Wake up, Polly Parrot.


I'll Have A Blue Christmas
by Brian Plante

Christmas can be a sad time for many people, and perhaps this year more so than others. The year 2001 should have been a happy one: the real beginning of the new millennium, and Arthur C. Clarke's banner year, with hope for the dawn of a new era. Instead we got the World Trade Center disaster, war with the Taliban in Afghanistan, anthrax, escalating bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians, economic collapse in Argentina, and India and Pakistan poised for nuclear war. Who knows where it will all lead?

Call me morbid, but I have always been partial to sad Christmas songs. I find Christmas a time to reflect on the past year, and (this year especially) that can lead to feelings of melancholy. Sad Christmas songs are right up my alley for times like this. I suppose I'm not alone, since there are so many unhappy Christmas songs: Joni Mitchell's "River" (a.k.a. "Comin' On Christmas"), Elvis's "Blue Christmas," Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas," The Eagles' "Please Come Home For Christmas." And a lot of the old religious songs like "Silent Night" and "What Child Is This" have mournful melodies, even if the words are not outwardly sad.

Some of the best sad songs are the ones that came out of World War II, or shortly thereafter. "I'll Be Home For Christmas" is sad, because of the tag "if only in my dreams." It reminds us that each Christmas may be our last, and well, maybe we won't be home for Christmas. Even the venerable "White Christmas" has sad underpinnings, with the dwelling on Christmases past.

The saddest Christmas song is my favorite. It figures. In the 1944 movie Meet Me In St. Louis, Judy Garland first sang the memorable "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," with music and words by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane. Over the years, many singers have tinkered with the lyrics to make this a "happy" song, but I prefer the original ones:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, make the yuletide gay
Next year all our troubles will be miles away.

Once again as in olden days, happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were near to us will be dear to us once more.

Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow
Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

The original lyrics are heart-wrenching, with reference to how things will be better "next year" and friends who were dear to us, and how we'll have to muddle through. The point of the song is that things are miserable now, but they won't always be, so let's forget our troubles and celebrate Christmas.

Most of the versions of this song you hear these days have some revisionist "happy" lyrics. Instead of our troubles being gone "next year," the newer versions say they are gone "from now on." Instead of friends who "were" near to us, they now "are" dear to us and "gather" near to us (I guess to prove they are still alive, as opposed the original line which makes me remember absent friends). Instead of being together "someday soon," the newer versions say we'll be together "through the years." And worst of all, the newer lyrics change the song's most heart-tugging line about muddling through it all somehow into "hang a shining star upon the highest bough." Oh boy, what a bit of clever propaganda that is!

This Christmas, I will be listening to the original Judy Garland version, with sad lyrics and sung in her emotional voice that made no attempt at sounding happy. It is that kind of Christmas. Take your damned "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Silver Bells" somewhere else.

It's not a merry Christmas this year, but somehow we'll muddle through.

Copyright © 2001 Brian Plante

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