In a year where there’s very little left to look forward to, I decided to not deny myself the simple pleasure of listening to Christmas music immediately after Halloween. However, this year, the lyrics, “Someday soon we all will be together / If the fates allow / Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow,” really hit differently.
In an increasingly despondent pandemic holiday season, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” turns out to be an appropriate theme song. Though the song has evolved over the years with many lyrical changes, it has a history of getting its listeners through hard times. Its many lyrical and musical variations also give everyone a chance to find an interpretation of this melancholic tune that fits their feelings about this untraditional Christmas season.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles
Will be out of sight
The original lyrics that Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine wrote for the song, which was featured in the 1944 film “Meet Me In St. Louis,” included the lines “Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past.” However, Judy Garland and the producers insisted the song was too sad, and the songwriters changed the lyrics.
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
Will be near to us once more
The original “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” was released during the second World War. Judy Garland performed the song at the Hollywood Canteen, a club for servicemen who were usually on their way overseas. She allegedly brought the room to tears with her performance.
“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,” once brought to mind soldiers reuniting with their families. This year, it embodies what we’ve been thinking about all year as we’ve social-distanced. Lines like “Next year all our troubles will be miles away” brought Judy Garland’s original listeners through wartime Christmases and now reflects our deepest collective hopes for 2021.
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
Over the years, many people have tweaked the song’s lyrics. Though Frank Sinatra recorded a 1948 version of the song with the original lyrics, in 1957, he asked Hugh Martin to “jolly up” the “muddle through somehow” lyric for his album A Jolly Christmas. Martin changed a few lyrics to make the song less bittersweet, including “Next year all our troubles will be out of sight,” which became “From now on our troubles will be out of sight,” and “Once again as in olden days,” which became “Here we are as in olden days.”
The most significant change Martin made was replacing the line “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” with “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough,” bringing a very hopeful, if slightly saccharine note to the song. It’s Martin/Sinatra’s more optimistic version that has become the most popular through the years, as artists from the Carpenters to the Jackson 5 to Carrie Underwood have covered this “jollier” version of the song.
I may just be a sucker for sad songs, but in 2020, it’s hard not to feel like Judy Garland had it right in the original version. Someday soon, we all will be together in homes and restaurants and independent concert venues, if the science allows. Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
In case you want to dig deeper into the many additional lyrical tweaks to “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” (“HYAMLC”) or just want to find the version of HYAMLC that suits your mood, we have several different versions on the playlist below.
THE PLATONIC IDEAL
In my mind, the platonic ideal of HYAMLC is sung as plainly (and sadly) as possible, using the original lyrics. The versions below are pretty good at making me sad.
Frank Sinatra (1948)
First Aid Kit
THE HIGHEST BOUGH
Some of the most classic versions of HYAMLC use Sinatra’s revised lyrics
Frank Sinatra (1957)
Bing Crosby (who splits the difference between Sinatra/Garland by including both the “muddle through” and “shining star” lyrics)
Rod Stewart (who also splits the difference)
She & Him
THE NATIONAL ANTHEM
You know how some singers take the National Anthem and put their own powerhouse twist on it that makes you appreciate their vocal ability but also makes you a little uncomfortable because the song wasn’t supposed to do that? Yeah.
On the other hand, the “National Anthem” versions of HYAMLC wouldn’t be possible without “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough,” so kudos to Frank Sinatra for bringing us these virtuosic moments.
Straight No Chaser
Ella Fitzgerald: Great jazzy vibes, but not close to the platonic ideal of HYAMLC
Kacey Musgraves: Musgraves’ version has a “Mele Kalikimaka” vibe to it, which is cool, but also does not vibe with the original HYALMLC
Pentatonix: It’s about what you would expect from a Pentatonix cover of HYAMLC, which is predictably not sad
Perry Como: Perry Como definitely jollied this song up. His version includes glockenspiel, a flute choir, jingle bells, and backing vocals that include the lyrics “all your troubles soon turn into bubbles.” Maybe I’m just a stickler for this song being sad, but…read the room, man
Mel Torme: The version of HYMALC that appears on the Home Alone soundtrack is quite solid. It’s got an absolutely classic John Williams instrumental interlude in the middle and is not as egregious as the other versions in this category, but makes further small lyric changes: “From now your troubles will be out of sight”; “Loving friends who are dear to us,” “From now on we all will be together” which threw this listener for a loop.
The Jackson 5: This song is fine until after it ends, when, for some reason, it goes straight into an extra-merry, extra-fast version of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” complete with the lyrics “The Jackson Five / Wanna wish everybody a mellow Merry Christmas / And a groovy New Year,” which, again…read the room??
As far as I can tell, Johnny Mathis was the one who introduced a new verse to the song. In 1963 on his album Sounds of Christmas, he adds a Christmas Carol-esque introductory verse: “Christmas future is far away / Christmas past is past / Christmas present is here today / Bringing joy that will last.” Several other artists also included this verse with their renditions of the song.
James Taylor: Taylor has perhaps the most extensive lyric changes, tweaking many lyrics on top of Mathis’ and Sinatra’s changes. Taylor released the song after 9/11, when the lyrics again took on special significance. The most bold change Taylor made was turning “Someday soon we all will be together” into “I know that in a year we all will be together,” which, frankly, is the kind of energy that we could use in 2020.