When you first took my hand On a cold Christmas Eve :: SOTD

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“So happy Christmas.
I love you baby.
I can see a better time,
when all our dreams come true.”

Fairytale of New York :: The Pogues, featuring Kirsty MacColl
from the album If I Should Fall from Grace with God (1988)
video directed by Peter Dougherty

“Fairytale of New York” is a Christmas song written by Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan and first released as a single on November 23, 1987 by their band The Pogues, featuring singer-songwriter Kirsty MacColl on vocals. The song was written as a duet, with the Pogues’ singer MacGowan taking the role of the male character and MacColl the female character. It is an Irish folk-style ballad, and featured on The Pogues’ 1988 album If I Should Fall from Grace with God.

I was driving in my first car, late at night, somewhere in Hollywood, mid-December, when I first heard this song. There was something so heartbreaking about it, so raw and real, and so different than any other “Christmas” song I’d ever heard. This wasn’t a joyful, happy song, though I’d argue that it is a song about love and hope, no matter how flawed, but it certainly isn’t in the vein of the “Christmas” songs I’d grown up with. I think that it was partially because of that that I embraced the song so quickly and adamantly, making it one of my favorites, and part of my holiday traditions.

“Fairytale of New York” is always the first “Christmas” song I play. Always.

I remember a couple I once knew who were planning their wedding. This song was what they chose to be that first “dance” between them after they wed. They not only danced to it, but sang it to each other. Soon most of the guests joined in, too. It reminded me of the stories I’ve heard about Irish folk songs being sung together in pubs, weddings, and wakes. It was one of the most romantic and memorable moments I’ve ever witnessed.

This year the song resonates with me in a different way. As I end the year in the midst of the break-up of my marriage, the bitter and bittersweet of this song cut a little deeper. Making peace with love and with letting go is a rough road to navigate, there are unseen potholes and trenches to topple into, climbs at sunrise that feel wrapped up in hope, and the dark, lonely, middle of the night that seem desperate, and endless. Today, I am holding on to the hope in the song, the love, and the possibilities of tomorrow…and allowing myself to remember both the good, and the bad, amidst this goodbye.

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