Without a doubt, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” is one of the strangest holiday songs we play. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cute song, and a lot of people enjoy it, but it is strange. I remember when my daughter Zoey was just a little thing, that song used to be one of her favorites. It’s for that reason that the song will also hold a special place in my heart.

So, what’s the story behind that song? Was there really a little girl asking for a hippopotamus, and did she ever get one? Well, yeah, she actually did. It’s a pretty neat story actually. First of all, I have to admit that until today (writing this article) I thought the song was sung by a grown woman who was just trying to sound young. I just now learned that Gayla Peevey was only 10 years old when she recorded “Hippopotamus” back in 1953.

The song was a huge hit for the young Oklahoma native, who was a professional singer, under contract with Columbia Records at the time. It was such a big hit that the Oklahoma City Zoo started a campaign to raise enough money to purchase a hippo for Gayla, which they were able to do just in time for Christmas that year. Gayla was delighted to receive the hippo (her name was Matilda), but she obviously couldn’t keep it, so she ‘donated’ Matilda back to the zoo where she lived happily for almost 50 years.

Take a few minutes to watch this interview Gayla gave recently.

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