I love Judy Garland. Now that I got that out of the way let’s talk about song #3 on my Holiday song countdown.
Songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine wrote the classic song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" for Judy Garland's 1944 movie, Meet Me in St. Louis.
It was exactly what Americans, weary from the years of World War II, needed to hear: those words of hope — the promise that in the next year all, at last, would be well.
Today, two versions are popularly sung. There’s the version Martin tweaked for Judy Garland – “Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” – which is a rather poignant listen this year, as many families around the world are physically apart. There’s also a later version by Frank Sinatra, who asked Martin to sprinkle a little festive joy on that rather downbeat line for his Christmas album. And that’s how ‘Hang a shining star upon the highest bough’ came to replace Garland’s melancholic lyric. Of course Judy Garland would nail the melancholy feelings of the holidays and keep it so classic that revisiting it in 2020 it literally speaks volumes.
She was singing on the set of a motion picture that was being produced in wartime. She could have had no idea that her words would carry such present-tense power more than 75 years later.
Next year all our troubles will be miles away.…
But as Christmas approaches in 2020 it is the original that can cause listeners to pause and ponder what they have gone through in the long months since last Christmas. If, when the song was new, it brought a tender, fragile look to the eyes of its listeners, it is having a similar effect now, in a country in many ways changed yet at its core much the same as it ever was. In this year of so much illness and death, when we have been warned against surrounding ourselves with loved ones at the gatherings we always took for granted, there are those haunting words of yearning, over all the decades:
Once again as in olden days, happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who were dear to us, will be near to us
The knowledge that the lives we take on faith, the daily assumptions about the world around us, can be yanked away so quickly by uninvited forces that overwhelm us. Which is why, as we are admonished to keep our distance, those words, in a fresh yet familiar context, can stop us in our tracks:
Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow,
Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
What is the message, as we do our best to muddle through this cold December? Probably the same as it was in 1944 — nothing more simple, or more complicated, than this: Have yourself a merry little Christmas now.