The UK's Weird Christmas Obsession With The Pogues' 'Fairytale Of New York'

Just how much schadenfreude is involved in the song’s popularity among the Brits?
The UK's Weird Christmas Obsession With The Pogues' 'Fairytale Of New York'

As the US once again finds itself in the unescapable, icy grips of Whamageddon and Carey's Christmas Carnage, the UK is celebrating its own annual musical tradition of the "F****t Debate." And, no, this isn't another case of the country coming up with weird-ass names for innocent stuff like how they probably call cheeseburgers "milky beefingtons." For decades now, every December, the UK has debated whether the homophobic "F-slur" in The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York" should be censored or not, leading journalist Josh Milton to describe the whole thing as "Britain's worst festive tradition."

The reason this keeps happening every year is that "Fairytale of New York" gets A LOT of airtime in the UK. It's actually been voted the country's favorite Christmas song time and time again, easily beating "Last Christmas" or "All I Want for Christmas is You." Hell, Heinz Frozen UK once actually declared that the tune was the nations' "favourite Christmas song to cook to." And, just so we're clear, we are still talking about the same song that starts off in a drunk tank and tells the story of Irish immigrants to the US who deal with despair, broken dreams, and heroin addiction. 

Then one character in the duet calls the other a "scumbag," a "maggot," and a "cheap, lousy f****t!" And all that from a band that got their name from the Gaeilge phrase "Póg mo thóin," meaning "Kiss my arse."

Oh yeah, that's definitely the song you want playing in the background while you whip up some Spotted Dick, Mucky Dripping, Knickerbocker Glory, or the Queen's Orgasm (the real joke here is that only one of those is fake, though in more ways than one.) Still, the UK doesn't care. They love "Fairytale of New York" so much, this gloriously potty-mouthed, almost anti-Christmas song was even featured on Ted Lasso, the TV equivalent of watching an elderly father embrace his estranged son and meeting his grandkids for the first time.

It's not like the song is without its beautiful moments, though. The "I put with my own. Can't make it all alone. I've built my dreams around you" part is undeniably touching, but it's a tiny oasis in the middle of a vast Suck-hara Desert of misery. Even the origin of the song is full of suffering, like how Shane MacGowan wrote parts of it in a delirium while battling pneumonia. Also, Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America, a movie so depressing and devoid of hope you'd swear it was a 4-hour-long commercial for Zoloft-flavored ice cream, was cited as an inspiration for "Fairytale of New York." But maybe all that's the key to the song's popularity?

Let's be charitable (cause it is the season) and say that the Brits don't particularly enjoy the part of the song where Irish people suffer. (I mean, historically, they were more indifferent to Irish suffering than anything else.) So maybe it's about the part where the US sucks?

Maybe it all boils down to the people of the UK sitting down each year, putting on The Pogues' classic tune, and listening with Spotted Dick-eating faces to how the Yanks have buggered up their old colony while quietly saying to themselves, "Yeah, things were much better when we were running the show. At least nobody was getting hooked on Satan's sleepy snuff"… or whatever weird-ass name they have for heroin over there. It's not unlike re-reading the same FB post each year about how your ex's new partner burned down their house while trying to cook meth to give out to orphaned kittens. Or maybe the song's popular because it has a catchy melody and cuts through all the artificial Christmas sweetness and sentimentality, and tries to be real with you.

So, in the spirit of The Pogues' classic tune and the holidays: Merry Christmas and kiss my ass, ya bastards.

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