(Pictured L to R: Janee Michelle, Venetta Rogers, Erin Murphy, David Lawrence, and Elizabeth Montgomery in “Sisters at Heart,” the episode of Bewitched airing on December 24, 1970.)
December 24, 1970, is a Thursday. It is Christmas Eve. Newspapers are crowded with ads from merchants extending holiday greetings, although a few retailers advertise last-minute gift ideas or reduced-price Christmas decorations, and some restaurants plug their holiday hours. The National Christmas Tree Growers Association estimates that 50,000 retailers across the country will sell about 45 million trees this year, grossing about $200 million, comparable to 1969 figures.
The U.S. Central Command announced today that 23 Americans died in Vietnam during the week of December 12-18, the lowest weekly total since October 1965. American and South Vietnamese troops suspend offensive operations for 24 hours beginning at 5AM Eastern time this morning, which is 6PM Saigon time. The Viet Cong have already announced a 72-hour cease-fire, which was to begin at noon yesterday. American bombers will continue to hit targets in Cambodia and Laos, where the cease-fire orders do not apply. The Nixon Administration’s 1971 budget proposal, to be sent to Congress next month, will include $1.3 billion to facilitate an all-volunteer army by 1973. Money will be spent on enlistment bonuses and higher pay for those who agree to serve in combat infantry, artillery, and armored units. Up to $20 million will be spent on “prime TV and radio time” for recruiting commercials rather than relying on free public-service announcements. Elsewhere, the new budget will not include any new federal spending on health care, but a Nixon advisor says the administration wants to make medical care available to all Americans, reform the health-care delivery system, and concentrate on prevention of both disease and accidents.
No games are scheduled in the NBA or ABA tonight. The Milwaukee Bucks have the NBA’s best record at the holiday break, 26-and-6. The Utah Stars, Virginia Squires, and Kentucky Colonels are the ABA’s best teams, each with 23 wins. The National Hockey League is also quiet tonight. The National Football League playoffs will begin on Saturday.
Laura Nyro plays a Christmas Eve show at the Fillmore East in New York City with Jackson Browne opening. (The two have begun a brief romance.) On TV tonight, CBS presents Family Affair, a Christmas edition of The Jim Nabors Show, and the 1962 theatrical movie The Password Is Courage. NBC presents Christmas episodes of The Flip Wilson Show and The Dean Martin Show along with Ironside and Nancy, a sitcom about the daughter of the President of the United States, who marries a small-town Iowa veterinarian. ABC airs Matt Lincoln (with Vince Edwards, former Ben Casey star, playing a hip young psychiatrist at work in an urban neighborhood), Bewitched, Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, and The Immortal. Some local stations pre-empt network programming to air their own Christmas Eve choices. After the late local news, many stations broadcast Christmas Eve church services, holiday concerts, and/or Christmas movies.
A young farm family in southern Wisconsin, with kids aged 10, 8, and 4, does not watch TV on this night. The milking is done early. They have supper and attend Christmas Eve services, then return home to open presents. Later, they will begin waiting for Santa to come.
At WLS in Chicago, “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison holds at #1 again this week. “Knock Three Times” by Dawn is up to #2, and “One Less Bell to Answer” by the
Supremes Fifth Dimension is at #3. “Stoned Love” by the Supremes (#4) and “No Matter What” by Badfinger (#6) make strong moves within the Top 10. New entries in the Top 10 are “Black Magic Woman” by Santana (#7) and “Domino” by Van Morrison (#9). The biggest movers on the survey are “Lonely Days” by the Bee Gees, up 12 spots to #16, and “River Deep, Mountain High” by the Supremes and the Four Tops, up 8 spots to #17. At 3:00 this afternoon, WLS suspends its regular programming, and for the next 24 hours airs a special called the Holiday Festival of Music.
Perspective From the Present: I first told the story of Christmas Eve 1970 during this website’s very first Christmas season in 2004, and have retold it many times since. I look back on that night with a sense of awe and wonder, the kind a religious person might feel while reading the creation story, because in a very important sense, the person I became, the one I am today, was born that night.
So, from our bedecked halls to yours, as Nat King Cole sang to me 50 years ago on Christmas Eve:
I’m offering this simple phrase
To kids from one to 92
Although it’s been said many times, many ways
Merry Christmas to you