“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” really should be our anthem this holiday season.
The song was written in 1943 for the film, Meet Me In St. Louis, and actress Judy Garland was the first to sing it. In the movie, she sings the song to her little sister on Christmas Eve because their family is about to move all the way from St. Louis to New York City. That’s a big change for a young girl. I know because I went through something similar myself, and I watched my own kids go through it, too.
The song lyrics endured a lot of revisions over the years. Before the film was even released in 1944, changes were made to the original draft, which was considered by some to be “too depressing,” and different renditions by different artists have included some older, some newer, some more religious, some more secular lines from the song. All told, to me it remains a bit of a sad song, but a hopeful one, too.
2020 was hard. Really, really hard. And it’s not over. Many of us are facing a Christmas that is far more keyed-down than normal, and some of us are even facing a Christmas alone. I am thankful for every single person who is choosing caution over tradition this year, especially because I know how incredibly difficult that decision must have been.
Yet throughout history, people have had to spend holidays apart. I’ve already seen lots of posts on social media reminding us of the health care workers and public safety employees who have always had to cover the holidays. Maybe that’s not the best example because they can then celebrate with their families on their very next day off. (For me, the date on the calendar is not as important as being together.)
But also consider military families, who often spend multiple consecutive holidays apart, with no visits or leave in between and no guarantee that their deployed family member will return. Think about people who have moved away from their families who do not have the means to reunite for the holidays. Centuries ago, people relocated to the New World, leaving their families behind in Europe, or they pioneered westward, leaving their families behind in more “settled” areas. Families of enslaved persons were broken up by sale and trade, and they never saw their loved ones again, let alone for the next holiday.
And most tragically, we can be separated from our families by death. Many people lost loved ones this year whom they could not even properly mourn due to restrictions on large gatherings. And many people will lose loved ones this coming year, after having chosen not to spend the holidays with them, not knowing it would have been their last. When my grandmother visited us for Christmas in 2018, I felt so lucky to have her there, aware that her health was declining, and when I visited her in Michigan in June 2019, just days before I moved nine hours away, I did my best to cherish every moment with her, even though she was tired and less coherent than I’d ever seen her. She passed less than two months later, and I couldn’t be more grateful for those last two visits.
This is all heartbreaking, but the truth is, we are never guaranteed another holiday, another birthday or anniversary, or even another day. We should treat every Christmas like it is our last Christmas together and then feel incredibly blessed when and if we are granted another one.
We are starting to see glimmers of hope as the COVID-19 vaccine begins its journey of distribution throughout the United States. A friend of ours (a doctor) is scheduled to receive the vaccine this week, and my ten-year-old daughter, who had “COVID vaccine” on her Christmas wish list, cried when I told her the first truckload of vaccines was departing a Michigan warehouse on Sunday. It’s going to take awhile to get back to “normal,” and “normal” will still look different, but hope is what sustains us. Hope is what we can find in a season, in a Savior, and in a song:
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 are dear to us shall 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.
Muddle through, my friends. It might take a little more effort and creativity, but do what you can to make the yuletide gay. And it’s okay if Christmas is “little” this year.
There is light, and there is hope.