I love Christmas music and tune my radio to the Christmas channels this time of year. But sometimes the songs simply become background noise because they are so familiar. We’ve all heard them a million times and know most of the lyrics by heart, so we don’t really listen intently. But the other day, I was surprised to hear an old classic anew. The peppy, upbeat “We Need a Little Christmas” began, and the singers belted out the first two lines: “Haul out the holly/Put up the tree before my spirit falls again.” I thought, what did they just say? They wanted to stop their spirits from falling again, indicating they were in the midst of recovering from a bad situation.
Of course, I had to research this song – why did it sound so cheerful if the lyrics suggested possible sadness? Jerry Herman wrote the song for the musical “Mame,” which premiered on Broadway in 1966. “Mame” was made into a movie in 1974, so I decided to watch it. While the musical itself felt somewhat dated to me, the song that became a Christmas standard and has been covered by many artists over the years captured a special moment in the movie.
The show centers on a little boy named Patrick who must go live with his Auntie Mame after his father’s death. Mame is stylish, a bit wild, and living large in New York City at the height of the roaring 1920s. Then, the stock market crashes and ushers in the Great Depression. After losing most of her possessions, Mame decides that they should pretend it’s Christmas a month early because they need to feel better. They pull out their old decorations and march around cheerily to belie their sad circumstances. Mame sings:
“For I’ve grown a little leaner
Grown a little colder
Grown a little sadder
Grown a little older
And I need a little angel
Sitting on my shoulder
Need a little Christmas now”
This song could’ve been written about 2020 instead of the 1920s. This year has been so difficult for so many people in so many ways. A heaviness hangs over almost everyone and everything. We feel tired and weary. And while the trappings of Christmas provide some glimmer of normalcy, they don’t erase the pain and isolation that we endure right now. We may have hope that next year will be better, but we understand that we will still face some of the effects of 2020 and the rifts that exist in our world.
Maybe this year, more than ever, we need a little Christmas, but not the shiny and perfect kind of Christmas. We need the Christmas that centers on Jesus, the poor kid born into the world in humble surroundings to save us. We need to focus on our Redeemer, who taught that we lead best by serving others. We need to remember that the Word of God who became flesh does not value us because of our wealth, influence, or standing in society. God loves us and cares about us no matter our circumstances. God stands with us in the valleys and the darkness. God will not leave us even in the toughest of times.
We need to channel God’s love when we feel despair and heartbreak. We need to spread God’s love to others when we see they are struggling. We need a little bit of the true meaning of Christmas to sustain us. Let us believe that Jesus came into the world to bring light and that God still shines light in the darkness today.