The History of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” Is Just What You Need This Year

Last Saturday, I had Christmas music playing all day. As I ran about chasing children, doing chores, making meals, I kept noticing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” seemed to be on repeat. Of course, that wasn’t actually true, but one particular verse kept catching my attention. Here it is, in all it’s 2020 glory:

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

Muddle through. Yep, that’s exactly how I feel this year. It got me curious that this classic song was over seventy years old and yet, seemed so on point for our current situation. So, I looked up the history. What an interesting find!

As it turns out, there are actually three versions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, only two of which you’ve probably ever heard. The original was written during WWII for the musical Meet Me in St. Louis. But, that version never even made it to the recording because the lead actress Judy Garland thought it was too dark (and, it is really dark, see link at the bottom). After her insistence that it be improved, it became the version you read above. This is the one that ended up in the movie and one of the two you regularly hear now.

Fast forward to the mid-1950s and ol’ blue eyes, Frank Sinatra, wanted to record it for his album, “A Jolly Christmas”. In keeping with that theme, Frank said even the previously adjusted lyrics were too depressing. That’s when “we’ll have to muddle through somehow” was changed to “hang a shining star upon the highest bough.” This more lighthearted version was what he ended up recording and that is the other one you often hear today.

I share all of this with you today because 1) I thought the history was cool and, 2) it seemed to provide a lesson in perspective and compassion. Just like each of these artists needed a different version of the song for their purposes, this Christmas you may need something different too. If your feelings this year are connecting more with Judy, so be it. And, if your heart wants a more joyful approach like Frank, that’s okay too. Each version serves a purpose.

Remember, Christmas was never meant to be a prescription, it is an experience. Each year we have the choice to be rigid about our expectations and traditions, or we can choose grace and flexibility to meet the needs that come. Christmas, from the very beginning, has always been filled with both joy and sorrow. May the God who knew both give us all the strength and grace we need to embrace whatever comes for ourselves and others.

For a more complete history on this song including the lyrics to all three versions: History of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Judy Garland’s Version: From the Musical Meet Me in St. Louis

Frank Sinatra’s Version: From the Album “A Jolly Christmas”

Photo by S&B Vonlanthen on Unsplash, used with permission

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