12 Days of Christmas Music 2016: 3rd Day, “We Need a Little Christmas”

“… put up the brightest string of lights I’ve ever seen!”

I thought the above photo by Bill Gracey captured the thrill of Christmas lights and the urgency of today’s song from the 1966 hit musical, Mame. Starring Angela Lansbury on Broadway, Mame is, at least partially, a gender inversion of the musical Annie: wealthy New Yorker Mame Dennis lives a carefree lifestyle with her eccentric rich friends and colleagues, and then her newly orphaned nephew comes to live with her, right around the time of the Great Depression. But, whereas Annie seems to soften Daddy Warbucks, Auntie Mame is not so reformed; rather, she scoops her nephew Patrick into her freewheeling lifestyle.

I’ve always found this song infectious but learning that in the musical it comes just after the October 1929 stock market crash makes me like it more. Mame is decorating, filling stockings, eating fruitcake (my grandpa actually makes a really good one, so this counts as celebrating in my book), and insisting on holiday cheer and spirit in spite of just losing her fortune. A note about the timing–in this version they sing that it’s only a week past Thanksgiving. Here’s your cultural artifact to show that the Christmas creep starting earlier and earlier is actually a thing. By the time Lucille Ball starred in the 1974 film version, the lyrics were changed to say, “But Auntie Mame, it’s one week from Thanksgiving Day now!” We may be rushing things, indeed.

This is a “Tutti-Frutti” Pifco Christmas lights set from the 1980s-1990s showcasing various possible lightshades. Photo credit Alex Liivet.

I found myself wondering if hanging Christmas lights in 1929 was a thing, and turns out that decorating with Christmas lights has enough of a history that I’ll break it up across a few days of this countdown. For today, yes, it seems possible that they were used in 1929, although it’s hard to tell how commonly they were used anywhere other than on a tree, and initially they seemed to be a feature of wealthy households in particular. Christmas lights go by several different names including fairy lights (in the UK), twinkle lights, holiday lights, mini lights, and Italian lights (but this name is mostly just in Chicago–random, I know).

I agree with Mame about the lights: I’ve felt much more spirited ever since we put a string up about a week ago.

photo credit by Billy Wilson