I had a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit this year. Between a viral bug that refused to let go, which ruined much of November and part of December, and a lot of the usual self-doubt, it took until basically a week before the big day. But I finally did.
As I was still trying to capture the magic this year, I found myself on YouTube, which of course I use to find the versions of the Christmas Song of the Day that I add to these posts. And among the suggestions that popped up was the 1978 PBS special Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. I remember seeing this show on television when I was in college, and thus much older than the target audience. It certainly wasn’t when it debuted, which was December 3, 1978, because I would have still been at school. I saw it after I’d arrived home from college for Christmas break one year, either 1979 or 1980; I happened upon it trying to find something to watch. I was most likely by myself at the time, because I likely never would have heard the end of it from my younger siblings as a college kid watching something related to Sesame Street. My memory from back then was that I found it oddly moving for what was supposed to be a kids’ show.
Well, I decided to re-watch it. There were many things I’d forgotten – Cookie Monster’s hilarious attempts to write a letter to Santa Claus, for example – but I remembered the primary focus of the show: Oscar the Grouch plants the seed of doubt in the head of Big Bird about the existence of Santa Claus. I found myself liking it as much in 2022 as I had 40-plus years ago; I also fully understood some of the references that would have flown over my head back then.
Anyway, Christmas Eve on Sesame Street included several songs, both new and old. One of them is my Christmas Song of the Day for December 30.
The charming “Keep Christmas With You (All Through the Year)” was used twice in the show. Its use in the end credits is where I paid most attention, because the lyrics were shown on the screen, so one could sing along.
The song was written by David Axelrod (1931-2017) and Sam Pottle (1934-1978) for the 1975 album Merry Christmas from Sesame Street. In the years before writing for Sesame Street, Axelrod was a performer and producer for Capitol Records, most notably producing albums for Lou Rawls and Cannonball Adderley. Pottle, who wrote for musical theater in the 1960s, began writing for Sesame Street in 1974, with dozens of songs to his credit. He also co-wrote the theme for the adult spin-off, The Muppet Show.
The members of the cast who appear on the 1975 original are Susan (Loretta Long), Gordon (Roscoe Ormam), Big Bird (Carroll Spinney), Luis (Emilio Delgado), David (Northern Calloway), Bob (Bob McGrath), Prairie Dawn (Fran Brill), and Ernie (Jim Henson). In Christmas Eve, in addition to its use as the closing song, it is shown in a scene where the kids are signing the song with a deaf friend. Over time, “Keep Christmas With You” became a showcase for McGrath (1932-2022), who often sang it either solo or as primary singer.
Various Sesame Street Christmas programs have used the song frequently in the years since, as its message is every bit as resonant today as it was in 1975. Some members of the cast performed the song with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square (formerly the Mormon Tabernacle Choir) in 2014; the concert was issued on CD and DVD in 2015.
A rare non-Sesame Street version was released by Nova Scotia native Katherine Penfold in 2017. It served as the title song of her holiday CD released the same year.
Here’s the original 1975 version:
This is the version from Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978) where the cast is signing the song:
Finally, here’s the 2017 version by Katherine Penfold: