Christmas, Death, and Exile


I recently discovered an older variation of the words we know to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". The original words were:
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
(The meter is different in the 3rd and 6th lines, which means you can't sing them to the normal tune. Unfortunately.)

Officially, the context is a story about a family moving to a different city (New York) and children who are unhappy about it. Unofficially, it was written in the U.S. in 1944, while their soldiers were fighting and dying in Europe. But it is the official context that concerns me.

I remember from being young that moving was treated as about the worst thing that could happen to you. That isn't true, of course, given that the world contains an unlimited supply of possible horrors mostly kept out of sight of children, but it was the perception.

And it was an odd perception, although I am only noticing now. There were always grown-ups worrying about safety, who we always ignored or worked around as much as possible. I still think there should be fewer safety restrictions: the cost in fun is greater than the (average) savings in pain and inconvenience from injuries. But no one ever compared it to something a lot like moving: the death of a family member (or members). At the time, moving away from someone (or them form you) was like death, for all practical purposes. People had been forcefully removed from your life and you would never seen them again. (Social media may be changing this.)

I understand that this is a modern phenomenon. Even 100 years ago, people were much more aware and accepting of death. It was understood that anyone could die, at any time. Now it is treated as if it is an aberration, except maybe for the venerable (i.e. 70+ for humans).

Some people worry that lack of exposure to death distorts people. For one thing, thoughts of death lead naturally to thoughts of souls, eternity, and similar (drawing automatic battle lines between atheism and Christianity). I assume there is more, but the details can be illusive.

No one seems to have noticed that people moving serves as a death substitute, at least when other people move. (The successive graduations from elementary school, high school, and, increasingly, college have a similar, if lesser effect.) And interestingly, the idea the people often will move around between cities in search of jobs (better or any) is also a modern idea. The ancient world termed this exile, and it was considered a a fate only marginally better than death, and that commonly left people emotionally scarred for life (c.f. Psalm 137).

As normal, I don't really know what to make of all this. But, as I have recently learned, an essay as a piece of writing is named after essay, a try or attempt at something. So this is my attempt to make some sense of the world. Anyone else want to try?


I got the following useful response:
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Richard! I feel absolutely the same as you about moving. Some years ago a heard a song by a still popular Soviet pop-diva Alla Pugacheva that had words “parting, this small death”. I hope my rendering conveys the original intent sufficiently. Alla (I think she wrote the song) was talking about meeting people, falling in love with them and then having to let them go. In those cases, for all intents and purposes for her it felt as if they are dead now, since she felt she will never engage with them and know them at the same level ever again. Possibly people in general are so not hot about any changes because they feel like small deaths to them...

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