December 24, 1971: The Gift of Giving

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(Pictured: a house in San Francisco is decorated for Christmas 1971.)

December 24, 1971, was a Friday. It’s a sunny day over much of the country, although rain is forecast for the West Coast and snow is possible from upper Michigan to northern New England. Headlines in today’s newspapers include two deadly fires, one in Los Angeles yesterday that killed five children and another in Arlington Heights, Illinois, early today that killed three children, their parents, and their grandparents. Yesterday, President Nixon issued his annual Christmas message. He said, “Among God’s greatest gifts to man is the gift of giving itself, and the more we give of ourselves, the more of ourselves we have to give.” This morning, Nixon goes to Bethesda Naval Hospital for his annual physical. He spends the rest of his day in meetings and on phone calls, although he takes four minutes in the late afternoon to have family photos taken and 90 minutes for a family dinner in the evening. His last meeting ends at 11:35 tonight. Glenn Wallichs, co-founder of Capitol Records and current chairman of the Capitol board, died yesterday at age 61. Today, future singer Ricky Martin is born.

There are no games in the NBA or NHL tonight, although games will be played tomorrow. Two NFL playoff games are also scheduled for Christmas Day: Dallas at Minnesota and Miami at Kansas City. There will be two more games on Sunday: the defending champion Baltimore Colts at Cleveland and San Francisco at Washington.

This afternoon in Madison, Wisconsin, local radio and TV stations present their annual free Christmas Eve showings of the Beatles movie Yellow Submarine at the Capitol Theater, at 1:45, 3:30, and 5:15. Other movies playing in Madison this Christmas weekend include the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn in Dollars, the animated Lady and the Tramp, Summer of ’42, and Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs. Dirty Harry, starring Clint Eastwood, opens tomorrow. Most theaters will present regular evening and late-night shows tonight, although there will be no 10PM show at the Majestic. On TV tonight, the ABC lineup includes The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 222, The Odd Couple, and Love American Style. CBS repeats the 1969 Peabody Award-winning drama J. T., written by Jane Wagner, followed by Beethoven’s Birthday: A Celebration in Vienna With Leonard Bernstein and Christmas at the White House. NBC starts with an episode of The D.A., a legal drama starring Robert Conrad and Harry Morgan. The rest of NBC primetime is devoted to its monthly newsmagazine Chronolog, with an episode focused on children’s TV programming around the world. After primetime, networks and local stations present Christmas-themed programming.

At KFRC in San Francisco, “Brand New Key” by Melanie is in its second week at #1 on the station’s survey dated December 20. Don McLean’s “American Pie” and “Scorpio” by Dennis Coffey hold at #2 and #3. “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green is at #4 in its third week on the survey. Badfinger’s “Day After Day” is up to #6 from #16. “Sunshine” by Jonathan Edwards also makes a big move, from #14 to #7. The single biggest leap on the survey is made by “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” The New Seekers’ rendition of the Coca-Cola jingle is up 15 spots to #11. A couple of songs are outperforming their national numbers: “Behind Blue Eyes” by the Who at #9 and “Keep Playing That Rock and Roll” by Edgar Winter’s White Trash at #12. Also charting on KFRC: John and Yoko’s brand-new “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).”

Perspective From the Present: When I was a kid, horrific house fires were as much a staple of Christmas as Santa and reindeer, because local radio, TV, and newspapers would report them almost every year. Some newspapers, anyhow. In Madison, the Wisconsin State Journal had a Christmas Eve tradition of publishing nothing but “good news” on its front page. Whether headlines from the troubled world or stories of good works and Christmas joy are more accurate on Christmas Eve is something we’ve noodled with before.

This Christmas Eve, our country is one giant house fire. I am not a naturally hopeful person in the best of times; today, I am even less so. But surely there were hopeless people in 1971 who were surprised to find that 1972 turned out better than they expected. I hope that I, too, will turn out to be wrong about the things I fear for 2022. And I also hope this: that you and your loved ones can light a few candles against the darkness this weekend, and that you may live in their light for a good long while.

5 thoughts on “December 24, 1971: The Gift of Giving


    Jim and friends, I am here to cheer you up. There are a lot of people, millions of people doing good things for others, and I include YOU Jim Bartlett in the multitudes of goodie people. The State-Journal today could be filled end-to-end with good news, kinda hafta look for it. Near us, 745 Madison WI blood donors gifted others on December 23rd. November 6th, Wisconsin Rotarians biked the trails raising thousands of dollars to end polio worldwide. (It’s that close!) People I associate with are positive doers, making spirits bright.

  2. Chris Herman

    The apparent abundance of Christmas housefire stories had a lot to do with old Christmas lights with frayed and faulty wiring being used on dry flammable Christmas trees (both real and artificial). Another cause was tradition-bound holiday celebrants continuing to light their trees with candles rather than lights. That’s why on TV there were also a number of PSAs (including one narrated by Bing Crosby) reminding people of Christmas fire hazards like defective old lights, improperly watered trees, carelessly watched tree candles, and unswept chimneys.

  3. As Robert Lamm and Peter Cetera sang: “Listen, children, all is not lost / All is not lost / No-oh-oh.”
    (Of course, that was 50 years ago, and even they mighta given up by now, but I can still bask in their optimism.)
    Happy holidays and best wishes to all who are keeping the light lit, not least of all the proprietor of this here virtual Internet tavern.

    PS: I am not quite old enough to firmly associate Xmas with house fires. I *do* remember the connection between DWI and New Year’s Eve before strict drunken driving laws really took effect, and my mom’s quiet concern about my dad, who would often have a musical gig on NYE and would make his way home amidst the revelers (often on icy or slick roads, to boot).
    Like house fires on Christmas, I think America has generally evolved past drunken crashes on New Year’s Eve. Maybe we can still make progress yet.

    1. porky

      My friend’s dad called New Year’s Eve “amateur night.”

      One of the old “pros” around here however was a guy called Night Life Sam. He put out a weekly newspaper covering taverns and the bands that played there, snapping pictures of revelers, bands, bartenders (he called them “mixologists”) etc. We used to shudder to think that Sam covered 100s of miles on December 31 going from one small town bar to another imbibing at each stop.

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