Political Bullsh!t

Are you a 'muddler' or a 'shining star'?

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was written in 1943 by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane and introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis. It was later adulterated by the same Hugh Martin in 1957, at the behest of Frank Sinatra. Ed Tracey has all the back story in this Top Comments diary from last holiday season, explaining how this holiday song has come to define us.

See, there are two kinds of people when it comes to Christmas, and Garland and Sinatra divide us. We are either “muddlers” or “shining star” types. I land firmly in the former territory.

Why? Well just watch the definitive performance of the song from Garland:

It’s sweet and sentimental and just a little bit melancholy, which is definitely what classic Christmas stories and songs and films are supposed to be. The fact that most of the Christmas standards, (including this one) were written during World War II is a big part of that. It’s all about the nostalgia, all about the reality that we all want a perfect holiday, but it’s also always out of reach. Because perfect isn’t achievable, particularly when you add in all the family stuff. It’s all there in the final refrain:

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

(Of course, immediately after Garland’s character “Esther” croons the lovely little song to Margaret O’Brien’s “Tootie,” the little girl breaks down and runs outside in snowpeople-icidal rage to destroy the [what appears to be papier mâché?] snow family the kids spent all afternoon making. And, while we’re on the subject of Tootie, was anyone else bothered by the fact that she is totally feral, and in actual physical danger at one point because of the lack of familial supervision? That Halloween sequence is legit disturbing.)

We muddle through, all of us together. A little bit sad, maybe, because we can’t all be together this time. But you make the best of what you have and look forward to that “someday soon.”

Then along comes Frank. Brash and sunny and all post-war consumerism and a “great, big, shiny, aluminum Christmas tree.” I mean, he puts this song on his “Jolly Christmas” album. I love Sinatra, but, damn, he just doesn’t get this one. Here:

Just look at the new lyrics:

Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

That’s standing out there having nothing to do with the rest of the song—at all! And furthermore, you don’t hang the star, you put it on the top, after you bend that top part of the tree down and put a rubberband around it to make it sturdy enough to hold the star on straight. Everyone knows you don’t hang a star. That would look stupid. And who are you, telling me what to do to have a merry little Christmas? Maybe I don’t even want a star on my tree. Why are we all of a sudden having directives in our holiday music? (And as long as we’re asking, who puts “presents on the tree”? Presents go under the tree.)

So yes, I’m judgy. And I do judge every performer who chooses to do this song by whether they go with substance or follow the ‘shiny’ path. And if they decide to make it jazzy and snazzy, I am right out of there. Because these totally secular Christmas classics, many written by Jewish composers, are sacred in their original form. That’s just how it is.

The first year of Christmas in the COVID era? All about the muddle, for almost everybody. COVID Christmas II? Definitely a muddle. Me, I’m going to be muddling, quite happily. However you do your Christmas, I hope it’s a merry little one.

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