Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is considered by some to be the greatest Christmas song of all-time. What you may not know about the composer is really quite a story.
Hugh Martin was born in 1914, the son of an architect in Birmingham, Alabama. At his mother’s urging, he developed his talent and followed his dream into the world of show business. He eventually moved to California where he became part of the Hollywood’s Golden Age, working with stars like Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, and Debbie Reynolds.
Martin is best known for the 1944 musical Meet Me In St. Louis in which Judy Garland performed his famous Christmas composition. The lyrics are sentimental, hoping away troubles and pining for friends. The song maintains its secular theme, even with the line “We all will be together if the fates allow,” which works for Hollywood, but is a hollow hope.
The young composer went on to enlist during WWII, serving the troops as an entertainer. After the war, he returned to his show business career, but soon began to suffer bouts of depression as the Golden Age began to wind down.
In 1974 at the age of 60, he entered a hospital for physical and psychological treatment. A fellow patient explained and demonstrated the Christian gospel to Martin, and he experienced a decisive conversion to Christ! He explained that his life had been self-centered and he had “hit rock bottom. God had to bring it to my attention that I was not all I thought I was.” After his recovery, his career changed as he began to work in gospel music.
That’s not all that changed. In 2001 he wrote new lyrics for his Christmas tune, including these: Have yourself a blessed little Christmas, Christ the King is born…Tell the world we celebrate the Savior’s birth. Let us gather to sing to Him, and to bring to Him our praise.” Quite a departure from whatever the ‘fates’ might allow. Joni Eareckson Tada recorded this version with Martin for her radio program in 2008.
The first part of Martin’s life is characterized by success, dazzle, and awards, but that lifestyle didn’t bring real happiness as his troubles were not “out of sight.” That was not the final stanza of his life’s lyrics as he experienced a changed life complete with new lyrics. An authentic encounter with Jesus Christ has that effect, giving hope for the most lost, depressed, ruined person. The Psalmist calls, “Sing to Him a new song!” (Ps 33:2-3). Welcoming the coming of the Savior brings the gift of a new song to sing, new lyrics to live.
Before Martin died in 2011 at age 96, he said, “It was my pleasure to talk about Jesus. There’s nothing I’d rather do.” I share his sentiments and his wish that you “have yourself a blessed little Christmas!”
(You may be interested in the autobiography Hugh Martin: The Boy Next Door.)