Fairytale of New York: How The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl made one of Britain’s favourite Christmas songs

From the Independent

A drunken hymn for those with broken dreams and abandoned hope

Kirsty MacColl and Shane MacGowan in the video for ‘Fairytale of New York’ YouTube/Screengrab


It’s arguably (undeniably) the best Christmas song of all time.

‘Fairytale of New York’ is a drunken hymn for those with broken dreams and abandoned hopes, that begins with its narrator, an Irish immigrant, being thrown into a drunk tank to sleep off his Christmas Eve binge.
Hearing an old man sing the Irish ballad ‘The Rare Old Mountain Dew’, he begins to dream about his memories of the female character in the song, and so begins the story of two people who fell in love in America, only to see their plans of a bright future dashed into a muddy puddle on the sidewalk.

Some of the best songs combine uplifting instrumentation that contrasts with lyrics that can be downright miserable, and such is the case for ‘Fairytale of New York’. It has none of the sickly-sweet sentimentality of Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ or Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’.

Shane MacGowan’s slurring, bitter delivery of those opening vocals is played out over romanticised piano chords. Then to those wonderful, jaunty strings, with Terry Woods’ mandolin part giving the song an additional Irish brogue.

MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl’s call and response lyrics are brilliant, filled with sass – he calls her a slut and a junkie, she calls him a punk and a maggot – and there’s an underlying, albeit dark humour to the song thanks to the lyric “and the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day”. As it closes the chorus each time, you can picture the two characters staggering around the city, completely removed of traditional Christmas spirit (but certainly soused with a different kind).

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