December
16th 2010
Most melancholy Christmas song ever

Posted under: American history, art, unhappy endings

Judy Garland as Esther Smith in Meet me in St. Louis(1944), “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  I can’t get through this song (either hearing it or singing it) without sobbing–even without seeing Tootie’s snowmanicidal tantrum in this clip.  1944 was a year in which a lot of people wouldn’t be seeing their loved ones for Christmas–or ever again.

18 Comments »

18 Responses to “Most melancholy Christmas song ever”

  1. Dr. Crazy on 16 Dec 2010 at 9:44 am #

    I’m with you on this one, sister. What’s bizarre is the more modern remakes of the song that try to make it sound happy and sort of soft rock. Did those people just not listen to the lyrics?

  2. Indyanna on 16 Dec 2010 at 10:03 am #

    Me too, Historiann!! If you want upbeat, go with that one that says “From Atlantic to Pacific, everything’s terrific…” or whatever, blanking on the title.

    Happy holidays everyone. I’m heading for the road myself in just a few.

  3. Undine on 16 Dec 2010 at 10:06 am #

    With you all the way on the sadness of this song–and I can’t watch the decapitation of the snowmen.

  4. John on 16 Dec 2010 at 10:28 am #

    Just imagine if they had kept the original lyrics like “Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last…. Faithful friends who were dear to us/Will be near to us no more”! (http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,1569872,00.html)

  5. Historiann on 16 Dec 2010 at 10:53 am #

    Yeah, Dr. Crazy–it’s not a happy-happy song at all. I can see a punk remake, but rock/pop/happy-happy just ain’t right.

    I’m hearing Bob Mould sing the song in my head now. Now, that’s a guy who’s dealt with some serious depression.

  6. Perpetua on 16 Dec 2010 at 11:16 am #

    I’ve been putting together a Christmas playlist, and made sure I put this song on it. I only recently discovered how sad it is – it’s like I had never listened to it before. I put it on my playlist not because I’m sad but because I want to remind myself of all the people I know who are sad, and whose sorrow is compounded 100x by the glittery snowy joyfest of Christmas.

    There’s a really lovely Sarah McLachlin cover, if you like her sound.

  7. Western Dave on 16 Dec 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    @Dr. Crazy – No they changed the lyrics. Sinatra asked for a rewrite to accommodate his album “A Jolly Christmas” so the lyricist wrote new upbeat lyrics (NPR rebroadcast this story recently). It was the second time the lyrics were changed as John pointed out above. The wikipedia entry has the details: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Have_Yourself_a_Merry_Little_Christmas

    Growing up, I never really cared for the song being only familiar with the Sinatra lyrics. I love these. I think I’ll have to watch Meet me in St. Louis over break. I don’t know how I missed it growing up and chalk it up to my parents shielding me from anti-NY bias.

  8. Feminist Avatar on 16 Dec 2010 at 5:20 pm #

    This is my favourite Christmas movie- watch it every year.

  9. Dr J on 16 Dec 2010 at 6:30 pm #

    I’m going to have to nominate “Fairytale of New York” as the most melancholy Christmas song.
    If not the most melancholy, then surely the most awesome:

  10. Susan on 16 Dec 2010 at 10:51 pm #

    I agree — I cry with this one too. I love the song (and movie). My grandmother had me watch it on TV when I was about 6, and I was completely freaked out by the Halloween scene, and the Christmas scene is just so sad.

  11. truffula on 16 Dec 2010 at 11:43 pm #

    I’m with Dr. J on Fairytale of New York. Melancholy and angry all mashed up, sometimes is what you need.

  12. Historiann on 17 Dec 2010 at 7:37 am #

    IIRC, Fairytale of New York is pretty foul-mouthed and not at all for the kiddies. (Like most Pogues songs?)

  13. truffula on 17 Dec 2010 at 9:49 am #

    not at all for the kiddies Well, it’s gritty.

    In the last year I’ve talked with my kiddies about the death by drug overdose of a friend’s father and about why we don’t see anymore an adult whom they adore (who also turns out to be a sexual predator). In the context of our lives, Fairytale of New York seems okay.

  14. Historiann on 17 Dec 2010 at 10:03 am #

    Wow, truffula. That’s a lot of heavy stuff for a couple of little kids. (Or even for you, a grownup, quite frankly.)

    I feel like my life is a Walt Disney or Frank Capra movie by comparison, only without the struggles/adversity/filibusters/suicidal despair up front.

  15. truffula on 17 Dec 2010 at 10:22 am #

    heavy stuff

    The thread that runs through all these conversations is compassion. We can love these people even while we see what is hurtful and unhealthy in their actions, and indeed, for both their sake and our own, we should love them. It isn’t always easy but it is always right.

  16. FrauTech on 17 Dec 2010 at 10:50 am #

    Agreed, I tear up every time I watch that scene. I was familiar with the song before I saw the movie, but never realized the lyrics or the sadness until I saw Judy Garland singing it (maybe I was listening to ones with the lyrics re-written). I guess it inspires the “soldier on” and “suck it up” attitude I think we, as a culture, are good at even through historically troubled times. I never connected it to the war, now I’m guaranteed to cry even more next time I see this.

  17. Indyanna on 17 Dec 2010 at 11:58 am #

    When I was back there in colledge it was an urban legend, maybe a stoner’s urban legend (and before the term “urban legend” entered our lexicons) that Walt Disney was autopsied after his death and that his lungs were found to be something like “caked with cocaine residues.” Not sure whether we really believed it even then, but it did provoke a few mirthful coughing fits.

    I was thinking this morning that I should nominate “Merry Little Christmas” as a nice balanced medium point between the treacly and the teary.

  18. “White Christmas” and A Christmas Story : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 11 Dec 2011 at 11:18 am #

    [...] troops wonder when (or if) they’ll ever again take part in family holiday celebrations. Much like Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), it’s really a three-hanky operation (and right at the start [...]

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