How "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" Became a Holiday Staple

The most despised song from my entire radio career (1982-2006) was "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." It wasn't because there was anything inherently wrong with the song, except for the dead grandmother. What ruined the song for me was the dozens of requests for it every hour, even right after I had played it. Every hour, every December, for decades. Every year, a new cohort of children decide that's the one Christmas song they want to hear. Now it's a Christmas classic, with its own history.

It begins, like all Christmas fables should, with a blizzard. It was December 1978, and a San Francisco veterinarian named Elmo Shropshire, a.k.a. Dr. Elmo, was booked at the Hyatt in Lake Tahoe with his then-wife, Patsy. The couple had a comedy-bluegrass duo called Elmo & Patsy, and just before taking the stage, they got a visit from one Randy Brooks, a Texas singer-songwriter who’d played the hotel before them and gotten stuck there by the snow.

"I was never what I’d consider to be much of a singer," Dr. Elmo tells mental_floss from his home in California. "I always sang novelty songs, so it didn’t matter if I could sing or not. At the time, we were doing a lot of funny songs. Randy saw our show and said, 'I’ve got this song I think would be perfect for you.'"

That was the very beginning. It took years for the song to really take off, but when it did, it changed everything for Dr. Elmo. Read the story from the man who made it at mental_floss. 

(Image credit: Flickr user Brian)


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