Manchester video … Perfect Christmas Song?

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The perfect song for Christmas 2020? It’s 76 years old

There’s no question: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is the perfect song for this bizarre holiday season.

“But wait,” I can hear you say. “What does that syrupy tune about shining stars above the highest bough have to do with Coronavirus Christmas?”

The answer is: nothing. Because if the song you’re hearing has that line, it’s not the version I’m talking about. To hear the original (and in my opinion, better) version, one has to jump back in time to the November 1944 release of the smash musical film “Meet Me In St. Louis” starring Judy Garland.

“Merry Little Christmas,” which was composed by the songwriting duo Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, appears near the end. With a melody Martin called “madrigal-like,” Garland’s teenage character tries to comfort her little sister at Christmastime, while also bracing to leave behind the boy she loves. She’s consoling herself as much as anyone else: “Someday soon we all will be together, if the Fates allow,” she sings in the final verse. “Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.”

If it worked perfectly within the film’s context, it was even better on its own. “Meet Me In St. Louis” opened just before the three-year anniversary of the US entry into World War II, and troops and their families were steeling themselves for yet another holiday apart. “Merry Little Christmas’’ struck a chord with the public, capturing the melancholy and uncertainty of a wartime Yuletide while steadfastly hoping for happy times ahead.

Even without the wartime aspect, Garland’s version hits on a persistent truth – that being sad around the holidays can be profoundly difficult, especially if one is bombarded with quasi enforced cheer. Unlike many popular Christmas songs, it speaks directly to the lonely and downcast. It encourages listeners to make the best of a bad situation, to have themselves a merry little Christmas anyway.

So consider Garland’s version: There’s not a single word that couldn’t be about this Christmas. Next year all our troubles won’t be entirely out of sight, but with the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines, it’s increasingly likely these particular troubles will be. We’ll be with our loved ones and friends “once again, as in olden days” — as in, the days before March 2020. With any luck, it’ll be soon. But in the meantime, we’ll all have to muddle through. Somehow.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” original lyrics:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

It may be your last.

Next year we may all be living in the past.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

Pop that champagne cork.

Next year we may all be living in New York.

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.

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