• Richard Murff

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

This too shall pass...


December may signal the winding down of this anno horribilis but it is also the time to consider how to set the tone for the year ahead. I’ve been in investment banking and advertising – I know you aren’t doing much else for the duration, so you might as well do some post-mortems and a little forward planning. And this is the season for it because of that psychic anchor of the holiday tradition. Traditions are great because they very often have deep meaning, often requiring action and presence, but require little thought. The form of the tradition hardly matters – neither does the decor of your bedroom – but it’s still a safe place where you can go to quietly assess what the devil just happened beyond those four walls.


Winston Churchill said “Fortune is rightly malignant to those who break with the customs of the past.” Machiavelli advised against it as well. The décor, the food, the familiar faces all make up tradition, which isn’t to say that society doesn’t need to evolve, only that these anchors serve a purpose in good years and especially the bad.


As psychic anchors go you can do worse that music, which evidently will trigger vivid memories with more force that smell or even sight. Which explains the longevity of holiday music. And while no one asked me, I can think of no better holiday favorite to officially represent 2020 that “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The old version from Meet Me in St. Louis sung by poor doped up Judy Garland. Trust me, right now in this year, of all years.


It is a Christmas standby for a good reason - unlike other standards, it is a lovely ode to Christmas in a terrible time. A lament for “olden days, happy golden days of yore” along with the hope that friends “who are dear to us, will be near to us, once more.” And that is the key – it may hit some sad notes, but it isn’t a depressing song. It’s hopeful.


Written for a movie set in 1904, the lyrics were penned by Hugh Martin in 1943 – at the height of World War II, prior to D-Day. In other words, before we knew we had it won. Still, there was that hope… “Someday soon, we’ll all be together, if the fates allow… until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow…”


Frank Sinatra would later cover the song for his album, A Jolly Christmas and asked Martin to “jolly up the lyrics.” By then the war was over, Martin changed the in future tense –things will be better if we have faith to the present tense – Man, what a night! Look at that dame with legs to her thorax! Sure, Sinatra’s version has its place, but for that matter so does Sid Vicious’ cover of “My Way.” (You've got to power through the intro...)


This may be Christmas 2020, but 2021 is on the horizon. So, listen to Judy Garland’s original version, it’s on Spotify. Christmas this year will be weird, but it’s hard to drag an anchor like holiday tradition completely out of the mud. And it should be. We’ll find our level again.


Garland’s version has a jab of much-needed faith that the candy-cane, sexy-elf vibe “All I Want for Christmas is You” completely lacks. Yeah, Mariah is getting laid, but Judy is singing about something else. It is the carol of someone with memories of lovely holidays and knows that this probably isn’t going to be one of them. It is also the song of someone who knows that this too will pass.


And with a bit of faith, we’ll all muddle through, somehow.