One of the movies I always watch during the Christmas season is Auntie Name, with the incomparable Rosalind Russell. Technically, it’s not a holiday movie, but it one of my holiday traditions. It’s funny, quirky and for the times it was released, I’m sure it was shocking.
In the movie, there's a scene where Mame is experiencing difficult financial times after the 1929 stock market crash. She loses a job just before Christmas, and comes home to find her nephew has pawned some of his things to give her a gift. She’s so moved. “If we’re going to have Christmas," she says, "Let’s have it all the way around.” She calls in her cook and housekeeper, who’ve stayed in spite of not getting paid. She takes out her gifts to them, and the cook informs: “But Christmas is not until Tuesday.”
Mame replies, “Well, we need it now. Let’s go ahead and have it.”
I love that line.
And I never watch that scene without tearing up.
It’s at that moment Mame realizes they are a family. Granted, they aren’t traditional—a single woman raising her nephew—and all of them are not related by blood. But she realizes they love one another.
They are a family of choice.
When the play and movie (Auntie Mame) was turned into the successful Broadway musical (Mame), that single line was expanded into the now-famous Jerry Herman song, “We Need a Little Christmas.”
As I look around our country, as well as inside myself, it’s clear: things are dark right now. It feels like we've hit bottom. We've forgotten what matters, and we don't seem to care about those around us.
I know for me, the words of the song strike home:
“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...”
I think we do need a little Christmas.
I sure could.
Clarification: I’m not advocating a return to some idyllic, unrealistic, fictionalized time of Ozzie & Harriet. (As I’ve made clear in a previous post, nostalgia is not the answer.) Christmas doesn’t have to look like a Currier and Ives picture, or come with the manufactured sentiment of a Hallmark movie. It’s not about the practice of one specific faith or an emphasis on precise vocabulary. It’s not trying to control how others talk about Christmas or observe their traditions. It's not the "correct" design of a coffee cup.
We certainly don’t need more stuff for Christmas.
I think we need more Christmas in our Christmas!
We could use some of the attitudes that once embodied this holiday:
Right now, our country reminds me of George Bailey at the turning point of It’s a Wonderful Life. Broken, despondent, and without a sense of purpose. Maybe like George Bailey, standing on that bridge, we need a "supernatural" intervention.
I've given it some thought, and using images from classic films (I love holiday movies!) and familiar traditional elements, allow me to offer suggestions:
- Perhaps it involves a Revelation similar to the one Santa Claus had, when he saw the inherent potential of that red-nosed reindeer the others were ridiculing. Inclusion replaced rejection. Everyone has something to offer.
- Perhaps like Reverend Henry Brougham in The Bishop’s Wife, who became obsessed with his status and legacy, we could use an angle like Dudley to redirect our energies back to what truly matters—the needs of those around us.
- Perhaps we embrace the simple understanding of Kris Kringle, the man who believed he was Santa Clause in Miracle on 34th Street, when he explained: "Oh, Christmas isn't just a day. It's a frame of mind."
- Perhaps we listen to the wisdom of Clarence, angel second class, in It’s a Wonderful Life, as he explains our interdependence on one another: “Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole.” and “No man is a failure who has friends.”
- Perhaps we put into the practice the carols we sing this time of year. We acknowledge on that O Holy Night, the "soul felt it's worth," and treat one another with kindness and respect. We express Joy to the World and welcome the serenity of “Silent Night.”
- Perhaps we can unite our voice with Tiny Tim: "God bless us, every one."
- Perhaps, like the Peanuts gang in A Charlie Brown Christmas, we reaffirm the simplicity of that original angelic message to the shepherds who were watching their flock that night: “Good news of great joy... for all the people… And on earth, peace.” No one is left out!
- Perhaps we experience a Transformation like that of Ebenezer Scrooge, who learned compassion, forgiveness and generosity after being visited by the three ghosts, showing him the people in his life held greater value than his accumulated wealth. (Then perhaps we can proclaim with Mr. Scrooge: “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future...I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”)
Yes, we do need a little Christmas.
Right this very minute!