“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” first appeared in a scene in Meet Me in St. Louis, in which a family is distraught by the father’s plans to move to New York City for a job promotion, leaving behind their beloved home in St. Louis, Missouri just before the long-anticipated Louisiana Purchase Exposition begins. In a scene set on Christmas Eve, Judy Garland’s character, Esther, sings the song to cheer up her despondent five-year-old sister, Tootie, played by Margaret O’Brien. However, when presented with the original draft, Garland, her co-star Tom Drake and director Vincente Minnelli criticized the song as depressing.
Though he initially resisted, songwriter Hugh Martin made several changes to make the song more upbeat. For example, the lines “It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past” became “Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight“. Garland’s version of the song, which was also released as a single by Decca Records, became popular among United States troops serving in World War II; her performance at the Hollywood Canteen brought many soldiers to tears.
In 1957, Frank Sinatra asked Martin to revise the line “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow“. He told Martin, “The name of my album is A Jolly Christmas. Do you think you could jolly up that line for me?” Martin’s new line, “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough,” has since become more widely recognized and sung than the original phrase. Martin made several other alterations, changing the song’s focus to a celebration of present happiness, rather than anticipation of a better future.
I hope that everyone has a wonderful holiday with their friends and loved ones. Remember to have yourself a MERRY little Christmas! Although we are in the midst of an economic recession of epic proportions I hope that y’all remember the true reason for the season and are not caught up in the consumerism of it all.