Friends of Padre Steve’s World
There are some songs at Christmas that despite their relative newness as compared to ancient carols seem to strike a chord that resonates deep in the hearts of people. I think that in our day that some speak louder than others.
One of those songs, at least for me, and probably many others is the song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. The music was written by Ralph Blane and the lyrics by Hugh Martin for the musical Meet Me in St Louis and first performed by Judy Garland in that film. In the movie Garland’s character sings the song to her younger sister after their father announces plans to move from their home of St Louis to New York for a job. It is a haunting song with a fascinating story, especially in the age of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the relentless grasps for power of Fascists and Authoritarians in this country and around the world, economic catastrophe, and the clouds of war looming.
For the musical, Garland, director Vincent Minnelli, and co-star Tom Drake felt that Martin’s original lyrics which began with “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, it could be your last. Next year we may all be living in the past” were too depressing. Martin resisted but finally bowed to pressure and the lyrics were changed to “let your heart be light, Next year all our troubles will be out of sight” in response to their request.
The words sung in the musical by Judy Garland have a haunting but very real feel for people who face uncertainty at Christmas, as such they were very meaningful to the US military personnel who heard them at the front in the dark days of the Second World War.
As originally produced they reflect a hope for a better future as opposed to a carefree present. As such they are probably much more appropriate to our current time than in the mid-1950s when Frank Sinatra recorded a modified version of the song for his album A Jolly Christmas.
Frank Sinatra asked Martin to “jolly up” the line “we’ll have to muddle through somehow” and Martin changed it to “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”
When Sinatra recorded the song in 1957 it too became a hit and the focus on present happiness rather than a hope for a better future fit the times in which it was recorded. It was a time when economic prosperity and growth triumphed, bomb shelters were a growth industry, and Reds in Hollywood were alleged Communists and not people from Red States. Sinatra’s version also notes that “faithful friends gather near to us once more” instead of “will be near to us once more.” Gathering is such a nice thought, unless people spread COVID-19 wherever they gather.
The song is one is one of the most recorded Christmas songs ever written and can be heard being sung by artists as diverse as Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Rod Steward, the Carpenters, Kelly Clarkson, John Denver with the Muppets, the Pretenders, Olivia Newton John, Kenny Loggins, and even Twisted Sister.
So enjoy these versions of a song that has touched the hearts of hundreds of millions of people since it was first recorded. May it be an inspiration in these uncertain times of a hope for a better future. Maybe that makes it a better Advent song than a Christmas song, and maybe that’s why Muddling Through Somehow isn’t such a bad thing after all, especially if you live to see the end of the worst of COVID-19.
For me it is kind of a sad song, but at the same time it is mixed with hope…and I always try to live in hope, even when I am sad.
So, here’s to muddling through somehow…