GravityJMB wrote:Your 'less poetic and uglier' version is the original. It was edited to be a 'brighter and cheerier' version later.
Here it is, from Wikipedia (reliable, I know.. but I'd heard the history of the song many times before Wikipedia was ever even concieved):
The song first appeared in a scene in Meet Me in St. Louis, in which a family is distraught 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-anticipated Louisiana Purchase Exposition 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, played by Margaret O'Brien.
When presented with the original draft, Garland, her co-star Tom Drake and director Vincente Minnelli criticized the song as depressing, with lines such as "Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past" and "Faithful friends who were dear to us / Will be near to us no more". Though he initially resisted, songwriter Hugh Martin made several changes to make the song more upbeat. For example, the lines "It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past" became "Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight". Garland's version of the song, which was also released as a single by Decca Records, became popular among United States troops serving in World War II; her performance at the Hollywood Canteen brought many soldiers to tears.
In 1957, Frank Sinatra asked Martin to revise the line "Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow". He told Martin, "The name of my album is A Jolly Christmas. Do you think you could jolly up that line for me?" Martin made several other alterations, changing the song's focus to a celebration of present happiness, rather than anticipation of a better future. Although Sinatra's version is the most familiar to listeners today, some artists, such as James Taylor, have issued more recent recordings with the original lyrics of the Judy Garland version.