Hearts Be Light: Out of Sight, Still Together
"Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
Let your heart be light.
From now on, our troubles will be out of sight." - Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine
The lyrics to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" were first penned by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine in 1943. They were originally written for Judy Garland's 1944 movie, Meet Me in St. Louis, but the song was nearly scrapped in the process because Garland found it to be "too sad," according to Martin. The lyrics were later revised, however, after Martin and Blaine were given the direction that "it's a sad scene, but we want sort of an upbeat song, which will make it even sadder if she's smiling through her tears." The final version of the song has stood the test of time, and now, seventy-seven years later, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" still remains a beloved Christmas anthem to this day.
While I was driving home this week, listening to Ben Rector's new Christmas album, the familiar tune of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" began drifting through the speakers in my car. As I listened, I was struck by a sudden wave of emotion I didn't quite understand. I grew up listening to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" from the original with Judy Garland (my Grammy's favorite) to Frank Sinatra's (my Papa's favorite) and, of course, Michael Bublé's (my personal favorite). I have listened to that same song countless times over the course of my life. It has become such a Christmas staple that it almost now just blends in with all the rest of the songs we've come to associate with the season. The lyrics have become so familiar that they've nearly lost any of their original meaning over time too; I've never even seen Meet Me in St. Louis. This year, however, Martin and Blaine's lyrics hit me in a way they never have before.
Right as Rector sang "From now on, our troubles will be out of sight," tears began streaming down my face. Memories of years past came flooding back into my head: my sister decorating Grammy's "Pink Tree" with her as I set up the Christmas village under the piano with Grandpa, sledding down snow-covered hills with my parents, crowded Christmas Eve dinners of spaghetti and meatballs, waiting to open special ornaments that Nana and Papa had always somehow managed to buy every single grandchild each year, and Christmas Eve church services filled with friends and family I had known my entire life. All memories of old that look so different now because many of the key people involved are no longer here to share them. As I cried in my car, I began to understand the lyrics in a way one only can after experiencing a specific type of pain in this life: the pain of loss.
I can see why Judy Garland might have considered the lyrics "too sad" for her film. It's because they're real. Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine's lyrics recognize something most Christmas songs do not: they recognize that this life is heavy and we all need moments for our hearts to be light.
This season of life has been especially heavy. There has been so much loss in 2020. You feel it everywhere you go. As Christmas approached this year, I silently hoped the season might cover up a bit of the heaviness. I hoped our troubles might truly be "miles away" for but a moment so we could sing once again, "Here we are as in olden days, happy golden days of yore." But where we are now is not the same as where we were in our olden days.
We have ended up in a place that could not look more different than our "golden days of yore." It's now dangerous for our "Faithful friends who are dear to us" to "Gather near to us once more." Our world has never looked more different than it does right now. Many will spend special holidays this year away from their loved ones. I struggled with thoughts of whether Christmas would ever look the same as it had during my childhood while listening to "HYAMLC" through my tears. As the song neared its conclusion, though, I found solace in the final lyrics and one last realization about loss:
Christmas itself hasn't changed, but the world has, and all of us have changed with it. That's how life works. After all, we're all developing characters. Christmas might never truly look the same as it had when I was a child because my Grammy, Grandpa, and Papa are no longer here to share it, but I can find comfort in remembering each year at Christmastime the special moments we did have together. Those memories are what connect us and keep us together, even when it feels like we are apart or that they're out of sight. I can remember the beautiful moments we shared, and, for a moment, my heart can truly be light.
It also helps to remember that this life is not the end. As a follower of Jesus, I believe that this life is just the beginning. Jesus came so that there would be so much more. A friend of mine recently referenced Isaiah 60:20 in one of her posts, and, just like Judy Garland's directors had wanted all along, I found myself smiling through my tears as I read these words, "Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your Everlasting Light, and your days of sorrow will end" (Isaiah 60:20 NIV).
"Through the years," I really do believe "we all will be together" again, my friends, if, of course, that's what the Lord allows...
"So hang a shining star upon the highest bough... and have yourself a merry little Christmas now."
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
With Hope, Faith, and Love,
James Davisson is just a small man with a big heart, serving a much bigger God.