If I were to write a column praising the song “Fairytale of New York”, people would be angry. If I were to write a column criticizing “Fairytale of New York”, people would be angry.

Those who love the song, love it intensely. Many claim it as their all-time favorite Christmas song.

Those who hate it, hate it intensely. They say that having the word Christmas in the lyric doesn’t make it a Christmas song. And a song that includes a drunken argument between a man and a woman shouldn’t be in the same room as Silent Night or Joy to the World.

Defenders of Fairytale argue that recounting the low times in a relationship and looking forward with hope is in perfect harmony with the spirit of the season. And those who say differently wouldn’t know Christmas if it ran into them at 45 miles per hour.

And the debate goes ever on.

Without a doubt, “Fairytale of New York” is unusual, both as a Christmas favorite and as a song, period. It is a duet in which a couple recounts their bitter moments and their joyful ones. It’s an Irish love song about life in New York.


Irish Schmirish, critics say. At one point, the woman calls the man a maggot, then in the next line uses a word that rhymes with maggot. That alone, the naysayers claim, is grounds for the song to be banned.

And it was banned. When the song came out in 1987, the BBC had a problem, not with the maggot rhyme, but with the word arse. The BBC insisted that the song, if it was to be played over British airwaves, had to substitute the less offensive American version of the word. (That substitution, of course, would have the opposite effect here, where arse sounds less offensive.)

And so for 20 years, with that one caveat, the song met BBC standards of decency. Then in 2009, two other words were called into question: a word that rhymes with hut and the maggot rhyme. An announcement said, “BBC Radio 1 will not play the original version of Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl this Christmas, because its audience may be offended by derogatory terms for gender and sexuality.”

There was such an uproar, the ban was quickly lifted. The BBC amended its stand by announcing, “We know the song is considered a Christmas classic, and we will continue to play it this year, with our radio stations choosing the version of the song most relevant for their audience.”

If you want to hear the original version, it’s easy to find. Search YouTube for the title and The Pogues. The official video featuring Kirsty MacColl has more than 78 million views.

If you want a tamer version, I recommend a YouTube video with Ed Sheeran & Anne-Marie performing it in studio.

Though Fairytale of New York has a Yuletide sweetness lurking under its rough exterior, you probably don’t want your children singing it around the Christmas tree.

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