On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... Gayla Peevey’s “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas”

Ten year-old Gayla Peevey’s 1953 recording of “I want A Hippopotamus for Christmas” is arguably the most annoying tune that inevitably hits the airwaves each holiday season. Peevey doesn’t exactly have a sweet sounding voice and the trumpets, who-horns, or whatever you want to call those noisemakers blaring non-stop throughout the song certainly don’t help its cause either. It’s just one of those songs that immediately invokes an eye-roll and the “oh no – not this song again” feeling from listeners all around the world. And believe me folks; I was always one of these very frustrated people – that is, until three years ago, when my sister changed my opinion of Peevey and her Hippo forever.

On the very fateful day, it was a cold and crisp Canadian November just like any other, and the Christmas songs had just started to invade local radio stations. My family and I had piled into the van and were out driving one place or another, when all of the sudden Gayla Peevey’s irritating voice burst through the speakers and had me asking myself, as it did every single year, “why the heck would anybody want a hippopotamus for Christmas?” But I also heard something else that day, and although it took me a few seconds to realize what was happening, I’ll never forget it for as long as I live. From the bowels of the back seat, my sister Katherine was belting out her own version of Peevey’s song, and within seconds, my entire family was in tears laughing. Every year since the incident she gives at least five or six personal renditions of the song when it comes on, and to this day, I cannot properly describe what she sounds like. I know she does something funny with her teeth and tongue which produces an Alvin and the Chipmunks helium-esque voice, but that doesn’t even begin to do justice to the hilarity. But you know what? The humor isn’t the most important part about this story, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

What is most significant about this story is how such a trivial thing like a song everybody seems to hate can turn into such a humbling moment in one’s life. I’ve always loved Christmas and I’ve always had a solid understanding that the season is about the joy of giving, appreciating and spending time with the people you love the most, so I’m not trying to say that my sister revealed the true meaning of Christmas to me with her impression of Peevey. But what I am getting at is that we all need something special to put things into perspective for us when we start to take our families for granted or lose sight of what Christmas is all about. For my family and I, the sheer joy and silliness that ensues every time we hear “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas” is what reminds us of how much we mean to each other, and keeps us from getting caught up in the hubbub and frustration of the frantic shopping, double shifting for extra money or December final exams. And to think, it’s just a song about a stupid Hippo.

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