The Reasons the Lyrics to ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ Changed Through the Decades

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, which has become a staple of festive cheer, holds a story that mirrors the very essence of Christmas – transformation and hope. 

The original lyrics of the song, penned by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, were quite somber. In its first version, the song reflected the uncertainties of the World War II era, with lines like “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last”. Judy Garland, who first performed the song in the 1944 classic film “Meet Me in St. Louis”, found these lyrics too disheartening for the scene it was meant for – a comforting moment for her on-screen family. 

Garland’s reaction led to a pivotal change in the song’s lyrics. She requested a more hopeful tone, believing that the original lyrics were too bleak, especially for the scene’s context, where her character was trying to cheer up her younger sister. The songwriters agreed, and thus the version Garland sang in the film was born, featuring now-familiar lines like “Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow”. 

However, the evolution of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” didn’t end there. In 1957, Frank Sinatra was recording a Christmas album and requested a further change to the lyrics. He found the line “Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow” a bit pessimistic for his album, titled “A Jolly Christmas”. The lyric was then altered to the more uplifting “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough”, which has since become one of the most beloved and commonly sung versions of the song.

The rich history and evolving spirit of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” will come alive in “Home for the Holidays: A Christmas Homecoming“, hosted by Bill and Gloria Gaither on UPtv Saturday, December 2 at 7 PM ET. The Christmas concert will feature a variety of Christmas music, including country and gospel star Josh Turner performing this iconic song. Turner’s rendition embraces the Sinatra-inspired version, bringing a message of joy and hope that resonates with the Christmas spirit.

As you tune in to this heartwarming special, remember the journey of this classic song reminds us of the power of music to adapt, inspire, and bring joy to generations, especially during the most wonderful time of the year. And if you want to remember to tune into the special, download the free My UPtv app and never miss your favorite UPtv show or movie! Set reminders, watch previews and exclusive videos, view our 7-day schedule, discover new programs… and more!