Hugh Martin wrote “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” for Judy Garland to sing in the 1944 film Meet Me in St Louis. It wasn’t a happy time. The fate of the world hung in the balance: World War II raged in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Millions were dying in Nazi death camps. Japanese imperial forces were intent on obliterating other civilizations. Into this bleak and uncertain time, Martin’s original lyrics reminisced of bittersweet wartime festivities:
Have yourself a merry little Christmas, It may be your last.
Next year we may all be living in the past…
No good times like the olden days, Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who were dear to us, Will be near to us no more.
But at least we all will be together, If the Lord allows.
From now on, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
That was too morose for the movie. Meet Me in St. Louis told the story of the Smith family from St. Louis, with four daughters. One of them, 17-year-old Esther, falls in love with John, a boy who has just moved in next door. Her hopes of marriage are crushed just before Christmas when her father announces he has been transferred to New York. I won’t spoil the plot…but at a crucial juncture Garland sings a revised version of the song, including the lyrics:
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 near to us, Will be dear 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
The sadness of leaving home and future uncertainty resonated with the sadness and uncertainty of the times. The movie was a huge success. Major recording artists wanted to record it, and the lyrics were slightly changed a few times. But as Paul Harvey might say, you still don’t know ‘the rest of the story.’
After reaching the heights of stardom, Martin fell on difficult times. He suffered a nervous breakdown, and like so often happens, when he was at that low point, he felt the embrace of God’s love and came to faith in Jesus Christ. Many years later, he revisited his song. Knowing Jesus left his old lyrics shallow and vague. For him, it wasn’t just the “fates” that held the future. So in 1996, more than fifty years after Garland crooned his original version, he and John Fricke rewrote his classic song with the title, “Have Yourself a Blessed Little Christmas.” It included these lyrics:
Have yourself a blessed little Christmas, Christ the King is born.
Let your voices ring upon this happy morn.
Have yourself a blessed little Christmas, Serenade the earth.
Tell the world we celebrate the Savior’s birth.
Let us gather to sing to him, And to bring to him our praise.
Son of God and a friend to all, To the end of all our days…
Let us all proclaim the joyous tidings, Voices raised on high.
Send this carol soaring up into the sky.
This very merry, blessed Christmas lullaby.
Sing hosannas, hymns & hallelujahs, As to him we bow.
Make the music mighty as the heav’ns allow.
And have yourself a blessed little Christmas now.
When Martin wrote the first version of his song almost 80 years ago, the world was embroiled in a world war. Today, we’re on the brink of another world war. Sadness and uncertainty mark our times. But we can have assurance and hope because Christ was born. The Son of God is the crucified, risen, ascended, and soon-coming king. So ‘have yourself a blessed little Christmas’ this year!