The Ugly And Beautiful Story Behind “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas
It may be your last
Next year we may all be living in the past…”

These were some of the original original lyrics to this holiday classic.

Judy Garland, co-star Tom Drake, and director Vincente Minnelli felt them to be too depressing, and asked composer Hugh Martin to tweak them.

Still, the version they used in the 1944 MGM musical Meet Me In St. Louis was a long way from the song we love today.

The backdrop to this scene is Tootie’s (played by Margaret O’Brien) sadness over the prospect of the family moving from their home in St. Louis, to New York City for their dad’s job. Older sister Esther (Garland) tries to comfort Tootie and sings the song.

Released during World War II, the lyrics took on a personal meaning for war-torn families hoping for victory, praying for reunion, missing loved ones half a world away.

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light, next year all our troubles will be out of sight…

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, make the yuletide gay, next year all our troubles will be miles away…

Once again as in olden days, happy golden days of yore…faithful friends who were dear to us, will be near to us, once more…

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.”

 

Garland would perform it for troops at the Hollywood Canteen that year. Many of them were brought to tears.

Fast-forward to 1957.

“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” was far from a standard at that point, as its lyrics pointed back to World War II in the minds of many.

But Frank Sinatra, looking for material for his first-ever holiday album A Jolly Christmas, reached out to composer Martin with his desire to record the tune…if the “muddle through” line could be changed.

That’s when the lyrics we all know today were adopted.

I’ll note here that Ol’ Blue Eyes recorded it two other times with Garland’s 1944 lyrics: the first was in 1950, the second in 1963.

Today, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” stands as one of the all-time most performed Christmas classics. And to this day, some artists still sing the original lyrics.

But here’s Judy Garland singing a mashup of her’s and Sinatra’s lyrics to her kids on CBS’s The Judy Garland Show Christmas Special in 1963.

And as for Meet Me In St. Louis, the parents decided to stay there rather than move to New York. I’ve never seen it, but this year, I may have to track it down and watch it…if the fates allow.

More from Charlie Mitchell
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