The History Channel is the perfect place to give the best recollections of “Christmas through the Decades.” If you lived through the 1970s, you probably will remember much of what they report on this episode and see how Christmas back, then has shaped Christmas of today.
This episode of the 1970s begins in 1977 with Star Wars, a blockbuster that was a surprise to many and the toys related to the movie jumped off the shelves quicker than Han Solo making the jump to light speed. Genius George Lucas convinced 20th Century Fox to let him keep all the merchandising rights in exchange for a lower directing fee. This was a decision that cost them billions of dollars for decades to come. Toy sales were where it was and the Kenner Company, having the rights to the merchandise had no idea how big it was going to be. It was so big, that kids received empty boxes with certificates to redeem whenever the toys were available. In 2012, Disney paid $4 billion for the rights to the Star Wars franchise.
As Darth Vader became the villain to every kid, another person became their hero. His name was Evel Kneivel and kids across America wanted to be a daredevil just like him. He was a superhero, but he was real. Evel Kneivel broke 433 bones in his lifetime, which was a Guinness World Record. The stunt bike was one of the most popular toys from Ideal Toy Company. In 1977, Happy Days featured Fonzie performing a similar stunt – and the phrase “Jump the Shark” was born.
Hand-held games were the hit of the 70s, and every kid wanted one. Merlin and Simon were other games played with others. Cameras were also a hit of the 70s, especially the Polaroid Onestep camera was the inspiration for the Instagram icon.
The 70s was the infancy of Saturday Night Live, and the cast was hilarious. President Nixon became a punch line, and his successor became a sitting duck for SNL. The first Christmas Special featured Chevy Chase as a clumsy Gerald Ford and Ford gave him lots of fodder. Chevy Chase was only on SNL for a year, but the memory of his klutzy routines is seared into the minds of all those who watched.
In 1975, the ultimate fad was the Pet Rock; people actually stood in line to buy a rock in a box that came with instructions. The guy behind them bought them for a penny and sold them for four dollars. In 1979, Elmo and Patsy, an unknown duo of country singers made a record called, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” In 1974, Burt Reynolds gave the ladies a Christmas gift by appearing in Playgirl Magazine after posing as Cosmopolitan Magazine’s first centerfold in 1973.
The 1970s saw three different presidents and in 1973 a dreadful oil crisis caused long lines of cars at gas pumps across America hoping to fill their tanks. The energy crisis caused panic for all. The White House Christmas Tree had only one light, as President Nixon proclaimed that it could be a dreary Christmas. However, he stated that the number of lights does not a Christmas make; however, the love in the hearts of all is what makes it a Christmas. Since 2007, energy efficient LED lights have adorned the White House Christmas Tree. The energy crisis of the 70s reduced the speed limit on highways to 55 MPH and had truckers using their CB radios to warn each other of speed traps. The CB lingo for speeding tickets was “Christmas Cards.”
In 1974, Gerald Ford was on vacation when a man named Marshall Fields, armed with explosives attempted to blow up the White House. The explosives turned out to be flares, and the Secret Service showed compassion because it was Christmas, and the Fords were vacationing in Colorado.
In 1979, Jimmy Carter was president when the Iran crisis erupted, and the country was held hostage when 52 American diplomats were held hostage for 444 days. When Amy Carter lit the White House Christmas Tree, only the top was lit, and President Carter declared they would light the rest of the tree when the hostages were returned safely.
In the 1970s, Christmas television specials were huge. The biggest names of the decade got in on the act with names like Andy Williams, Sonny & Cher, Johnny Cash, Jackson 5 and even the Muppets. When Michael Jackson appeared on one Sesame Street Christmas special, he interacted with Oscar the Grouch. On December 19, 1971, a Christmas special named “The Homecoming, A Christmas Story,” was so inspiring that it spun off into a show that aired for nine years; it was called “The Waltons.” The Waltons were not the only family on television, as Donny and Marie had their own show, but their Christmas specials were the best with the entire family together and each year waiting to see how many more members were added.
In New York, one tradition that is still going strong is the Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes and plans to demolish the building in the 70s was saved by the State of New York.
In 1973, the start of the yearly Hallmark ornaments kick-started a collectors’ delight with twelve yarn figures and six glass balls. Over the years, they made over 8,000 different ornaments, and the 1991 Starship Enterprise is worth several hundred dollars. Unlike the popularity of today’s gift cards, the 70s gave McDonald’s a vision with their gift cards worth only fifty cents each was added to stockings, left for Santa, given to teachers and just about everyone who required a small gift.
On Christmas in 1971, NFL game the Chiefs versus the Dolphins with two famous quarterbacks, Len Dawson and Bob Griese went to overtime and then double overtime until eighty-two minutes later the Dolphins won 27-24. It was the AFC playoff and the first and last time a game was played on Christmas and the longest game in NFL history.
Jose Feliciano had a few hit songs, but Feliz Navidad is most remembered and among the top 25 most played Christmas songs. As for the top toys of the 1970s, did you have these? Nerf Ball, Malibu Barbie, Uno, Baby Alive, Dungeons & Dragons, Atari’s Pong, Stretch Armstrong, Godzilla, Six Million Dollar Man and Skedoodle, all featured on this episode of “Christmas through the Decades.”