Maybe it's because he was a very sparkly person. His clothes sparkled to be sure and his diamonds and rubies and sapphires and gold. It wasn't just the surface that shone, though. His smile sparkled. His eyes were like warm firelight, even though they were a deep blue. And when he was "On" he was as bright and awe-inspiring as a fireworks show on a midnight blue evening. But is that what it is that inspires the Elvis Christmas connection that so many fans make and that somehow seems to speak to the spirit of the holiday? Other than Santa Claus, somehow Elvis Presley is one of those rare figures that seem to have been the living embodiment of Christmastime. I don't mean to say by any means that Elvis was Christmas, because he wasn't that King, and he'd be the first to say so, but he was pretty close to being like Christmas. As close as a mortal civilian could be.
I wanted to try to explain what and why, this Elvis Christmas connection. Even the fans, those that love him heart and soul, are initially at a loss for words. But then, somehow, as they start talking, the words come, and the sentiments flow. For each fan there is a connection that will remain no matter how many years and Christmases come and go.
For Mary from St. Louis, who's 32, it's a simple thing, really. Elvis revives the spirit of Christmas for her and her mom. She's a manager at a retail store, and she starts to get real ragged around the edges at this time of year. But there's a simple ritual that always revives her the spirit. Her Mom in the kitchen, cookies, and that voice, his voice, singing those holiday songs. Mom and Mary would get the kitchen all set up for a day of baking cookies and candy for the holiday, and Mary would get to pick the music. It was always Elvis. It became a tradition after a while. And they do it still.
"It reenergizes me and makes Christmas more special for me," says Mary. She doesn't think it's a great Elvis Christmas Story. I do. There is something in that voice, in the personality that allowed it to shine through, and most of all in the heart that produced it all, which fits Christmas and its meaning in our lives.
Elvis Presley never did a Christmas show. He never did Bing's, or the Bob Hope Christmas Specials. He never joined the choirs singing Gospel songs on the holiday specials, though he was a master of American spirituals and arguably one of that genre's very best artists. He never did a family Christmas Hour on the TV. There were only two albums and a couple of singles of Christmas material that he recorded in his entire career of making record after record after record. But these recording sessions produced some of the best Christmas material you will ever hear. Funny thing is, Elvis Presley recorded some of his best Christmas songs on hot Spring days in a studio devoid of any decoration to set the mood. Somehow, though, Elvis could transport you to December and to all the essence and echoes of the holidays with just his voice and the music.
This last August, while I was on a bus trip to Tupelo, Mississippi, the tour guide paused when she heard Elvis singing "Blue Christmas" playing on the speakers. "That's the only Christmas song I could ever stand to listen to in August."
Elvis Presley is not the only artist to have recorded classic Christmas songs and do it well. The holiday music of other's might even supersede Elvis' versions, and even he would have had to defer to Bing's "White Christmas." But, it may well have been that Elvis Presley was the only artist to have been asked to sing his Christmas tunes on stage in the middle of Summer. Not only did he accommodate the fans, he did it with conviction.
Maybe Christmas was always inside of Elvis, and that's why he could.
Elvis made Christmas special for those who received the gift of his music, no matter what the song or the time frame or the sentiment. It didn't have to be Christmas music at all. It could be "Loving You," like it was for Mary Ann from New York when she was 12 and just feeling the first stirrings of becoming a teenager sneaking up on her back in the 1950's. She was a child as Elvis was just coming into his fame and celebrity and taking his first steps toward immortality.
For her, the Elvis Christmas connection was all about growing up, or at least the bridge to it. And it was all about the single record album that appeared under her family tree those many, many Christmases ago.
"I can remember one of my first "grown-up" gifts being the "Loving You" album. To me, it was part of the transformation from little girl to a teenager with my own identity. I can remember it as if it were yesterday. Mom didn't wrap it, she just put a
small bow on it and propped it upright on a small table next to the tree because there were tons of gifts under the tree and she thought I'd overlook it. (Was she serious? Me overlook Elvis?). I walked into the room and there was his gorgeous face staring at me. I literally ran toward it and held it close to me as I unwrapped other gifts. I know that's an awful lot to put into one gift, but it had so much meaning to me. Well you might ask, why on earth did I dispose of it when I was housecleaning and thought they were all dust collectors? I'm going to have to plead temporary insanity! I deeply regret disposing of that particular album. It was no longer playable, it had been worn out years ago but still......."
Now, all these years later, Mary Ann remembers this day. And as she takes care of Christmas business in a busy New York department store on a late November winter day over 40 years later, she hears that voice over the loudspeaker and is transported back to those wonderful family Christmases of long ago. He sings "Blue Christmas" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas," and she feels the tears come as she quietly hums along. The years just melt away. He moves her like no other, still.
It takes a lot to move and impress my friend Richard. Some would say he's a cynical sort. But I know him better than that. He's been a fan since he was nine years old, and for 30 years now has delved into the music, career, life, and meaning of Elvis Presley deeper than most of the rest of us. Richard never saw him live. Elvis never went to England, and thus the twain would never meet, but Richard knows Elvis. So, you'd think that there wouldn't be much to impress or affect or move him about the whole Elvis thing after all these years. But you'd be wrong.
He told me that unlike many of the fans, he himself doesn't make an automatic connection between Elvis and Christmas. He told me he only had some random thoughts. He then went on to share about his first night in Elvis' hometown during his one and only visit to Memphis and Graceland. It was back during the holiday time of 1995 when he traveled thousands of miles away from his home and his family to see the Elvis thing firsthand. The images of those first moments have never left him since, and his thoughts aren't random at all. Richard takes us there:
"I left home at around 2:00 a.m. in the middle of November, and got a taxi to a deserted bus station. From there, I traveled to the airport, caught a plane, and arrived in Memphis at about 9:00 p.m. local time, some 24 hours later. Having no sleep for the best part of two days, I was expecting the tour guide to bustle us off the bus and into our hotel, with the words "see ya in the morning". Instead, I was barely awake when I heard him ask, "Well, we're coming up to the hotel. I know you're all tired, but you've got a choice. You can either go to bed, or you can have a wash and freshen up, then meet me back here in half an hour when we'll go over and see Graceland." I'd give a prize to anyone who guessed which option I took, except it's so blindingly obvious that everyone would win.
We pulled into the coach park and got off the bus. The first sounds I heard were tracks from Elvis' 70's Christmas sessions,