What’s your favorite Christmas movie? It’s a big question, because there are so many perennial classics. And we all have different definitions for what makes a Christmas movie. (Yes, Die Hard counts as one.) For me, the answer has always been Meet Me in St. Louis. Only part of the film takes placeduring the Christmas holiday, but that section leaves the largest impact. That’s thanks in part to the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” This particular song and movie moment feel especially relevant in 2020.
Meet Me in St. Louis follows the Smith family in 1903. They live in the eponymous Missouri city and love their lives there. While we spend time with the entire family, it’s the second-eldest daughter Esther—played by the ethereal Judy Garland—and the younger daughter Tootie (Margaret O’Brien) who really stand out. Esther is in love with John Truitt (Tom Drake), the boy next door, and we spend much of the film’s runtime engaged in their courtship. And then there’s lively little Tootie, a troublemaker who keeps her family on their toes. This occasionally involves messing with Esther’s relationships, to her annoyance.
The family is shocked when they learn that their father, Alonzo (Leon Ames), has accepted a job in New York. To make matters worse, they have to leave St. Louis just before the World’s Fair, an event they were all looking forward to. This upsets all of them, but Tootie takes it the hardest. In a fit of rage on Christmas Eve, she destroys the family’s snowmen and runs to her room in tears, worried about the uncertainties the future holds. To comfort her, Esther joins her and sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
The song was written for Meet Me in St. Louis, but has become a holiday staple. It’s my personal favorite Christmas song; a gorgeous mix of tenderness and melancholy. It’s a song that feels especially relevant in 2020, when the world seems completely unhinged from reality. Like Tootie, we have no idea what the future holds, and it feels pretty overwhelming. But the song sends a message of graciousness and hope for the holiday season. It reminds us that “next year all our troubles will be miles away.”
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
It’s a simple message, really. But it’s a heartfelt one. And one that feels like a warm blanket in 2020. Someday soon we will be together again, even if things look a little different. In Meet Me in St. Louis, Alonzo eventually decides to pass on the business offer and the family stays in St. Louis. They get to see the World’s Fair. Everything ends happily ever after. I love the movie because of the dopamine rush it gives—the fairy-tale ending to a gorgeous family film.
Our reality won’t be quite like that. It can’t possibly be. But the “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” scene feels important this year anyway. Because it reminds us that our COVID holidays won’t last forever, that the togetherness we crave is still possible. It will take time, it will take patience, it will take safety and awareness. But if we cling to hope this holiday season, we can muddle through.
Meet Me in St. Louis is currently streaming on HBO Max.