Bill's Blog

UNTIL THEN, WE’LL HAVE TO MUDDLE THROUGH SOMEHOW

Posted on December 23rd, 2021

It is one of the greatest and most popular Christmas songs of all time.  But over the years, some of the lyrics of the song have been changed.  This Christmas we need to remember the original lyrics and the powerful message they conveyed.  

The song is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  It was originally sung by the great Judy Garland in the 1944 motion picture “Meet Me In St. Louis.”  In her classic rendition, it was a sweet but melancholy song that Garland, playing the role of Esther Smith in a family in St. Louis in 1904, sings to her little sister Tootie, played by Margaret O’Brien.  Garland sang the song on Christmas Eve during a difficult and challenging time for the Smith family.  The poignant message of the song was that their family would get through their adversity by being together and sharing love and hope.  

The best line of the song was, “In a year we all will be together, if the fates allow, until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.”  

It is no coincidence that the movie came out in 1944, when America was in the midst of World War II.  Movie audiences in theaters across America could relate to the message in that year when literally millions of their loved ones were overseas fighting for our country.  No one knew for sure if and when these loved ones would come home.  Until then, as Judy beautifully sang, the folks on the homefront would just have to muddle through somehow.  

In a year, the fates did allow Americans to be back together, as by Christmas 1945, the war had  ended and our servicemen had come home.  

But many years later, another great singer, Frank Sinatra, recorded his own rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and in his rendition he changed the lyrics.  Finding the original version somewhat depressing, he instead sang “Through the years, we all will be together, if the fates allow, hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”  

No muddling through for the Chairman of the Board.  Instead, he urged us to hang the brightest ornaments atop our tree.  And that is the version we have been singing and hearing over the years, and now hear today.  

But the original lyrics, as were marvelously sung by Judy Garland, have a powerful message for our times.  Christmas 2021 is somewhat similar to Christmas 1944 as reflected in “Meet Me in St. Louis.”  No, America is not at war, but COVID has caused the deaths of over 800,000 Americans.  And while we are not separated from our loved ones by war, many families have become separated by the continuing challenge of the pandemic.   

We are all trying to muddle through this somehow.  When Judy Garland sang to her little sister, it was a comforting message of hope.  She reassured her sister, herself, and millions of moviegoers during World War II, that we would indeed muddle through and prevail.  

I truly believe that is a relevant message for us this Christmas.  “Muddle” is an interesting verb.  The Cambridge International Dictionary defines “muddle through” as to “manage to do something although you are not organized and do not know how to do it.”  In effect, to muddle through is to act through faith and determination even when you are not sure exactly what to do.  

This Christmas, so many of us are trying to muddle through the continuing challenge of COVID.  Many of us (although not all of us) have availed ourselves of what modern medicine has incredibly developed in, as they say, warp speed time.  We have rolled up our sleeves for vaccinations and, more recently, a booster.  We are wearing masks at public gatherings, and on Christmas Day, we will be trying to reunite family and friends for traditional celebrations albeit in smaller groups.  And like last Christmas, we are holding some gatherings virtually through Zooms or Facetime.  

We are trying to muddle through with hope and determination.  That is what our grandparents and great grandparents – the Greatest Generation – did when Judy Garland sang to them and for them nearly 80 years ago.  And it is what we should do now.  

So let’s have ourselves a merry little Christmas.  And let’s look forward to a safe and healthy Christmas next year when we all will be together, if the fates allow. 

Comments

Nick McCall: Powerful, poignant and relevant, indeed. Many thanks, Bill. I think this is one of the most powerful and meaningful columns you have written. A Merry Christmas to you all.

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