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From OKC to holiday classic: the history behind "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas"

'I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas' shirt
Posted at 9:11 AM, Dec 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-01 10:11:16-05

TULSA, Okla. — How does a novelty song become a beloved Christmas classic? It all began with a 10-year-old girl from Oklahoma City.

Gayla Peevey grew up as a child star with people amazed by her talent, especially in her hometown of OKC. Columbia Records noticed her in 1953 and offered her the chance to sing children's songs.

The first song given to Peevey was all about receiving a hippopotamus for Christmas. She loved the song and so did everyone else.

The novelty song became the hit of the holiday season that year. It peaked at spot 24 on the pop Billboard charts and Peevey even performed the song on the Ed Sullivan Show.

The song was so popular at the time, that the local newspaper and the Oklahoma City Zoo became inspired. The OKC Zoo did not have a hippopotamus and started a campaign based on Peevey's song to get one.

The statewide campaign was centered around getting Peevey an actual hippopotamus for Christmas. The local newspaper had spaces where people could donate their dimes or quarters to the fund to be sent in.

The campaign was incredibly successful and Peevey indeed got her hippopotamus for Christmas. Mathilda, a baby hippo, was given to Peevey and then donated to the OKC Zoo.

Decades later, the song has become a holiday classic in its own right. Peevey would later welcome her second hippopotamus in 2017 when the OKC Zoo acquired a pygmy hippo.

Since then, Peevey has promoted the conservation of hippopotamuses and spoken at zoos on their behalf.

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