This is probably my favorite Christmas song. I have a few, but this is right up at the top of the list. Judy Garland first sang it in 1943 during WWII in the film, Meet Me in St. Louis. In 1950 or thereabout, Frank Sinatra sang it, and turned the song into the standard Christmas song it has become. He had the last verse of the song changed to give it a positive spin. The last verse of the song originally recognized that life is difficult on the best of days.
The writers Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane wrote the words and music that continue to haunt me.
“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.”
Sitting at a holiday concert a couple of years ago with my wife, I heard the Ripon College Chamber Singers sing this song. The lyrics the Chamber Singers used that afternoon were the Frank Sinatra lyrics that say something like, “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.” It was beautiful. However, in my mind’s eye, I heard the original words, “Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.”
For whatever reason, I began to weep. My wife patted my arm. I was so emotional I decided to leave the concert and walk a mile home in the rain. When I thought about it, I realized that my feelings were complex as they often are this time of year. I was sad that that Christmas I would not be with many people I love dearly. I would not be with our children, my siblings, extended family, and friends. I would have to add the hundreds of people I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time among. I simply get misty-eyed recognizing my loss and desire to be with the people I care about.
The further rub is that so many are simply gone. My grandparents were born in the 19th century. They were important in forming me as a child. My parents are dead as well. That is a whole story all by itself. At the end of the day, let’s just say, I loved them and miss them. Many of my teachers have died. These folks were my companions and cheerleaders. I learned much from them. I’ll add to this litany of loss many dear friends and comrades in arms with whom I have endured the sharpest battles of life; they are dead, too.
Well, someday soon we’ll all be together, if the fates allow. Until then, I’ll have to muddle through somehow. Truth be spoken, that is exactly how I feel when I am reminded of them. I muddle through. I am happy to say, “I am a muddler.” I would be nothing without these memories and acknowledging these losses.
This time of year, I encounter the pain and struggles of others, maybe yours among them. Crazy things happen in our lives and sometimes simply put: our lives spin out of control. I have talked with people who cannot make sense out of their lives, relationships, and the hyped-up joy of others. This is the time of year many are melancholy, depressed, or simply blue.
The last line of the song goes like this, “So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.” I will, with memories intact, celebrate the Nativity. I will remember those not with me physically, as being present. I will tell the messy story of Christmas in all of its glory. The story you know is about an inversion. The poor are celebrated, and the rich are on the periphery of the story. In some manner, the story with all its glitches is like your story and mine. It is a story saying that God is for us, and with us. Remember, Jesus was born in a cave, to his unwed mother and credulous father, among animals, shepherds, wise people, and an enemy who from the beginning wanted to do in a vulnerable child, due to the ruler’s own paranoia and lust for power. I love it. What a great story! It still is one of the best I have ever heard. The people I will be near – you, for instance – love the story too. And you, like me, will have to choose again to have a merry little Christmas now. It is the present moment that is crucial, is it not? It is the awareness that we are not alone that matters. We will say again, “Emmanuel or God is with us.” God does not leave us alone in the darkness. All it takes is a little light to dispel darkness. A lit candle can change your mood and mine.
Consider this: you can express your struggle during this wonderful season with the ambivalence of feeling both melancholy and joy side by side. That is how I muddle through. Sing the carols, tell the story, love your neighbor, and be fully in touch with who you are. I wish you the merriest of all Christmases now.