Fairytale of New York – Unraveling the Bittersweet Symphony of the Holidays

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for The Pogues's Fairytale of New York at Lyrics.org.
Article Contents:
  1. Music Video
  2. Lyrics
  3. Song Meaning
  4. A Tinseled Glimpse into a Realer World
  5. The Dance of Dreams and Reality
  6. Rowdy Revelry and Scathing Serenades
  7. The Haunting Echo of the NYPD Choir
  8. Owning Dreams Amidst Defeat


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

The boys of the NYPD choir
Still singing Galway Bay
And the bells are ringing out
For Christmas day

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

The boys of the NYPD choir
Still singing Galway Bay
And the bells are ringing out
For Christmas day

Full Lyrics

When ‘Fairytale of New York’ by The Pogues first echoed through the airwaves, it wrapped its melancholy tune around the heartstrings of listeners, offering a narrative that strayed from the conventional jingle bells and holly jolly sentiments. It’s a tune that has, since its release in 1987, endured as an alternative Christmas anthem, brimming with passion, despair, romance, and an undeniable rawness.

Composed by Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan and performed by The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl, this song transcends the confines of traditional holiday music, offering instead a reflection on life’s hardships, the complexities of love, and the eternal hope of redemption. Its narrative takes us on a journey from the high hopes of youth to the sobering realities of lived experiences.

A Tinseled Glimpse into a Realer World

The song’s opening, set in the grim surroundings of a drunk tank, peels away the glossy veneer often associated with Christmas music. Instead of joyous exaltation, there’s a sober reflection on mortality by an old man who may not live to see another Christmas. The protagonist’s response—dreaming of a loved one—introduces the theme of clinging to hope and beauty amidst bleak circumstances.

This stark contrast between the setting and the festive season sets the tone for a song that doesn’t shy away from the shadows cast by the bright lights of Christmas. It’s a reminder that the holiday isn’t always merry and bright for everyone, a testament to the song’s enduring relevance.

The Dance of Dreams and Reality

In the song’s landscape, imagery of ‘cars big as bars’ and ‘rivers of gold’ juxtaposes with the chilling wind—a metaphor for the alluring yet ultimately unforgiving nature of New York City. The couple’s youthful optimism and promises of stardom on Broadway, touched by the magical time of year, manifest as dreams that sharply clash with their more destitute reality.

This duality sets a scene of heartfelt ambition amongst the harshness of life. It’s a passion play set in the streets of the ‘city that never sleeps,’ capturing the city’s ruthless duality, which can bear witness to both the fulfillment and the theft of one’s dreams.

Rowdy Revelry and Scathing Serenades

As the beat progresses, the music swells into a surge of celebration. With mentions of Sinatra and swinging and dancing through the night, there is an undeniable sense of revelry. However, as the NYPD choir sings and bells chime for Christmas day, the song delivers one of its most iconic and controversial verses.

An exchange of insults between the couple, vivid and biting, signifies a relationship riven by strife and substance misuse. This bitter back-and-forth cuts through the merriment, yet it’s punctuated by the wish of a ‘Happy Christmas,’ revealing the complexity and contradiction often inherent in love and life.

The Haunting Echo of the NYPD Choir

The recurring reference to ‘The boys of the NYPD choir / Still singing Galway Bay’ serves as a nostalgic anchor throughout the song, an emblem of continuity amidst the tumultuous unfoldings of the couple’s lives. The police choir, with their tribute to the Irish diaspora, connects to the band’s own cultural roots and injects a communal sense of heritage into the song.

Their voices, coupled with the ringing Christmas bells, serve to periodically lift the narrative out of the depths of the personal and situate the events within the broader, collective experience of the holiday season.

Owning Dreams Amidst Defeat

In the latter parts of ‘Fairytale of New York,’ there is an admission of mutual dreams being taken from each other, but also a recognition of shared aspirations. ‘I could have been someone / Well so could anyone’ reflects the universal nature of hope and disappointment, as well as the recognition of joint responsibility for the paths chosen.

The conclusion of the song sees the lyrical voice asserting ownership and an intermingling of dreams: ‘I kept them with me babe / I put them with my own.’ This speaks to the heart of the song’s message—that our dreams and the love we carry can bear us through the most trying of times, but that the realization of those dreams often lies in a shared journey, whether triumphant or tragic.

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