What’s the perfect Christmas song to capture the mood in 2020, the year coronavirus stole Christmas? How about the traditional favorite, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas? Listen to these lyrics:
Have yourself a merry little Christmas. It may be your last.
Next year we may all be living in the past.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Pop that champagne cork.
Next year we may all be living in New York.
No good times like the olden days. Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who were dear to us. Will be near to us no more.
But at least we all will be together. If the Lord allows.
From now on, we'll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
No, that isn’t a depressing 21st century re-write to the jollier Christmas song we know and love. Those are the original lyrics.[i] The song premiered in the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis. Judy Garland was hired to play the part and sing the song, but she thought the lyrics were too depressing. So instead of singing Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past / the lyrics were changed to Let your heart be light / From now on our troubles will be out of sight.
Thirteen years later the lyrics went through another revision. Frank Sinatra was recording a Christmas album and he felt like the lyrics were still a bit too depressing. He called songwriter Hugh Martin and said “It’s just not very jolly. Do you think you could jolly it up for me?” Martin complied and changed From now on, we'll have to muddle through somehow to Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
But muddling through seems a lot more like what we’re doing these days. And that’s not only because Covid-19. It turns out the holiday season, a time of happiness and excitement for many, is also marked by a surge in feelings of anxiety. A survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that approximately 24% of people with a diagnosed mental illness find that the holidays make their condition “a lot” worse and 40% “somewhat” worse.”[ii] A study in the United Kingdom last year found that half of adults claim Christmas is the most stressful and anxiety-inducing time of the year.[iii] A poll released a few weeks ago by the American Psychiatric Association contends that 62% of Americans feel more anxious than they did at this time last year.[iv]
Of course, problems with anxiety are not limited to adults. A 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center found that anxiety was a major problem among 7 out of 10 teenagers.[v] The study also found that from 2006 to 2016 the number of students having major episodes related to anxiety or depression has nearly doubled.[vi]
And all this anxiety is having negative effects. New York Times columnist Jessica Grose attributed the rise in anxiety to a growing acceptance of recreational marijuana. She writes, “After the kids go to bed, the grown-ups are drinking and smoking pot to distract themselves from the hellscape that is pandemic parenting.”[vii] Last week the Virginian-Pilot reported that drug overdoses across the state have skyrocketed during the pandemic, making this the worst year on record.[viii]
Are we doomed to have ourselves an anxious little Christmas? Is there any help or hope for the anxious? Stay tuned to the blog this week as we examine what God says to anxious exiles like us. But for today, just meditate on the Apostle Peter’s words in 1 Peter 5:6-7: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, (7) casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.
[i] As told by Jason Markusoff, “It’s the Perfect Pandemic Christmas Song—but We Don’t Sing the Right Version,” Maclean’s, December 1, 2020, https://www.macleans.ca/culture/its-the-perfect-pandemic-christmas-song-and-it-came-out-76-years-ago/.
[ii] “Mental Health and the Holiday Blues,” National Alliance on Mental Illness, November 19, 2014, https://www.nami.org/Press-Media/Press-Releases/2014/Mental-health-and-the-holiday-blues.
[iii] Lisa Walden, “Why Christmas Fills Me with Anxiety,” Country Living, December 17, 2019, https://www.countryliving.com/uk/wellbeing/a30167633/christmas-anxiety/.
[iv] “New APA Poll Shows Surge in Anxiety Among Americans Top Causes Are Safety, COVID-19, Health, Gun Violence, and the Upcoming Election,” American Psychiatric Association, December 21, 2020, https://www.psychiatry.org/newsroom/news-releases/anxiety-poll-2020.
[v] Drew DeSilver, “The Concerns and Challenges of Being a U.S. Teen: What the Data Show,” Pew Research Center, February 26, 2019, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/02/26/the-concerns-and-challenges-of-being-a-u-s-teen-what-the-data-show/. [vi] DeSilver.
[vii] Jessica Grose, “Mother’s Little Helper Is Back, and Daddy’s Partaking Too,” The New York Times, October 3, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/03/style/am-i-drinking-too-much.html.
[viii] Katherine Hafner, “Drug Overdose Deaths in Virginia Skyrocketed during the Pandemic. It’s Now the State’s Worst Year on Record.,” The Virginian-Pilot, December 12, 2020, https://www.pilotonline.com/news/health/vp-nw-opioid-overdose-increase-pandemic-20201212-4yhdymaovzhydgzy5qoa7xfele-story.html.