“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” first appeared in the 1944 musical “Meet Me In St Louis”, where it was sung by Judy Garland.
“Meet Me In St Louis” is probably better known for “The Trolley Song”, but “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” has become a Christmas classic over the years, whereas it’s only fans of the golden age of musicals like me who obsess over “The Trolley Song”…one of the most chipper songs ever recorded, in my view.
Both “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” were credited to the same songwriting team — Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane — although in his biography, only released after Ralph Blane’s passing, Martin claimed the work was all his and disputed Blane’s role in writing the lyrics for those two classic songs.
As neither songwriter is with us any more, I don’t suppose we’ll ever know the truth, but it is worth mentioning that in 1956, more than a decade after the “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” featured on-screen in “Meet Me In St Louis”, the duo recorded an album called “Martin And Blane Sing Martin And Blane”, which included both “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”.
I don’t know about you, but if I felt badly about someone else getting the credit for something I’d written, I might not have compounded that injustice by recording an album which so publicly acknowledged my co-writer’s contribution to a song I’d written. But who knows…
Whoever wrote what bit of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” hardly seems to matter now. It’s still a wonderful, and much-loved song for this time of year.
There’s a delightful cadence to the lyrics…
Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more
That’s such a wonderful piece of writing. Not easy to sing, I suspect, but when a great singer gets that phrasing just right, it’s a thing of beauty.
And the way Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane weave in the Christmas sentiment without making “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” too saccharine is masterful too…there’s sorrow and poignancy amongst the joy, a balance which stops the song becoming a bit too overdone…
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on our troubles will be out of sight
See, we’re not talking sleighs and jingle bells here. That would be too obvious.
Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane capture that “end of year” feeling perfectly…the excitement of the big day…the chance to see much-loved family and friends again, some of whom we perhaps only see once a year at Christmas…and the sense that Christmas signals the imminent end of one year and the opportunity to start again in the new year, no matter what challenges we’ve had to overcome in the year about to end.
There’s a lightness of spirit at this time of year. People tend to be more understanding and good-humoured, and make greater allowances for others than they might at another time of year. Disputes are set aside in the spirit of togetherness.
Christmas is a chance to re-connect…with friends, family and loved ones, for sure, but most of all with ourselves.
An opportunity for reflection is becoming increasingly rare in our busy world, except perhaps at Christmas time when something as simple as a hug from someone we love very much, but haven’t seen since last Christmas, reminds us just how much they matter in our lives…
Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
Time is precious. None of us will be here forever. So we need to cherish our time with those we care about “while the fates allow”.
At the same time, the imminent end of the current year means we can put the past behind us and move into a new year with a positive sense of hope and anticipation for what lies ahead.
Maybe this will be the year we reach the shining star that symbolises our idea of the perfect life…after years of striving, we get to do what we’ve always wanted in the company of those people we’ve always wanted to do it with.
In large part, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is such a popular song for this time of year because it captures the experience of Christmas so perfectly without resorting to over-used imagery or tired metaphors.
In fact, apart from the title in the refrain, Christmas isn’t mentioned at all in the song. Yet we all love “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” because it captures the essence of this time of year so perfectly.
The song has been recorded by so many different artists over the years it’s hard to know the best version to link to.
Of course, Judy Garland’s original performance in “Meet Me In St Louis” was the version which first brought “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” to the attention of the record-buying public, so has to be regarded as the classic version.
Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald also recorded “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, and their respective gifts for phrasing popular songs make their performances a thing of beauty too.
But genuinely one of the finest performances of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is a relatively modern one…and that’s Michael Bublé’s version from his best-selling “Christmas” album.
So that’s the version I’ve linked to below…here’s Michael Bublé with his luscious version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”…
I just hope the fates allow you and your loved ones to be together at this time of year…either in person or in your prayers.
If you’ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/37UhuyGwWHgS1dhTePiJBy