Best Original Christmas Song in a Film
With a headline like that, you’re probably thinking this is going to be a tribute to the magic that is Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” Much love to dear old Bing and the song that became one of the highest-selling singles of all time, but, in my humble opinion, cinema has delivered better.
Way back in 1944, Vincent Minnelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis not only gave us one of Hollywood’s finest (and underrated) movie musicals, it delivered the greatest original Christmas song to originate from a piece of cinema. Written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane and performed by the incomparable Judy Garland, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” still stands as a Christmas classic with an emotional wallop that’s impossible to top.
After being covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Sam Smith, it’s a song that has perhaps lost a little bit of its soul over the years (although Smith certainly seemed to keenly convey the song’s origins). When you get down to it, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is actually a decidedly bittersweet track about moving on, lost love, and the uncertainties of the future.
To really understand the song’s original intentions, you need to see it placed within the context of the musical. Garland’s Esther and her young sister, Tootie (Margaret O’Brien) are both desperately despondent at the thought of leaving their beloved St. Louis for New York, after their father makes the devastating decision to uproot the family to chase a business opportunity. In an attempt to comfort Tootie, Esther turns the crank on an antique music box and commences the melancholy tune via Garland’s glorious vocal talents.
What begins as a sweet Christmas song about the joys of the holiday soon becomes a heartbreaking reflection on the unpredictable future facing both sisters, as their lives are about to be irrevocably changed. It’s a crushing reminder that we all have no idea what tomorrow may bring and whether next Christmas will look anything like the one we’ve just enjoyed. Will we all still be together, as we were in olden days? Will faithful friends who are dear to us still gather near to us once more? Nobody knows, and that’s the true message of this classic piece of music.
It’s not delivered to remind us how horrible life can be, although one could certainly read it as such. It’s a timely reminder to cherish the now and treasure the moments you are given with your loved ones, particularly during the holiday season. It’s a wake-up call to forget worrying about what next year may bring and be thankful for the blessings you have right now. It’s a reflection on living for the beauty and joy of today, lest tomorrow we find ourselves without such lucky gifts.
Fate is uncontrollable. What will be will be. Instead of living in crippling fear of what tomorrow holds, you should let your heart be light and have yourself a merry little Christmas now. If that isn’t the ultimate message this Christmas, I’m not sure what is.