“Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) contains a brief, and yet one of the most expressive of Christmas scenes ever to come out of Hollywood, when Judy Garland sings, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
The film of course covers a year in the life of the Smith family of St. Louis from 1903 to 1904. When the father accepts a new position in New York, the family must prepare to uproot their lives, the trauma of this reaching a climax late in the film as they plan for their last Christmas among friends and neighbors.
Judy Garland plays Esther, who upon returning from a Christmas Eve dance, receives a marriage proposal from The Boy Next Door, played by Tom Drake. What begins as a typically joyous scene when she delightedly accepts, soon turns sad as they both realize her family’s departure halfway across the country, their both being underage, and all the possibilities of future happiness that seemed certain a moment ago are now slipping away from them. It all seems hopeless.
Esther comes upon her little sister, played with the poker-faced panache only Margaret O’Brien can manage, and she tries to get the child back to bed, but “Tootie” is panicking as only a child can that Santa Claus will not know where to find them next year. Sitting framed together in the bedroom window, Judy tries to reassure her that, “He can find anybody he wants to find.” Of course, Esther is talking about her fiancé as much as Santa Claus. As Tootie doubtfully considers Santa’s abilities to find them, Esther looks across the yard at her beau’s house and wonders how they can be together.
The song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” as sung by Judy Garland is a curiously plaintive tune, not a joyous carol, but a soft crooning of consolation. A kind of just do your best under the circumstances theme of comfort.
“Let your heart be light,
Next year, all our troubles will be out of sight.”
Though this film was made during World War II, it carefully omits any reference to modern troubles, except in this song. This is the only part of the film where we remember when it was made, and how this song affected so many parted loved ones during an awful time where all one could do for Christmas was just make the best of it.
“Next year, all our troubles will be miles away.”
Not quite, but we were getting closer in 1944.
Today we seem to be terribly consumed by creating the Best Christmas Ever, the Perfect Christmas. No matter how many tips on decorating or baking, or how many trips to the mall, it’s still not going to be a perfect Christmas. We are not capable of perfection, and so much that contributes to our happiness is beyond our control. The mere thought of the social pressures of this season drives some poor souls to desperation.
I prefer Judy’s quiet crooning to the teary-eyed little sister in her lap,
“Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.”
Judy sings about a merry “little” Christmas, not the Perfect Christmas.
For those suffering illness or loss, privation or misfortune, for those who endure separation from loved ones, for the service personnel far from home, for everyone whose Christmas is not going to be perfect and not going to the Best Christmas Ever, may I extend as well, the consoling message of Judy’s timeless song.
Both sisters sit in a pensive daze, as Christmas Eve turns into Christmas Day. Here is a wish for you to make the best of things, to be happy with what you have, and to hang on as we all “muddle through somehow.”
“So, have yourself a merry little Christmas, now.”