I hope you made it through your Thanksgiving weekend well. If you ventured out to shop, i hope you found what you wanted without having to go to war over it. If you watched some football, I hope that your team won (My Eagles did not), and if you had Turkey on Thursday, I hope the turkey haze has dissipated by now.
Yesterday, we got a bit silly about Christmas, but today, we get a bit more melancholy. I’m going to present to you a few of my favorite holiday things and tell you why they are not all filled with comfort and joy.
First up is the holiday classic HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS, introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 film MEET ME IN ST LOUIS. While thought of as a holiday film, ST LOUIS is actually a year in the life of a family facing the prospect of moving to a bigger city just as the rest of the world is about to come to St. Louis for the World’s Fair.
HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS , written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine, was originally a quite depressing rumination on enjoying that Christmas because the following year might bring changes that will never allow the same dynamic again. Don’t forget, the family in the film were faced with being uprooted from their home and moving to New York City. The setting of the song, with Tootie (Margaret O’Brien) sad about leaving, and eventually destroying the “family” of snowmen she has built.
Garland and the director , Vincente Minelli, criticized the lyrics as too depressing and new lyrics were written. Below are those original lyrics as well as the scene from MEET ME IN ST LOUIS.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last,
Next year we may all be living in the past
Have yourself a merry little Christmas, pop that champagne cork,
Next year we will all be living in New York.
No good times like the olden days, happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who were dear to us, will be near to us no more.
But at least we all will be together, if the Fates allow,
From now on we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
A similar vibe exists in the song WHITE CHRISTMAS, written by Irving Berlin. Originally introduced in the film HOLIDAY INN, the song is nostalgic about Christmases past, filled with snow and the accompanying sights and sounds of winter. In the film WHITE CHRISTMAS, it seems more literal to be about the plot point that the Inn in Vermont is about to suffer a green Christmas because of the warm temperatures.
WHITE CHRISTMAS has a preamble, an opening verse that is not usually performed. This verse puts the context of living in Southern California at the holidays when you have come from a snowy climb, and waxing nostalgic for those days. These lyrics have been performed by CARPENTERS on their version.
The sun is shining, the grass is green,
The orange and palm trees sway.
There’s never been such a day
in Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it’s December the twenty-fourth,—
And I am longing to be up North—
I’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS has the same melancholy feel, but is more wistful, filled with good memories and longing. Written in 1943, it was rumored to be about Buck Ram (the lyricist) longing as a homesick college student. Because of World War Two, it became a touching song for soldiers far from home. My favorite version is by VINCE GILL.
Finally, a note about THE Christmas movie, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Directed by Frank Capra, this is a tale of “what if”. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is an upstanding citizen and beloved neighbor in the town of Bedford Falls. He runs the local building and loan, started by his father. He is known to kind and caring, and always bends for those who need.
His nemesis is Henry Potter, a notorious slumlord (Potter’s Fields) and a majority shareholder in the bank. George has always but his own dreams on hold in order for others to succeed, such as passing up his own desire for a trip in order to pay for his brothers college. As the film goes along, the depression that has affected other banks has come to Bedford Falls. The Building and Loan is brought close to insolvency, but George is able to stave Potter off in his attempt to close the bank on George’s father.
George takes over, and is face again with disaster when his Uncle Billy loses a large deposit. Potter, who has found the money, instead threatens to close the bank. George starts to crack under the decades long pressure of being the “nice guy” and contemplates suicide.
At this point, he is saved by Clarence, an angel in training who was sent to try to save George. He shows George a nightmarish life that would have been had George never existed. In the end, George returns home and finds that the townspeople have come to his monetary rescue.
Capra was a hugely populist director and made many films about the triumph of the human spirit. But, if you look at most of his films, they are populated by a darkness that borders on depressing. Most people remember the final reel of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE but the film has over 90 minutes of store leading up to that final redemption that shows George beat down and driven to suicide. In the end, Potter still has the money, there is still a threat of bank examiners and troubles still exist. The happy resolution is that an angel finally gets his wings.