Fairytale of New York

Natasha Moore finds a universal longing in the odd secular Christmas song 'Fairytale of New York' for love to endure in weariness.

Have you heard Fairytale of New York yet this Christmas? It’s gotten even more plays than usual this first week of December since the death last Thursday of Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan.  

It’s an odd song to be (for example) the most-played Christmas song in the UK in the 21st century. It’s a grimy, rambunctious, off-kilter quarrel between a disreputable old couple.  

It’s Christmas Eve and he’s in the drunk tank, she’s a junkie, and they’ve both seen better days.  

This song is depressing – and weirdly uplifting. “You took my dreams from me / When I first found you,” she gripes. “I kept them with me babe,” he responds. “I put them with my own / Can’t make it all alone / I built my dreams around you.”  

This Irish New York couple may be a world away from your life, but they absolutely nail the looking-back, taking-stock, hoping-for-better-things mood that gets us all wobbly at Christmas. Is my life what I hoped for? Will we see another Christmas? Will this be our year? 

(Everything about this song somehow deepens the poignancy. MacGowan was born on Christmas Day. The female vocalist, Kirsty MacColl, was killed in a boating accident in 2000 while saving her son.  

Also, bizarrely, Taylor Swift’s new boyfriend, NFL player Travis Kelce, and his brother Jason just released a version of the song called “Fairytale of Philadelphia”. It’s … not terrible. It’s kinda sweet, actually??)  

Fairytale of New York is an utterly secularised version of Christmas, but I think it speaks to the soul because the beats of the original story are there: despair and weariness, overtaken by yearning hope.  

Even in the seamiest and darkest places, even amid the ruins of a seemingly wasted life, love endures, and the bells are ringing out for Christmas Day. 


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