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50 Years of Christmas Crazes

A decade-by-decade tour of holiday trends, gifts and traditions

You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch

"As the Grinch took the tree, as he started to shove, he heard a small sound like the coo of a dove." Cindy Lou Who busting Dr. Seuss' holiday thief in How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966) is high drama. The Grinch, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Charlie Brown and Frosty the Snowman remain perennial animated stars from the '60s.

Courtesy Everett Collection

Chestnuts, Anyone?

In 1961, Nat King Cole lays down his fourth recording of "The Christmas Song," this time in stereo. Added in 1963 to The Magic of Christmas, a full album of holiday tunes first released three years earlier, it's become inescapable every December.

GAB Archive/Redferns via Getty Images

For the Troops

Bob Hope's 35 consecutive USO tours during Christmas season — often recorded for television specials — have special poignancy during the Vietnam War. Here Hope greets U.S. troops in Saigon on Dec. 25, 1964.

AP Photo

Handheld, Screened Gaming Device?

When America goes nuts for Etch A Sketch, the elves at the Ohio Art Co. factory turn them out until noon on Christmas Eve, 1960. Today's kids still love the static-charged drawing toy — not to mention Etch A Sketch-themed iPhone and iPad covers.

Advertising Archive/Courtesy Everett Collection

Butter Bird

In quest of the perfect roast turkey in the '70s, Butterball introduces plastic giblet-and-neck bags; its patented two-loop string turkey lifter; a cooking directions booklet; and its patented Logarithm Needle Deep Basting process. Butterball's toll-free Turkey Talk-Line debuts in 1981.

Advertising Archive/Courtesy Everett Collection

Will Daddy Be Home for Christmas?

"The Homecoming: A Christmas Story," the pilot episode of CBS's Depression-era family drama The Waltons, first airs Dec. 19, 1971, and is recast annually as an hour-long holiday special. Children tune in every year to find out whether Daddy Walton rejoins his wife, Olivia (played by Patricia Neal, left), and the rest of their family for Christmas.


Easier Than Reindeer

Forget Labradoodles. For a unique pet fad, roll back to 1975 when ad exec Gary Dahl puts a rock on some straw in a cardboard box, punches holes for air, and makes more than a million bucks. The craze ends within about six months, but these potty-trained, perennially healthy pets are back on the market this year.

Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

Best Yuletide Medicine

Why do we love National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)? Because the Griswold family lets us laugh at an American holiday tradition: overdoing it. Chevy Chase crams a too-tall tree into his house, copes with crazy relatives and triggers a neighborhood power outage.

Warner Bros./Photofest

Ah, Smell That Country Air

The concept of loading the family in your car and driving out to the country to cut your own Christmas tree isn't new. But in the '80s, major newspapers are publishing lists of tree farms where you can experience the thrill of carrying out an old-fashioned Christmas chore - and tips for how to make the most of it. The public responds.


Chubby Cheekers

In the early '80s, Cabbage Patch Kid madness leads to yuletide mall stampedes and cheap knockoffs. By the end of 1983, almost 3 million orphan dolls have been "adopted," but the waiting list of hopeful families remains long.

John Curtis/Alamy

Depends How You Slice It

Harry J. Hoenselaar invented HoneyBaked Ham's sweet glaze and spiral slicer in his Detroit basement in the late 1950s. Growing sales burst into a jolly holiday rage in the 1980s. The company still racks up half its sales in December.


Forget Something?

In Home Alone (1990), Macaulay Culkin lives out every child's secret fantasy — and horror — when his family leaves on holiday without one important thing: him. The highest-grossing holiday film of all time spawns a franchise of sequels.

Twentieth Century-Fox/Photofest

Egg Nog Smoothie

Kenny G, the curly king of smooth jazz, releases his first holiday album in 1994. Miracles goes platinum eight times over and is the top-selling Christmas album since 1991, when Nielsen/SoundScan tracking began.

Gary Malerba/CORBIS

No Offense

To avoid affronting anyone who celebrates Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or who may be, God forbid, atheist, "Happy holidays" emerges as the season's greeting of choice in the '90s. In 1997, TV's Seinfeld pokes fun at the trend with an episode that commemorates an alternative holiday, "Festivus for the rest of us."

Nick Gunderson/CORBIS

Neverending (Christmas) Story

The cult following of A Christmas Story (1983) grows into mainstream madness by the new millennium. Cable channels feature 24-hour marathons of Ralphie and his quest for a Red Ryder BB Gun. Today you can decorate your tree with leg-lamp ornaments and tour the fictional Parker family house museum in Cleveland ... really.

MGM/Ronald Grant Archive/Mary Evans/Everett Collection

A New Type of Holiday Card

The most-desired present becomes the simple gift card. More than half of adults say they would like to receive them, according to National Retail Federation holiday spending surveys. Today's latest trend? E-gift cards. Here's an email; go buy yourself something nice.

Getty Images

Fake Green

Is cutting down a tree to celebrate Christmas bad for Mother Earth? Tree farmers say their crops benefit the environment and economy; manufacturers insist their "trees" are greener overall. By 2010 about 50 million homes have gone artificial, while 30 million stick with the real deal.


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