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A Merry Musical Christmas

It really doesn’t make a lot of sense that some of the greatest Christmas standards have emerged from musicals. Many people can’t stand Christmas songs and only tolerate them during the festive season. But plenty of the most (and a few of the least) enduring Christmas songs were originally written for shows designed to play through all seasons.

And that’s not even mentioning the songs from musicals written specifically as Christmas musicals – like A Christmas Story and Elf.

So here’s our selection of the most notable festive songs born from musicals.

We Need A Little Christmas (Mame)

Jerry Herman wrote some of the most hummable tunes to come out of Broadway in the latter part of the 20th century, so it’s no surprise that his one go at a Christmas number from his 1966 musical Mame is one of the most popular Christmas songs written in the last five decades.

Angela Lansbury was the first person to record the song on the original cast recording of Mame and it became even more popular when Lucille Ball performed it in the film version (although she copped a lot of flack for her singing).

Of course, a few of the lyrics were revised so the song could be performed at carols events year after year.

New Deal for Christmas (Annie)

The 1977 musical about a perky redhead orphan spawned plenty of well-known songs including the beloved standard Tomorrow, but the one Christmas song from the musical (which happens to be the finale) is mostly only known by fans of the show.

The song references President Franklin D Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ policy, which was widely credited with softening the blows dealt to poor and ordinary Americans by the Great Depression. (And in Annie it is the Annie’s perkiness that inspires FDR into action.)

The song was ditched from all movie versions of the musical but was spruced up nicely for the 2012 Broadway revival featuring Australia’s Anthony Warlow.

Hard Candy Christmas (The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas)

Written by Carol Hall for the 1978 musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Hard Candy Christmas was never intended to make its way into the Christmas canon, but Dolly Parton’s recording of the song from the film’s soundtrack became very popular.

It’s a rather unconventional Christmas number, being sung by a group of prostitutes as they dream of their life ahead, but it gets plenty of airplay on American radio each festive season. Even Cyndi Lauper has just released a cover of the song last week.

Turkey Lurkey Time (Promises, Promises)

What can be said about the epic song-and-dance office Christmas party number from Promises, Promises that hasn’t been said before? The number was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, with spectacular choreography by Michael Bennett. I won’t explain exactly what makes the number so awesome, but if you are in desperate need of an explanation, check out this deconstruction from Seth Rudetsky.

Twelve Days to Christmas (She Loves Me)

Joe Masteroff, Sheldon Harnick, and Jerry Bock’s 1963 musical She Loves Me features one of the best Christmas numbers, which also furthers the show’s plot brilliantly. Drawing inspiration (and a few snippets of melodies) from classic carols, the song sees the workers at Maraczek's Parfumerie helping last-minute shoppers while the two romantic leads spend time together and fall for each other.

Christmas is My Favorite Time of the Year (Catch Me If You Can)

Written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, Christmas is My Favourite Time of Year is perhaps the most darkly funny number on this list, from the 2011 musical Catch Me If You Can. In this song (the act one finale), FBI agent Carl Hanratty realises he has more in common with the con-man he’s tracking (Frank Abagnale) than he first thought. Such is the magic of Christmas.

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (Meet Me in St. Louis)

Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane wrote the song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas for the 1944 MGM movie musical Meet Me in St Louis. In the film, Esther (played by Judy Garland) sings the song to calm her five-year-old sister Tootie (Margaret O’Brien). They’re distraught over their father’s plan to move to New York City for a job promotion, ripping their family unit apart.

It’s a very sad moment in the film and the song originally had far darker lyrics until MGM demanded Martin and Blane rewrite them. For example, the song originally opened: “Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last/ Next year we may all be living in the past.” Those lyrics were changed to the ones we all know and love now: “Have yourself a merry little Christmas / Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight."

But the song has been cheered up even further in the following years, particularly by Frank Sinatra, who changed the line "Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow" to “Hang a shining star upon the highest bow,” the lyric most of us know.

But no version can surpass Garland’s melancholy original.