A Christmas Tradition

This is a repost from last year. As a bittersweet Christmas post, I don’t think it can be topped, so I’m reposting it. If nothing else, read A Christmas Story. You’ll thank me.

Jacek Yerka, New Age Manhattan

One morning quite some while ago I was awoken by my sister, who’d been sent by my mother, walking into my room, banging the door wide open and shouting, “Wake up! Grandpa and John Lennon are both dead and Mom wants you downstairs.”

I wondered for a second how I could be held responsible.

This has, however, nothing whatsoever and in no fashion to do with what I am about to say, which is Happy Birthday to Jesus and Shane McGowan (at least one documented to be alive as we go to press)!

And now, hearken ye to the greatest Christmas song for adults that isn’t exactly a Christmas carol, Fairytale of New York. I want to hear Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty duet on this, and I want them to do it now, before they no longer qualify under the above parenthetical.

It’s hard to know whether MacGowan is better known today for Fairytale of New York, the filthy, tender duet he and the late Kirsty MacColl first belted out in 1987, or for his legendary thirst. The song, which he penned with fellow Pogue Jem Finer, returns like the debauched ghost of Christmas past to haunt pubs and clubs each December…

According to Conor McNicholas, editor of NME, the song deserves its place in history. “The world is a better place for Fairytale Of New York.” It is, he says, “a moment when pop music becomes a real work of art – it’s as much a short musical drama as it is a pop song”…

MacGowan himself, however, is well aware of the mythology that envelops him. “In Irish pubs where they still sing, Fairytale has become as much a standard as Danny Boy or The Fields of Athenry,” he wrote on a Guardian blog last Christmas. “So I’m like the writers of all those traditional standards, except I’m not anonymous. Or dead.”

And despite the drink and the drugs, the fall-outs and the punch-ups, MacGowan’s music looks likely to endure.

“He might be a drunk and a bum but Shane MacGowan still has that most precious of musical things – a unique and special legacy,” says McNicholas. “With that in your top pocket you can drink yourself off your bar stool every night as far as I’m concerned.”

Fairytale of New York

It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won’t see another one
And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew
I turned my face away
And dreamed about you

Got on a lucky one
Came in eighteen to one
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

They’ve got cars big as bars
They’ve got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It’s no place for the old
When you first took my hand
On a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me
Broadway was waiting for me

You were handsome
You were pretty
Queen of New York City
When the band finished playing
They howled out for more
Sinatra was swinging,
All the drunks they were singing
We kissed on a corner
Then danced through the night

The boys of the NYPD choir
Were singing “Galway Bay”
And the bells were ringing out
For Christmas day

You’re a bum
You’re a punk
You’re an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed
You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it’s our last

I could have been someone
Well so could anyone
You took my dreams from me
When I first found you
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can’t make it all alone
I’ve built my dreams around you.

Still with me?

Good, I have something more for you.

I have the best Christmas story I know.

I have A Christmas Story, by Sarban.

It begins:

I will tell you a Christmas story. I will tell it as Alexander Andreievitch Masseyev told it me in his little house outside the walls of Jedda years ago one hot, damp Christmas Eve.

It was the custom among the few English people in Jedda in those days to make up a carol-singing party on Christmas Eve. For a week before, the three or four of us who had voices they were not ashamed of, and the one or two who had neither voice nor shame, practiced to the accompaniment of an old piano in the one British mercantile house in the place: an instrument whose vocal cords had not stood the excessive humidity of that climate any better than those of some of the singers. Then, on Christmas Even, the party gathered at our house where we dined and, with a lingering memory of Yuletide mummers in England, arrayed ourselves in such bits of fancy dress or comic finery as we could lay our hands on; made false whiskers out of cotton-wool or a wisp of tow, blackened our faces, reddened our noses with lip-stick supplied by the Vice-Consul’s wife, put our jackets on inside-out and sprinkled over our shoulders ‘frost’ out of a little packet bought by someone ages ago at home and kept by some miracle of sentimental pertinacity through years of exile on that desert shore.

I am no singer, but I always had a part in those proceedings. It was to carry the lantern.

Our Sudanese house-boys observed us with more admiration than amusement on their faces, and the little knot of our Arab neighbours, who always gathered about our door to watch us set out, whatever the occasion, gave not the slight4est sign of recognizing anything more comic that usual in our appearance. We made our round of th4e European houses in our Ford station-wagon; I holding my lantern on its pole outside the vehicle and only by luck avoiding shattering it against the wall as the First Secretary cut the corners of the narrow lanes. Fortunately, expect for our neighbours, who never seemed to go to bed at all (or, at least, didn’t go to bed to sleep), the True-Believers of Jedda kept early hours, and by nine or ten at night the dark sandy lanes were deserted but for pariah dogs and families of goats settled with weary wheezings to doze the still, close night away. Poor Jedda goats! Whose pasture and byre were the odorous alleys; pathetic mothers of frustrated offspring, with those brassieres which seemed at first sight such an astonishing refinement of Grundyism, but which turned out to be merely and economic safeguard – girdles not of chastity but of husbandry; with your frugal diet of old newspapers and ends of straw rope, to whom the finding of an unwanted (or unguarded) panama hat was like a breakfast of ‘Id ul Fitr; how many a curse and kick in the ribs have you earned from a night-ambling Frank for couching in that precise pit of darkness where the feeble rays of one paraffin lamp expire and those of the next are not yet born!
From the facades of the crazy, coral-built houses that hem the lanes project roshans – bow-windows of decaying wooden lattice-work – and on the plastered tops of these bow-windows the moonlight falls so clear and white this Christmas Eve that to the after-dinner eye it seems that snow has fallen…

Read the rest here.

5 thoughts on “A Christmas Tradition

  1. I finally had the time to finish reading the Sarban story. A most excellent tale! Thanks for sharing this Christmas treat, which was much less sugary than I get most places this time of year.

    And I’m quite fond of Fairytale of New York. I have a soft spot for Kirsty MacColl.

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