There was one problem, however. As much as they tried to duplicate Boo-Boo’s original blue-ish green-ish fur, they could not find any material that was even close. But Grandma Lil continued to look around until she found something that was at least similar. And she did… kinda. The material was almost the same odd color… but blue-ish PLAID! It actually looked very good on him.
I’ve been all over the house today looking for Plaid Boo-Boo, but no luck finding it. Johanna thinks that Plaid Boo-Boo may have finally gone to a better place… with other plaid stuffed animals that can frolic with him in the forests. (sniff…)
But Wait… There’s More!
Amazingly, right next to Boo-Boo in the book is Fred Flintstone looking very plasticized and odd. (His eyes are crossed and it looks like he just finished eating 57 servings of chocolate pudding). Oh wait, I’m told that’s supposed to be his beard. Hmmm…
Anyway, I also had Plastic Fred when I was a kid. He has a coin slot in the back of his head, and over the years of earning odd change for doing errands or chores, Fred got pretty full of coins. In fact, he was so heavy, I had to borrow a friend’s wagon to haul the pennies to the bank to change them into paper currency. Boy, that was fun. Not. But hey, I’m not going to sneeze at the twelve dollars (and change) I got from the exchange. Back when comics were still 15 cents, I could do a lot of catching up on back issues!
Anyway… back to Holly Jolly — I whole-heartedly recommend this book, because you will learn so much about the origins of Christmas and of the history of the toys we all grew up with as kids, if you’re at that certain age —- who all woke up at 5 AM to go downstairs to shake all the packages one more time to wake everybody else in the house!
By the way, don’t miss the 1952 Chesterfield cigarette ad on page 72, where a pre-Presidential Ronald Reagan is puffing away while sending dozens of cartons of ciggies to friends (?) with a glorious s*it-eating grin on his face. At least he’s not dressed as Santa…
(The publisher provided a review copy.)