Christmas songs FairyTale of new york by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl

Welcome to the 3rd part of our series exploring the lessons that can be learned from well-known (and some not-so-well-known) Christmas tracks.  Today we are looking at relationships during the festive period and ways to keep them in good shape. 

Shane McGowan and Kirsty McCall, ‘Fairytale of New York’


Our first track is the well-worn soundtrack to many Christmas parties.  Although released back in 1987it is still the most played Christmas track with a BBC poll naming it the UK’s favourite Christmas track of all time.

The popularity of this track, which appeared on The Pogues album,‘If I Should Fall from Grace with God,’ may strike you as strange given the subject matter.  The Pogues’ lead singer, Shane McGowan, spends most of the time lyrically sparring with guest vocalist, Kirsty MacColl, reaching a crescendo of insults half way though the song.

Christmas is often heralded as the season of ‘Peace and Goodwill’ but sometimes these expectations can be unrealistic.  If you have had a challenging year in your relationship marked by rows and splits then spending long days with your partner can seem like one challenge too many.

Some friction is natural even in the best of relationships and disagreements can be positive if they lead to constructive problem solving.  However, if your relationship has been tough going for a while, it might be a good idea to sit down before Christmas and agree some ground rules so that you both make it through the holiday period.  For example, decide that if you feel tensions rising you will take some time out and come back to any point-of-conflict when you’re both feeling calmer. 

Aim to keep things as amicable as possible while you navigate the visits to the in-laws, the long lost friends and seldom-seen relations.  Try to avoid falling into the trap of expecting Christmas to provide a band-aid for your troubles. 

If things have been difficult for some time then a Christmas break is unlikely to make things better and spending more time together may make things worse.  More effective would be to put a date in your diary for the New Year so that you can plan constructive ways to deal with your relationship difficulties.

Joni Mitchell, ‘River’


‘River’ is a less well-known Christmas track although it is set during the holiday period and the strains of ‘Jingle Bells’ can be heard in the piano accompaniment to the song.  Joni Mitchell sings of the end of a relationship, associated regrets and the desire to move on:

‘Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby that I ever had

Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on.’

Joni Mitchell is one of the giants of rock music’s golden age with a creative output covering folk, pop and jazz. She has broken many barriers for women in the music industry as an archetypical 70s singer/songwriter with much of her output from that decade earning critical acclaim.  She is the highest ranking female guitarist of all time according to Rolling’s Stone magazine and is also an accomplished poet and artist.

‘River’ is the second most widely covered Joni Mitchell record(after ‘Both Sides Now’) having been recorded a staggering 432 times by artists as diverse as Barry Manilow and Sarah McLachlan. It documents the break-up of Mitchell’s relationship with Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fame.  In turn, Nash wrote ‘Our House’ about happier times together. 

Like Joni Mitchell you may be facing Christmas ‘singing songs of joy and peace’ but may be filled with thoughts of what might have been. Perhaps even blaming yourself for your relationship break-up.  You may find yourself thinking like Mitchel who sings ‘I’m so hard to handle, I’m selfish and I’m sad, Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby that I ever had.’ 

Regardless of your current view it takes two to break a relationship just as it takes two to make a relationship. Don’t lose faith in yourself or your ability to form a happy relationship.  Above all, look after yourself over the holidays, eat as well as you can, exercise and make sure you get plenty of rest.  Sometimes we forget to look after ourselves during tough times and end up making ourselves feel even worse.

Ron Sexsmith, ‘Maybe This Christmas’


The festive season has a bad habit of turning us into a bah-humbug Grinch. The high street crowds, the TV ads, the endless Christmas songs on the radio (how ironic) and Christmas parties. Add in endless trips to see relatives, a touch of credit card debt and we have the recipe for a bad-mood-inducing festive season.

Thankfully we can turn to this wonderful, little known Christmas tune by Ron Sexsmith. It unashamedly asks us to consider the real reason for the season; peace, love and forgiveness.

As the lyrics suggest, maybe this Christmas we might all step out of long-held grudges and offer the olive branch of peace. Or maybe we might allow Christmas to challenge us to find a deeper meaning than the consumption of gifts, food and drink.

Counselling and support services


The Christmas period can be a difficult time for many of us. Whether it is due to a difficult relationship or memories of a lost loved one, we understand that not everyone is going to have a ‘happy’ Christmas this year.

At The Spark, we have been providing counselling and support to individuals, couples, families and children for over 50 years. Our aim is to help clients to better understand their emotions and experiences, and to find ways to deal with them.

Find out more information about The Spark and our counselling services for individuals, couples and families.

Contact us via our contact form or freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could help you.

12 plays of Christmas - Band Aid

What is the real meaning of Christmas?  In the second of our #12PlaysofChristmas series we are highlighting a couple of tracks that remind us that Christmas can be about more than consumerism and overindulgence.

Band Aid, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’


For those of a certain age, the Band Aid single of Christmas 1984 and Live Aid concert the following summer were era-defining moments. The recently released film, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ ends (spoiler alert!) with a rousing finale as Freddy Mercury and Queen reunite to perform at Live Aid; an event that sees their reputation resurrected.

There is no doubt that fading pop stars and their careers were reinvigorated by Band Aid. However, putting cynicism to one side the efforts of Bob Geldof, Midge Ure and others did highlight the problems suffered by the Ethiopian people as well as galvanise support to do something about it.

A ‘turkey’ of a Christmas hit

The song is fairly standard fare with NME famously labelling it – rather mischievously – a ‘turkey’. Despite a poor critical reception people were encouraged to donate to the cause and the impact has been long lasting with cover versions, further concerts and additional charitable efforts like Comic Relief resulting in a significant charitable legacy.

We are often reminded that Christmas is about giving as much as receiving and rightly so. Not only does the concept of helping our fellow humans underpin every major religion, but giving is also a feel-good experience.  We are social creatures and doing something charitable, however modest, can be very satisfying and contribute to positive mental health.

Why not consider a way to benefit others this Christmas and help out those less fortunate than yourself with these gift ideas? (https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/deals/charity-gifts/.)

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, ‘Happy Christmas (War is Over)’


By listening to our second track we are hoping to encourage some quiet self-reflection during the holiday period.

John and Yoko spent several years on peace campaigns and protesting against US involvement in the Vietnam War.  This included highly publicised ‘bed-ins,’ a large-scale poster campaign and full-page adverts in major newspapers in the USA and UK.

Protest songs were a characteristic of John and Yoko’s earlier work together including such tracks as ‘Power to the People’ and ‘Give Peace a Chance’.  It is difficult to estimate the long-term impact of this work but, as an ex-Beatle, anything Lennon said or did was bound to be listened to by a large number of people.

Time to reflect on the year passed and the one yet to come

The opening lines of the song were always intended to challenge us to consider the impact of our own activities:

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun.

Many of us have a few days off work at this time of year and while we can be busy preparing food, visiting relations and catching up with friends, there is usually some downtime. This can be a great time to take stock of the previous year’s ups and downs.

It is worthwhile to ask ourselves: what did I do that I’m pleased with?  What were my disappointments? What would I like to do differently next year?

If New Year is the time for making resolutions, Christmas is the opportunity to consider our contribution to family, friends, work and community. This may be a new approach for you and so you may find it challenging. Like many things, however, practice makes perfect, and the tougher tasks are usually the most rewarding.

Alicia Keys, ‘Blended Family (What You Do For Love)’


You are unlikely to hear our final track on any Christmas Greatest Hits selection.  There is only a passing mention of Christmas and the track wasn’t even a big hit (although it did reach the lofty heights of 79 in Scotland’s official charts!).  Nevertheless, we believe this Alicia Keys track from 2016 contains some useful messages for a happy and positive festive season.

The song was based upon Keys’ relationships with her rapper husband Swizz Beatz (real name Kasseem Dean) and his previous marriage to singer Mashonda Tifrere.  Keys and Dean have two sons and the rapper also has 3 other children including a son with Tifrere.  Keys and Dean contributed to Tifrere’s book, ‘Blend: The Secret to Co-Parenting and Creating a Balanced Family’ and Keys’ subsequent track follows the book’s recommendation for creating a positive environment for children within blended families.

Families come in all shapes and sizes

You may find yourself in a similar situation to Keys, Dean and Tifrere this Christmas.  Blended families are common and it is entirely possible you may be welcoming stepsons and stepdaughters along with your own children over the holiday period.  Perhaps this is your first Christmas as a stepfamily and you are approaching it with some trepidation.

As our free parenting guide ‘Families Come in all Shapes and Sizes’ suggests, be prepared for everyone to feel a little unsettled. In particular, if this is your first Christmas together as a new, extended family.

It takes time for people to get to know each other, to start feeling comfortable and find a new family identity.  Everyone should have their own space, however small. Try to set aside time to get to know new arrivals and be patient with challenging emotions.

Christmas is a great time for doing things together – going for a long walk in the park or watching an old Christmas film– and this can help to forge new bonds and new traditions.  Above all, parents should try to work together like Alicia Keys has through her own blended family and hold true to the positive affirmation that ‘love could bring us closer than blood.’

Counselling and support services


The Christmas period can be a difficult time for many of us. Whether it is due to a difficult relationship or memories of a lost loved one, we understand that not everyone is going to have a ‘happy’ Christmas this year.

At The Spark, we have been providing counselling and support to individuals, couples, families and children for over 50 years. Our aim is to help clients to better understand their emotions and experiences, and to find ways to deal with them.

Find out more information about The Spark and our counselling services for individuals, couples and families.

Contact us via our contact form or freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could help you.

Christmas music

It’s beginning to feel a bit like Christmas (to paraphrase the song). To help get you in the mood we’re doing a playlist of well-known festive hits. Plus one or two Christmas-related tracks that may have passed you by.

If you have checked out our #SongsForSoundMinds playlist you will know that we like to mix a bit of music trivia with some suggestions for good mental health.  Our new playlist #The12PlaysOfChristmas is no different.

Alongside some slightly nerdy music facts, there will be tips for staying positive through what might be a difficult holiday period. We start with 3 Christmas hits from the early 1980s.

Wham, ‘Last Christmas’


Pop superstar George Michael penned this perennial festive hit, ‘Last Christmas’ in 1984 and it was released by Wham, the band George played in alongside Andrew Ridgely. To this day it is the biggest selling UK single never to reach number 1.

In the year of its original release it was held off the number 1 spot by Band Aid’s all-conquering, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’  Wham mirrored the stars of Band Aid and donated the royalties from ‘Last Christmas’ to the charity efforts in Ethiopia.

Coping with a broken heart at Christmas

The song itself is a poignant tale of frustrated love; a man ditched by his sweetheart after expressing his love. If you are recovering from a relationship breakdown yourself you may be wondering how you are going to cope with the hustle and bustle of Christmas. Especially when everyone else seems happily coupled.

However, as the song’s story relates, a failed romance can be a step to finding ‘someone special.’  It is possible to put regret in the past and to move on.  Indeed the end of a relationship can be a liberating experience.

Rather than fighting for something that was hurtful and time-limited it is possible to look forward with hope and make plans for the future.

Paul McCartney, ‘Pipes of Peace’


Christmas isn’t mentioned in the lyrics of this Paul McCartney track from 1983.  The main reason ‘Pipes of Peace’ takes its place in every self-respecting Christmas Greatest Hits compilation is the accompanying music video.

In it, we are transported to Christmas Day in 1914 when an impromptu football match took place between the British and German armies during the First World War. The news has been full of stories of the end of the First World War and that Christmas truce was a rare moment of humanity in a brutal campaign.

Macca is one of the most successful pop artists ever.  One of his many claims to fame is that he is the only person to have number one singles as a solo artist, a duo (with Michael Jackson among others), a trio (Wings), a quartet (The Beatles) and a quintet (‘Let it Be’ was credited to The Beatles and Billy Preston).

Tell stories, play games and be together at Christmas

 Family get-togethers over the Christmas period can be a good time to tell family stories, tragic as well as funny.  Storytelling can help everyone feel part of something bigger which is an important part of giving life meaning.

We enjoy being part of ‘the gang’ whether it’s with family, friends or work colleagues.  Feelings of togetherness and connectedness are good for even the most introverted of us.  Playing board games together, laughing at a well-worn Christmas DVD or going for Christmas Day walks all add to the fun.

The Pretenders, ‘2000 Miles’


The lyrics of this Pretenders’ track would lead you to think it’s an ode to long-distance love at Christmas.  Although this is not an uncommon theme for songs released at this time of year (‘Blue Christmas’ by Elvis Presley is only one example) it is not the motivation behind this hit from the Pretenders’ peak period.

The subject of this track, written by lead singer, Chrissie Hynde, is James Honeymann-Scott, the band’s original guitarist. Honeymann-Scott had died the previous year from drug-related heart failure at the age of just 25.  The track’s melancholic strains, together with the chiming lead guitar line, remind us that Christmas can bring sadness as well as joy.

It’s ok not to be ok at Christmas

Sometimes, the festive celebrations lead us only to thoughts of those who are no longer with us.  If someone close to you has died the prospect of Christmas may seem unbearable.  Grief takes its toll and it’s a process we all have to come to terms with.

Remember, it’s okay to feel sad, angry or upset. Even though you might experience great pressure to put on a happy face at Christmas time.  These feelings are natural particularly if the bereavement was recent.  Be aware that you may need to put time aside to look after yourself.

But this time of year can also be a positive opportunity. A chance to remember happy times you had with those who have passed away. Tell funny stories, share favourite memories and reflect on their importance in your life.

Christmas can be an opportunity to cherish and keep alive the memories you have of them.

Counselling and support services


The Christmas period can be a difficult time for many of us. Whether it is due to a difficult relationship or memories of a lost loved one, we understand that not everyone is going to have a ‘happy’ Christmas this year.

At The Spark, we have been providing counselling and support to individuals, couples, families and children for over 50 years. Our aim is to help clients to better understand their emotions and experiences, and to find ways to deal with them.

Find out more information about The Spark and our counselling services for individuals, couples and families.

Contact us via our contact form or freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could help you.