I have recently noticed the pensive nature of the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The song starts with the title line and continues “Let your heart be light. From now on, our troubles will be out of sight.”
Yet we all know that this isn’t true. No matter how much we may wish it so, our troubles will never be far from us. For many, Christmas is a time of family tension and bitter disagreements stretching back to old times. For others, it is a reminder of our material lack, of having hardly enough to live, let alone to give away. For still others, it is a time of loneliness, grieving for loved ones that have passed on. Even after the holidays are over, troubles come. War, famine, disease, poverty, unemployment, eviction, grief.
In some sense, this song typifies the escapism and sentimentality that are endemic to this holiday. These words are futile! They have no power, even as we may try to decorate, buy, and feast away that reality.
Yet even still, there is an endurance to these words. Though we know that our troubles will never truly be far from us, we can hope for a day when it will be so, and that gives us strength to continue on. “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays,” and other such good wishes are more than just the mantra of bored retail clerks and television commercials for mattresses. They are words of courage for a homeless veteran, of hope from an unemployed mother to her child, of comfort for a grieving grandson. For even into a world of despair and misery, there is hope that one day, every tear will be wiped away, and all troubles will cease. It is in that hope, in spite of all despair, that we live.
Wikipedia fact: The song was originally written for the musical “Meet Me in St. Louis” in 1944 and was sung by Judy Garland. The last stanza is:
“Someday soon, we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now”
In 1957, when Frank Sinatra was covering the song for his Christmas album, he asked the lyricist, Hugh Martin, to “jolly up that line” for him, which is how we got “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.” I actually think the original line is quite fitting with the pensive hopefulness of the song.