I was sitting in my local coffee shop when “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” began playing over the café’s speaker. Perhaps because this Christmas is so fraught with fear and uncertainty, this song caught my attention. I pushed aside my other thoughts and gave my full attention to the music, hunting down the lyrics online.
Here are those lyrics, written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane for Judy Garland in the musical “Meet Me in St. Louis” 76 years ago:
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on
Our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yule-tide gay
From now on
Our troubles will be miles away
Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more
Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now
These two lines “Let your heart be light” and “Make the Yule-tide gay” enjoin us to keep Christmas in whatever way we can if we want to keep our troubles “miles away.” Good advice for all, especially in these dark times.
But little? A merry little Christmas? Not so good. Though some government authorities want our celebrations curtailed or ended altogether this year, no matter what the circumstances, Christmas should never be “little.” A little Christmas is a contradiction in terms, like Independence Day without fireworks or Thanksgiving without turkey and stuffing.
Who other than an Ebenezer Scrooge or a Grinch wants a little Christmas?
No—Christmas should be great, grand, and splendid. Heck, let’s ramp it up with a touch of French: Christmas should be magnifique!
On this special day, Christians celebrate the birth of a savior who split history in half, a babe in a manger who was the Son of God, Emmanuel—“God with us”—sent by his Father to break the bonds of sin and to offer redemption and salvation to humankind.
Nothing little about that.
For non-believers, Christmas is also a time of revelry and celebration. It’s the season to give presents to those we love, to get together with family and “faithful friends who are dear to us,” to hang stockings over the fireplace or leave some cookies and milk on the end table in the living room for Santa Claus, and to take comfort, for however brief a time, in the possibility of “peace on earth, good will toward men.”
Nothing little there either.
It’s called the Christmas spirit, and that spirit often slips into our hearts this time of year. It’s why we throw five bucks into the pot of the Salvation Army Bell Ringer outside of a department store. It’s why we revisit the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” and why we sing along with the radio on songs like “O Holy Night,” “Joy to the World,” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Whether we live in Southern California or in Northern Maine, many of us find ourselves entranced by a season celebrating charity for our fellow human beings and hope for our broken souls.
In “Bringing Joy to a Weary World,” Intellectual Takeout editor Annie Holmquist concluded:
“I’ve often overlooked the pain and despair spelled out in many beloved carols, but this year, that’s changing, for suddenly it is more relatable for all of us. Yet even as we recognize that pain and suffering, those of us in this weary world can rejoice in the hope and healing brought by the arrival of God incarnate so many Christmases ago.”
Right now many men, women, and children in this weary world are seeking that hope through the spirit of Christmas. They’re decorating their homes, baking cookies—my daughter has promised to save me some spritzers—wrapping gifts, laying plans for a Christmas dinner, listening to Christmas music, and reading Christmas stories to their children.
Others—the homeless, those who live alone without family and friends, the elderly in nursing homes forbidden visitations by their loved ones because of the pandemic—face a hard Christmas. Those good souls who volunteer in food kitchens, those kind neighbors who bring a plate of cookies to the old guy living next door, and those workers caring for our parents and grandparents in nursing homes are all helping to “hang a shining star upon the highest bough” of Christmas.
Finally, this Christmas let’s remember the first words out of the mouth of the angel who appeared to the shepherds at Bethlehem. “Be not afraid.”
However we celebrate Christmas this year, let’s make that angel’s fiat our watchword: Be not afraid.
Here’s to a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all readers and supporters of Intellectual Takeout, Chronicles, and Charlemagne Institute.
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Jeff Minick lives in Front Royal, Virginia, and may be found online at jeffminick.com. He is the author of two novels, Amanda Bell and Dust on Their Wings, and two works of non-fiction, Learning as I Go and Movies Make the Man.