Keep Christmas With You: Happy Holidays with Bob McGrath

Published: December 7, 2022
Categories: Commentary, Feature

When I think of Bob McGrath on Sesame Street, one of the first things that comes to mind is “Keep Christmas With You,” one of his signature songs. You can tell that I heed this song’s advice, because I get it in my head constantly during every season. Here, listen to Bob sing it in Christmas Eve on Sesame Street:

Isn’t that lovely? 

While that’s certainly Bob’s most famous Christmas-related moment, Christmas Eve on Sesame Street is one of only five Christmas-related projects Bob did for the show. His warm presence and lovely tenor voice were always among the highlights of these Christmas shows and albums. Come along with me as we take a trip through Bob’s Christmas history.

Merry Christmas from Sesame Street! (1975)

The first Sesame Street Christmas album opens with Susan asking “Okay, everybody here?” But the first note we hear is Bob, setting the pitch with a sustained D. Bob’s official job on the show was “music teacher,” so it makes sense that he’s the guy who makes sure everyone starts out on the right note.

During medleys later on the album, Bob gets to start “White Christmas” and then sing all of “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)”. Of course he does. He’s the show’s crooner. He’s the Bing Crosby, the Nat King Cole, the Perry Como of Sesame Street. There’s no other choice.

Finally, the album closes with the brand-new song “Keep Christmas With You.” Bob sings on it, but no more than anyone else. That will have to wait for . . .

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978)

As I mentioned above, this is where Bob claims “Keep Christmas with You” as his song. It’s also a significant moment in his relationship with Linda (Linda Bove). Bob and Linda’s relationship was never allowed to progress like Maria and Luis’s, but they were adorable together. Here’s Bob has his students sign the song to Linda so she can appreciate it, and it’s incredibly heartwarming.

Bob is also on hand for the special’s other big human song, “True Blue Miracle.” It starts out as a duet between Olivia and Susan, but then it becomes a duet between Bob and Gordon for a while, and then David and Maria. Everyone comes together on the chorus, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Bob isn’t the star here, but his voice helps make the song so memorable. As he so often did, he’s here to support his co-stars by sharing the spotlight.

The other big Bob moment in the special is, of course, when he wishes Mr. Hooper a Happy Hanukkah and then winks at him like Judaism is a secret code. It’s pretty corny, but this is a Christmas special from 1978 that only acknowledges other faiths in that one moment. It’s nice to see that Bob gets to nod towards inclusion, at least.

A Special Sesame Street Christmas (1978)

Sesame Street released a second, much dumber Christmas special that same year, and we’ve written about it many times in the past. There are famously very few Muppets in this one (just Big Bird, Oscar, and Barkley), so they make up for it by giving the human cast for to do, including Bob. 

Bob’s is the first voice we hear singing “Deck the Halls,” and then he talks about how nice their Christmas tree is. He gets to put the star on top of the tree. He plays a caroler along with David, Maria, and Leslie Uggams. He’s just so happy to be celebrating Christmas with his pals, even in a terrible special like this one. 

Because Oscar is one of the few Muppets in the special, Bob gets to do quite a bit of his usual comedy-team thing with Oscar. So many of Bob’s scenes consist of laughing at Oscar’s grumpiness and/or giving Oscar a hard time. Best of all, when Leslie Uggams decides to sing “Just One Person” to Oscar at the end of the special, Bob gets to be the second person who believes in him. 

Like I said, this special is pretty dumb. The only time it isn’t is when we get to hear Leslie Uggams and Bob sing “Just One Person” together. Then it’s beautiful.

A Sesame Street Christmas Sing-Along (1984)

This whole album has a looser feel than the first one, with the cast (Susan, Bob, Olivia, Gordon, and various Muppets played by Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and Carroll Spinney) generally trading off lines and joking around with their friends. Bob is right in the middle of it on almost every song, and it sounds like he’s having a blast.

During the first track, “Deck the Halls,” Bob gets to do his music teacher thing again. This is a sing-along album, after all, so Bob is our guide. At one point in this song, he tells the listener to sing the “Fa La La La” by themselves. Singing-along isn’t passively listening. It’s being an active participant, and Bob is here to show us how to do that.

Bob didn’t get to participate in the all-Muppet “12 Days of Christmas” on the previous Christmas album, but this time he gets nine ladies dancing! Way to go, Bob!

“Let It Snow” isn’t an especially suggestive song in the first place, but someone at Sesame Street decided it needed to be neutered for preschool ears to remove even a hint of romance. You might be familiar with the original lyrics:

When we finally kiss goodnight
How I’ll hate going out in the storm
But if you’ll really hold me tight
All the way home I’ll be warm

But that’s too saucy for Sesame Street! So Bob doesn’t sing any of that on this album. Instead he sings:

There’ll be marshmallows we can toast
And we’ll hang silver bells on a string
And the winter songs we love most
Those are the songs we will sing

And I’ll be darned if he doesn’t sell it. He sounds so darn happy about singing those winter songs.

When it’s inevitably time for “Keep Christmas With You,” there’s no doubt who owns the song now. Big Bird specifically asks Bob to sing it, because it’s his greatest hit. But Bob, always eager to share the spotlight, insists that everyone join him on the chorus. 

After this album, most Sesame Street projects featured only the Muppets. Bob recorded a Christmas album of his own in the 1990s, also called Christmas Sing-Along. But on Sesame Street, he only had one more chance to celebrate Christmas.

Elmo Saves Christmas (1996)

As the title implies, Sesame Street’s first Christmas special in eighteen years is mostly about Elmo making and fixing various Christmas-related messes, but the human cast get plenty to do. Fittingly, Bob’s primary role is once again musical. 

Throughout the special, vocal group 14 Karat Soul repeatedly show up to sing the original song “It’s Christmas Again.” Every single time they do, they’re joined by Mr. Bob McGrath, a singer at heart, and a professional who shows up and does the work. It would be fun to hear the song without him, but it’s so much better because Bob’s familiar voice is joining it.

Finally, the special ends as all things must, with Bob kicking off his classic hit one last time. Bob may be gone, but his work will always be with us, and we’ll keep Christmas with us through every year. 

Thanks Bob, and Merry Christmas!

Click here to sing the winter songs you love most on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Anthony Strand

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