What’s It Like Spending Christmas With Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley for Return to Sender - HDElvisPresleyHD / Youtube
Singer-songwriter Jay W. Johnson, the mind behind the lyrics of “Blue Christmas”, initially crafted the song with the intention of providing solace to those who find the holiday season challenging, as revealed in Behind the Christmas Hits with Drew Savage.
However, the artist who catapulted the song to fame, the King himself Elvis Presley, held a contrasting sentiment towards the festive period. Christmas was, in fact, declared as Presley’s “favorite time of the year” at Graceland.
The Rock and Roll deity took delight in adorning his surroundings with patriotic hues, featuring a revolving, melodic white Christmas tree adorned with red ornaments, red drapes, and blue driveway lights.
Present-day visitors to Graceland can experience the holiday decor much as Presley did. Many of his original decorations remain in use, and those initially rented have been acquired by the estate. Even the tinsel adorning one of the trees inside Graceland is Presley’s own, recycled annually. The decorations remain in place until Presley’s birthday on January 8, mirroring the tradition he upheld.
The gift-giving in Graceland is opulent and playful
Elvis Presley approached gift-giving with the same fervor he brought to Christmas decorations. However, his enthusiasm wasn’t directed towards receiving gifts, as Priscilla Presley reminisced. Elvis, being someone who seemingly had everything, proved challenging to shop for.
Despite this, he cherished certain gifts, including a set of bongos that Priscilla purchased for him during their first Christmas together in Germany in 1959, which are still housed at Graceland.
Elvis’s gift-giving also extended to humorous gestures, such as one year when he humorously provided members of his entourage with 50-cent McDonald’s certificates instead of the anticipated bonuses (although the bonuses and lavish gifts followed later).
With the birth of Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis discovered a new source of joy in giving gifts. Priscilla recounted how Elvis would eagerly await his daughter’s descent to the Christmas tree to unveil the presents. According to Priscilla, “Christmas for Elvis wasn’t about receiving. It was always about giving. It was about seeing the reaction on people’s faces when he would give them things.”
Elvis did not take “Blue Christmas” seriously
For most of the general public, Elvis Presley is most connected to the Christmas season through his music, specifically “Blue Christmas”. The song was originally written by Billy Hayes and Johnson and first recorded by Doye O’Dell in 1948.
It didn’t fall into Presley’s hands until 1957, and when it did, he only grudgingly agreed to record it for a Christmas album. The backing vocals were turned into a joke – no one in the session took it seriously. At the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012, one backing vocalist, Millie Kirkham, spoke of the experience, “When we got through, we all laughed and said, ‘Well, that’s one record that the record company will never release.'”
They were wrong – “Blue Christmas” made the album and was well-received. When it was released as a single in 1964, it charted at No.1 on Billboard’s Christmas list. And it was on account of the song’s success that Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, went to NBC looking for a then-unheard-of TV special focused entirely around Presley as a solo artist.
Parker originally imagined that it would be a dedicated Christmas special. Instead, it became Presley’s lauded 1968 comeback event. But on the colonel’s insistence, he did sing “Blue Christmas”, which remains the only surviving video of Presley performing a Christmas tune.
Elvis’s earliest Christmases were modest affairs
The extravagant Christmas celebrations at Graceland stood in stark contrast to Elvis Presley’s early experiences of the holiday season. The Presley family faced significant financial challenges during his childhood, as recounted by his father, Vernon, in the lifestyle magazine Good Housekeeping.
There were times when their meager meals consisted solely of cornbread and water. Despite the financial hardships, young Presley never went without gifts, even if it meant his parents had to forego essentials to ensure he received them.
Don Winders, an old classmate, recalled in Michael Freedland’s Elvis Memories: The Real Elvis Presley, By Those Who Knew Him, that one Christmas, Presley received a wagon. It served not only as a toy but also as a practical tool for fetching groceries and firewood. Unfortunately, it was accidentally destroyed by a local truck driver, who, feeling remorseful, paid to have it replaced.
The King’s close friend T. G. Shepperd connected Presley’s early experiences of poverty to his later generosity, stating to Freedland, “It came from being poor himself. He learnt from his mom … giving is more blessed than receiving. It made him feel good.”
One of Elvis’ Christmas pranks traumatized their dog
The King of Rock and Roll’s holiday celebrations and mischievous antics occasionally spiraled into uncontrollable scenarios, a fact well-known to his cousin Billy Smith, a member of the Memphis Mafia.
Smith shared Christmas anecdotes from Graceland on his son Danny’s YouTube channel, “Memphis Mafia Kid”, highlighting a particular year when Presley decided that Christmas warranted more than just the usual festivities—it needed fireworks, precisely $1000 worth.
Fireworks were launched between the teams of guests on that particular year, enveloping the yard in thick smoke, and rendering visibility nearly impossible. When Presley dispatched another cousin to retrieve additional fireworks from a shed, the cousin, using his lighter, unintentionally sparked a flame.
Unable to discern the source through the fog, Presley mistakenly aimed a rocket in that direction. The rocket struck the box the cousin was handling, causing fireworks to scatter in all directions. Both teams quickly hit the ground for cover, but one stray rocket found its way into the dog house where Presley’s German Shepherd was tethered. The startled dog bolted as far as its chain would allow. Although the dog survived the incident, it steadfastly avoided the dog house for the remainder of its life.
Elvis isn’t a fan of his own music during Christmas
On Danny‘s aforementioned YouTube channel, the Smith family reminisced about the laid-back Christmas gatherings at Graceland. Guests would typically arrive on Christmas Eve and head home to their own families either that evening or the following day.
Despite the potential for lively celebrations, the parties often comprised Presley, his friends, and their families, engaging in casual conversations and sharing meals. Eventually, Presley would summon the adults upstairs, including his cousin Bill and Smith’s father.
While music was an integral part of the Graceland Christmas ambiance, Elvis’ own records were notably absent from the playlist. Priscilla once had this to share, “We didn’t play Elvis’ records. He was really quite shy and almost a little embarrassed to play his own records.”
Instead, Presley opted for the radio or tunes by artists he admired, such as Brenda Lee and Glen Campbell. It raises curiosity about how he would react to Graceland hosting a televised Christmas concert in 2023, paying tribute to him through each performance.