Saturday, June 10, 2023

A Passionate Defence of the Greatest Christmas Song of All Time – The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York

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Kelly Bertrand’s ode to the greatest Christmas song of all time – and no, it’s not Mariah. Her tribute to the Fairytale of New York.

Spending 10 years working long Christmas deadlines inside a women’s magazine office has led to two things.

One: PTSD.

And two, the firm belief that everyone in the world apart from me agrees that the best Christmas song is Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You.

But I’ve never bought it. Too sickly sweet, too cheerful – and also rather offensive to the dude she’s trying to say she loves – “I don’t want a lot for Christmas… All I Want For Christmas Is You” – ouch.

No, despite the fact most of my contemporaries (and most of Capsule) doesn’t agree with me, it’s time to definitely prove that the actual best Christmas song of all time is in fact the gritty, edgy, ‘let’s-have-a-beer-and-belt-it-out-at-the-pub’ banger, Fairytale of New York.

new york nyc GIF

I knew my moment came during a Christmas party this year, when an impromptu poll amongst the four people standing in front of me saw three of them agreeing that FTONY was the best Xmas banger of all time and I was EXCITED.

The melancholy, warbling yarn about a couple who have hit a rough patch, set against the harsh-yet-magical backdrop of Christmas in New York, has delighted grinches and Christmas enthusiasts alike since its release in 1987. It took more than two years to make and countless demos to get right, with the Irish folk-style ballad eventually being released with Kirsty MacColl duetting with lead singer Shane MacGowan.

And with the exception a truly awful lyric in there – pro tip for you, sing the line ‘You’re cheap and you’re haggard’ instead – the song has transcended eras. So, here’s my reasoning as to why Fairytale of New York is the best Christmas song of all time – especially for the year we’ve just had.  


A couple falling on hard times, yet coming to some sort of redemption and reconciliation? Sure, it’s a theme of the song, but isn’t it also the story of pretty much everyone in a relationship in 2021?

Most Christmas songs talk about magic or Santa or bells or sleighs. Oh and also Jesus. But for a lot of people, none of those things are Christmas. It’s chaotic, emotions are often frayed at best and rabid at worst, and it’s also a time where we finally have to face our true selves and reflect on the year that was. While also spending time with family. No wonder alcohol sales shoot through the roof.

Johnny Depp Gold GIF by Magnolia Pictures
Shane and Kirsty performing Fairytale of New York

Sure, sometimes at Christmas you want a little festive sprinkle of cheer and magic and that is FINE. But sometimes you also want to be standing in the lounge with the speaker up as high as it goes, fervently agreeing with the singer as they belt out their tune that just somehow seems to encapsulate all of your angst, worry and anger. THERAPY, kids – and damn, don’t you feel better afterwards.

While the song is indeed about a couple who are down on their luck and who, at this precise minute don’t like each other much – ‘Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it’s our last’ really does sum it up nicely –  there’s also hope, vulnerability, nostalgia and love in there too.

‘I’ve got a feeling
This year’s for me and you
So happy Christmas
I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true’

THAT’S the kind of love we’re after in 2020, team.


Have you TRIED to sing All I Want For Christmas Is You? I bet you have and I also bet you found, just like me, that trying to attempt that whistle note in front of people at work Christmas karaoke is potentially the worst idea ever.

Richard Hammond Drinks GIF by DriveTribe

But somehow, no matter how many champers you’ve had or how many colleagues you’re around, linking arms with absolutely anyone and belting out Fairytale of New York is not only ok, it’s serious team bonding.


Surely it gets points for having pretty much every musical instrument under the sun – piano, mandolin, violin, bodhran, flute, cello – which all combine in a grandiose, Irish-inspired symphony.


Ok, so the lyrics ‘It was Christmas eve babe, in the drunk tank’: How many of your uncles can you think of that have the potential to end up down the cop shop after having one too many lemonades on Christmas Eve? Exactly – we’ve all got one.

Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl - SevenPonds  BlogSevenPonds Blog

Fairytale of New York is written in the style of an Irish folk song, but it also lends itself to pretty much every Kiwi relationship I’ve ever known – and pays homage to our practicality, pragmatism and general approach to life. And that’s why it will always be the best Christmas song of all time.


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