“Let your heart be light. Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.” – The Pretenders
Many people, myself included, love this slow, wistful, nostalgic song first sung by Judy Garland in the 1944 film, “Meet Me in St. Louis.” Written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane the song was (somewhat ironically in my opinion) sung by Garland in an attempt to cheer up her little sister (played by Academy Award winner Margaret O’Brien) in the movie. For me, the song falls under beautifully sad, kind of in the same bane as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” There’s just something inherently sad in the music even if the lyrics are meant to be hopeful and up-lifting.
The Christmas season itself is a blender of contrasting ingredients. At its’ best, it is a magical, joyous time and reflection upon a King born 2000+ years go. The season can also be full of exciting possibilities and anticipatory expectations. At its’ worst, it’s a despondent season full of melancholy, sadness, and possibly regrets. Honestly, I don’t mind a balance of both.
“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.”
Last week, I was scanning through an old photo album my grandma Ruby had put together many years ago. Amongst the pictures of so many memories and relatives not with us anymore was a card of some sort, so I carefully pulled back the plastic covering to read what was inside. It was a Christmas card written in grandma’s handwriting just a matter of days before her husband, and my grandfather Kay, passed away on December 21, 1975.
There is something remarkable about touching and holding a piece of history. I held it and examined it and ran my fingers across her message full of hope and excitement yet containing a small bit of worry and perhaps trepidation. I think about how hard the date December 21st must have been for grandma. I was only four when it happened so I don’t have any memory of that particular Christmas in 1975, but I never really remember her being sad during Christmas while I was growing up either. I do think it’s one of the reasons my parents made such an effort to be with her every Christmas though. We rarely ever spent a Christmas without visiting, and Grandma Ruby lived until the age of 102 passing away in February of 2019. She lived 44 more December 21st’s without grandpa. Amazing.
Many of you may be experiencing “the first Christmas since (fill in the blank) or without (fill in the name), and it may be a tough one for you. Last year was my first Christmas without my dad. This is the second year and it’s not a whole lot easier if I’m being honest. The memories of Christmases past occupy my mind frequently during this time of year, and it may be the same for you too. My grandma never remarried and I’m sure December 21st never got much easier for her, but the perseverance she showed is inspiring to think about. She kept going. She just went on living the best she knew how.
“Through the years we all will be together,
if the fates allow.”
The Christmas season is a time where dates seem to become more prominent, because December 25th holds such significance to many. Besides the 25th, we think about other dates – lost loved ones around Christmas time, new ones born around the holiday season, weddings, divorces, and the list of life events goes on. For me, it’s dates like the aforementioned December 21st, it’s also December 20th – the birth of my daughter almost exactly 25 years to the date of my grandfather’s passing. I remember how much that meant to me the day she was born. Her birthdate holds a historical celebratory mark in contrast to that day of the 21st, and I’m sure it wasn’t lost on my grandma. I also think of other dates during the holiday season – March 5th, September 4th, March 23rd, August 13th, September 18th, January 5th, and July 26th that all hold meaning and significance to me.
I know you have dates you hold close to you as well. What are the ones you think about this time of year and what do they mean to you? Do they cause you celebration and happiness or do they cause you some sadness and pain? You can list them in the comments without any explanation and I’d be happy to say a prayer for you and keep you in my thoughts.
It’s ok to embrace it all this time of year, and like my grandma, to go on living the best you know how.
“Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself A merry little Christmas now.”
The lyrics for this song have been revised and rewritten through the years including in 1957 when Frank Sinatra made a request of Martin to “jolly” them up a bit, which Martin obliged for Sinatra. The Pretenders had their own beautiful version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” on the first holiday cd I ever purchased, “A Very Special Christmas.” The album was produced by Jimmy Iovine in 1987 in honor of his late father who had passed away in 1985. The album and subsequent follow up albums also doubled as fundraisers for Special Olympics organizations (of which Jimmy’s former wife Vicki was a volunteer) around the country and has raised over $100 million.
That’s Jimmy Iovine in the middle above flanked by Bono, Annie Lennox, John Cougar Mellencamp, The Boss, Run-DMC and the late Jam Master Jay. There was no official video for this particular song, but have a listen to the song on vinyl as Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders perform “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas…”
As a bonus, if you’ve never seen “Meet Me in St. Louis,” here is incomparable Judy Garland and the original version (and lyrics) of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas…”
As always, thanks for reading, and have a Merry Christmas
A Merry Christmas to you too Double K! I have the dates of birthdays of family members mostly in mind throughout the year and two non-family members that always struck me as so meaningful, that of Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth’s coming one day after the other, Hank Aaron on Feb 5th and Ruth’s on Feb 6th.
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Merry Christmas Steve. That’s interesting that you have two birthdays of two of the greats stored in your mind. Thanks for stopping in!
Once again thank you for that marvelous piece of writing and for the bonus of Judy Garland. I loved her. There are many in my own family gone now and I find myself in the strange position of being the matriarch of the family. On Christmas music is a huge part of my celebration along with scripture of course. And I am thankful for having a friend who loves music as much as I do. Merry Christmas to you and your family.
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I really enjoyed this! The Judy Garland version is definitely the best, in my opinion, and even more meaningful in Meet Me In St Louis. I am so glad other people appreciate this melancholic version as much as I do. It’s always (hum)bugged me a bit that some of the lyrics got altered to make it more cheery.
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So, are you a child of the 80s or a teen of the 80s?
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A little of both I’d say. One year in my teens in the 90’s too! Thanks for stopping by!
I am a little older than you are. I was 20 in 1986. I am guessing you were born 1972, 1973?