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Today's Family Magazine

Telling my teens about Christmas in the ’80s

By Katy M. Clark

“Fee-eeed the woo-ooorld.  Let them know it’s Christmas time!”  I sing a song from Christmas in the ’80s in the car.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see my 13-year-old daughter look at me. She is unimpressed.

“Why is that even a Christmas song?,” she asks.

She has a good point.  Amidst all the holiday songs of glad tidings and joy, it is a bit odd to hear a song about relieving famine in Ethiopia.

“This song was a huge deal in the ’80s,” I reply.  Then I explain how Bob Geldof mobilized the biggest pop stars of the decade to perform this song and how he used MTV to spur everyone, including a young teen (me!), to help.

I tell her how I purchased the 45 record of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid and how the proceeds went to relief efforts. Then I remind her what a 45 record is.  Next I try to convince her that MTV was relevant and trendy when I was a young teen.

Christmas in the 1980s
Talking about this iconic ’80s Christmas song also prompts me to reminisce about the era and share my memories of Christmas in the “old days.”  In the 1980s, I would spend hours flipping through catalogs to find my dream gifts.  I circled what I wanted or folded down the pages.  In my house, it was the Toys R Us Big Book, but some of my friends also had the Sears catalog.

One year, I wanted a Cabbage Patch doll for Christmas.  My mom had to be determined and patient to make my dream come true because she had to physically go to a store, stand in line, and do her best impression of a linebacker to wrestle that toy off a shelf for me.

No, she couldn’t order it on the computer, because our family didn’t have a computer.  I guess some wealthy folks may have had a Macintosh 84, but it wouldn’t have mattered, because there was no Internet.  Imagine that, a world without Amazon Prime.

I loved visiting the mall at Christmas, when it was brimming with shoppers and decorated to the hilt. When I was little, my mother would take me and my sisters to the mall to see Santa.  When I became a teen, I still waved at Santa while shopping for stirrup pants at Express, dining on sausage samples at Hickory Farms, and buying Bananarama and Prince cassettes at Sam Goody.

Christmas in the ’80s meant every gift was wrapped in wrapping paper at my house
Gift bags did not exist yet.  My grandmother and aunt yelled at me if I ripped the paper when opening a gift.  They would carefully save every scrap of holiday wrapping paper to reuse, year after year.  They also used yarn ribbon, like Raggedy Ann’s hair, so that they could reuse that, too.

“Who’s Raggedy Ann?” my teen interrupts.

Yikes.  That’s a story for another time.

I tell my daughter how I baked cookies from recipes written by my grandma’s hand, rather than ones I found on TikTok.  I still have those recipes.  And prefer them leaps and bounds over anything I find online.  I tell her I will pass them on to her one day.

80s Christmas movies
I never watched a Hallmark Christmas movie in the 1980s because there was no Hallmark Channel. And the holiday movies we watch as a family every year—like Home Alone, Christmas Vacation, and Elf—had not yet been filmed.

I watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and John Denver & The Muppets.  And it required some effort, too. I had to flip through the TV guide, find the show’s air date and time, and make sure I parked my butt in front of the TV so I could watch it the one time all season it came on.  There was no DVR or streaming service.  If I missed the one airing, I had to wait another year to see it.

Just then “Frosty the Snowman” comes on the radio.  I look at my daughter, who smiles back at me.

“I know this one, Mom,” she says.

And then we start singing the timeless holiday classic.

Now if only Taylor Swift’s cover of “Last Christmas” could come on so I could tell my daughter why the version by Wham! is the best.  Because it’s from the 80s, of course.