Five Questions for Gayla Peevey — ‘I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas’ Singer

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What did you want for Christmas this year?

In 1953, 10-year-old Gayla Peevey sang a song about wanting a hippopotamus, and 70 years later, it remains a Christmastime staple on radio stations throughout the country.

Peevey, who sang “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” isn’t singing new Christmas songs anymore, although you can hear her sing at Del Cerro Baptist Church in La Mesa, California outside of Christmas year-round.

NewBostonPost conducted an email interview with Peevey about her hit Christmas song and her life since she released it. It’s below:


1.  What’s been your most notable interaction with a fan over the years?

One of the most special “collective” fan experiences happens every year. Oklahoma City, my childhood hometown, won’t officially celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season until they hear “ I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” on the airwaves. It all started when the record came out and hit the charts in 1953. Oklahoma, with the help of the media, sponsored a “Gayla Peevey Hippo Fund” campaign and raised enough money to actually buy me a live  Nile hippo named Mathilda. Of course, I couldn’t keep her in my garage, so the Oklahoma City  Zoo agreed to house my giant Christmas present. She lived there happily for 49 years and had  9 offspring with her mate Norm. This year, in person, I was honored to celebrate the 70th  anniversary of “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” at the OKC Zoo where a large crowd of fans joined me for a sing-a-long of the “Hippo” song! What a kick-off to the season that was! 


2.  The song has inspired all sorts of Christmas-themed merchandise. What’s your favorite that you’ve come across?

About ten years ago, I began to notice merchandise related to “I Want a Hippopotamus for  Christmas”. Hallmark started putting out Keepsake ornaments with me singing when you push the little button, plush hippos that played my recording at the squeeze of a fuzzy foot, and musical greeting cards. Every year more T-shirts and pajamas appear online and on store shelves displaying the song title and an endless variety of smiling, dancing hippos. One of the funniest toys I’ve encountered is a ball that plays me singing when it hits the floor. That could drive parents crazy in no time.  


3.  In past interviews, you’ve said you still sing, but primarily at church. What impact has your faith played in your life?

I’m glad you asked about my faith. Since my worldview is based entirely on the Bible,  everything I do, the way I live my life, and the choices I make hopefully reflect a strong belief and faith in my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. At the age of seven, I gave my heart to Jesus,  and to this day I’m convinced that following Him and sharing the power of His gospel is the most important of all life’s pursuits, which has served me well. Even the fact that I have a fun Christmas song that puts a smile on people’s faces and a bit of cheer in the season is God’s doing, not mine.


4.  What was the toughest part about being a child star?

In Oklahoma, where I was regularly appearing on local television and doing personal appearances, it became impossible to just be out in public spaces and go to public school.  My parents were not sure how to navigate this dilemma and as I became a pre-teen, they chose to take me out of show business. So we moved to another state where I was not recognized and was able to go to school and be a regular kid. Of course, that was a huge adjustment. Learning how to make friends and function without the built-in advantage of celebrity was far more difficult than anyone had anticipated. Those were not easy years. 


5.  Other than your hit Christmas song, what are some of your favorite Christmas songs?

I have a special place in my heart for “Silent Night.” For almost 20 years I sang it on the top of a very tall Christmas tree, which started in our local church and grew to be a city tradition. I once heard a preacher say it’s not a Christmas song unless it’s about Jesus.  Otherwise, it’s a “seasonal song.” So, I guess “ I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” is my favorite “seasonal song,” and “Silent Night” is my favorite Christmas song. 


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