Christmas | Vintage | Entertainment

63 Years Ago She Wanted A Hippopotamus For Christmas

Every year there are Christmas songs that get stuck in your head. After hearing "Silver Bells" at the grocery store, you'll catch yourself humming it all month. But there's only one song that's guaranteed to get stuck in your brain well into the New Year.

When Gayla Peevey was just 10 years old, she was already a child star in her hometown of Ponca City, Oklahoma. Her popular songs were charting around the country, but nothing ever came close to the success of one Christmas song she recorded in 1953.


"I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" quickly became a hit. More than 300,000 copies of the record had sold by Christmas of 1953, and Peevey even performed on the The Ed Sullivan Show.

The single only climbed as high as #24 on the Billboard chart, but the song has become a Christmas classic over the past six decades.


Amazingly, Peevey actually did get a hippopotamus for Christmas the year her song came out. The local zoo took advantage of Peevey's hit single to raise money to "buy her" a baby hippo. The fundraiser was a success and on Christmas Eve, 1953 the zoo presented Peevey with a female hippo named Matilda, who Peevey donated back to the zoo.

Matilda was a fixture at the Oklahoma city zoo for 45 years, until her death in 1998.

For Peevey, her most famous song's continued popularity is a source of joy each year during the holiday season.

"It's fun to hear it now after all these years," she says, "to know people still enjoy it and want to hear it."

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