From the Revd Hugh Wright
Sir, — Having been told off by a parishioner when I asked for a CD of Christmas songs (“White Christmas”, “Jingle bells”, etc.), playing before the service, to be turned off, I might expect to agree with your leader comment about “Have yourself a merry little Christmas” (Comment, 18/25 December).
As it happened, while reading, I was listening to Bob Dylan’s exquisite 2009 version of the song, which I have always found one of the most poignant and thought-provoking of secular Christmas lyrics. I consider the leader quite wrong-headed and entirely missing the point of the song.
The brief article criticises the use of the word “little”: “Christmas is not ‘little’ to anyone with the slightest grasp of the incarnation.” Of course it isn’t. This is not a theological comment, but a reflection on all the countless millions of “little” gatherings of people in our homes. For most people, whether we like it or not, such gatherings are the heart of Christmas.
The song first appeared in a scene in Meet Me in St. Louis, in which a family is distressed by the father’s plans to move to New York City for a job promotion, leaving behind their beloved home in St Louis, Missouri, just before the long-awaited 1904 World’s Fair begins. In a scene set on Christmas Eve, Judy Garland’s character, Esther, sings the song to cheer up her despondent five-year-old sister, Tootie. The song is, therefore, about responding to the problem of a divided family. The term “Have yourself” is probably not a selfish sentiment, but a misunderstood Americanism.
Many families go to Herculean lengths to “all be together”, as the song beautifully puts it — sometimes even separated partners come together on Christmas Day for the sake of the children — and include difficult relatives, or ones with dementia, around the table. One of the sad aspects of the priestly calling is that it makes it very difficult to share Christmas with far-flung families who meet only occasionally.
This Christmas, my siblings and partners, with their children, all got together with my mother, who has dementia. She won’t remember it, but that will have been Christmas for her. It may be her last.
This leads on to your next point. The article rightly points out that “it may be your last” were the original words, changed only later to “let your heart be light.” It then mistakenly connects this with the mad shopping frenzy that precedes Christmas, and takes the usual Christian pot at this (yawn!).
The words mean nothing of the sort. They’re about the fragility of the human lot (encapsulated in the tragic life of Judy Garland herself) and the human desire to hold close to “faithful friends who are dear to us” at such times.
This is profound, even, I dare say, theological. In its mixture of warmth, light, and fragility in the face of “the fates” that surround us, it rather reminds me of the Holy Family, and every other family that got together in the face of overwhelming odds this Christmas.
The “little” light does indeed “shine in the darkness”, enabling hurt human beings to “muddle through somehow”.
The Vicarage, Maples Drive
Isle of Wight PO38 1NR
From the Revd Duncan Lloyd-James
Sir, — Thank you for your excellent leader comment “Certainly not little”.
The words that always strike me in that pleasing song lie in line 5: “Make the Yuletide gay.”
I am sorry your article is silent on these, and hope they may be addressed in the next issue.
62 Richmond Street
Brighton BN2 9PE