For what seems the briefest of moments, the
UK went back to almost normal at the start of December. The government relaxed our lock-downs, people went shopping and could meet up with friends and family, even socialise and go to the pub. However, all that has stopped now. So let's turn this into a positive English language lesson where we can practice speaking English.
We’ve been told that for those who want to take the risk, families can meet up for a few days around Christmas day, but it’s at your own risk and that’s it, oh and the cost of these few precious days we will all have even stricter lock-downs going into January 2021. Wow, what a rubbish holiday this is turning out to be.
But, and this is an important but, I think it’s important to stay positive in life and to find pleasure in the simple things, even when all around you the situation seems out of your control.
Although I’ve purchased many of my gifts online this year I got out to some real shops, and although it was nowhere near the happy holiday, we normally have in the UK, most of the shops were open, most of the Christmas decorations and lights were up and people were attempting to bring a little Christmas cheer.
Music is the soundtrack of your life.
⭐ Dick Clark
The thing that struck me most while I was shopping was the music. I’m sure it’s the same in many countries, but certain holidays come with certain songs and music, they are always there in the background, maybe in your car on the radio or in the shops. Songs that everyone can hum along to (even if they cannot remember the words).
Hi here, I’m Hilary and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English. Don’t forget if you’ve got any spare time over the next few weeks – you can still sign up for our free course, The Seven Rules of Adept English and learn some very useful tips, some excellent advice about how you can make your English language learning progress much more quick. Visit our website at adeptenglish.com and sign up today and you can start our free course straight away! Understanding the Seven Rules means that whatever time you have to spend on your English language learning – well, you’ll achieve more, you’ll go further and make better use of that time!
Now as I’ve mentioned before, although the UK is quite a secular country, Christians and non-Christians alike, people from other religions like to celebrate Christmas. ‘Secular’, S-E-C-U-L-A-R meaning non-religious, not connected with any religion is probably a good description of a lot of people’s lives in the UK. The UK is a secular country. So many people wouldn’t consider themselves Christians, but they still celebrate Christmas.
One of the traditions is present buying – and despite the pandemic this year, it’s no different. It’s just most people have done their Christmas shopping online. We love online shopping in the UK. I’ve done most of mine online this year – I’ve taken a lot of deliveries and I have a big number of cardboard boxes in my study, which I will re-use or recycle.
Another thing which is part of Christmas in the UK is that we have Christmas songs on the radio. There is quite a repertoire of Christmas songs, which get played on the radio every year. And I’m not meaning Christmas Carols here, I’m not talking about religious Christmas songs. I’m talking about pop music songs, things which have been released over the years. For many bands and solo artists, the songs which they released for Christmas are the ones which year after year still bring in payments, still bring in the royalties.
So during the month of December, up until the 25th, UK radio stations play lots of Christmas records. And there is one radio station even – Magic FM, which only plays Christmas records – that’s how many there are! I’m not sure I’d want to listen to that all the time, but if you’re in the car, and you want some Christmas music, it’s there any time of day or night!
I know that British music is one of our greatest exports, and certainly if you go to Europe in the summer, you hear British music played in bars and restaurants all the time. But do you listen to the same Christmas music as we do? I’m sure that you’ll be familiar with some of it. Certainly with some of the US Christmas music. How about Mariah Carey ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ or something really old like Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’? Or even John and Yoko ‘Happy Xmas, War is Over’? Or what about Bruce Springsteen ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’. Or maybe you like the Jackson 5 version instead?! Lots of people have covered that song.
So what are the most popular Christmas songs, the ones that you’ll hear on the radio at Christmas time in the UK? Well, as well as all the ones I’ve mentioned, there are plenty of British bands who’ve released Christmas records and most people in the UK would just know all the words to these songs, and be able to sing along because….well, we’ve heard them so many times before! Maybe you have too – or maybe they’re new to you? What about Wham!, ‘Last Christmas’ – dear old George Michael, of course? That’s a popular one – 1984, with a lovely video and some nice Christmas jumpers in that one!
A photograph of a big happy family singing at Christmas celebration with delicious food and hand fireworks.
What about ‘Driving Home For Christmas’ by Chris Rea? Do you know that one? Well, this one does actually remind me of ‘driving home for Christmas’ up to the north west of England – on the motorway, lots of traffic, bits of snow in the air. We’re probably not going to be ‘driving home for Christmas’ this year because of the pandemic, but I’m sure there will be other years where we do that again.
I think that Chris Rea must be a bit obsessed with driving, especially on busy and congested roads in the UK as the other song I remember him for is called ‘The Road to Hell’ – supposedly about the traffic on the M25. The M25 is the circular motorway around London. I think ‘The Road to Hell’ is perhaps an over-statement, but it can be a bit busy on the M25 sometimes!
Back to the Christmas songs. Some of the most popular songs are really old pop songs – older than the Chris Rea one. So what about Wizzard, ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’? I must have heard that hundreds and hundreds of times. And Slade, ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’? I remember dancing to this as a small child in a school disco! Notice the ‘X’ for Christmas – or ‘Xmas’. I hate that – it’s what we might call ‘tacky’ in English…. But ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’. What about José Feliciano, ‘Feliz Navidad’? It’s such a happy tune and is known in lots of places round the world? He’s Puerto Rican, of course. And he re-released this recently to celebrate its 50th anniversary!
And there are some more recent songs, which we like – what about Leona Lewis and ‘One More Sleep’? This one gets us singing in the car and we like it, but it’s from 2013. So there are new Christmas singles come[ing] out each year, but the really, really popular ones tend to be the old ones. It’s as though we have a history with each song, and we need to hear it lots of time before we make it a favourite, something familiar. But Leona is getting there – 7 years after this one was released – ‘One More Sleep’!
could forget Bandaid ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ from 1984? This one still gets played, with all those 1980s rock legends on the video, without their make-up. Well, that’s apart from Boy George of course – our own dear singer from Culture Club. I’m sure you know the song ‘Karma Chameleon’? Well, in that famous video – check it out on YouTube – he’s manage to find time to put his make-up, even though no one else has! I do like Boy George – or George O’Dowd to give him his proper name.
A really funny thing though – in any survey in the UK and Ireland of ‘all time favourite Christmas songs’, the one which comes out at number one most frequently – well, you might think it would be John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Happy Christmas, War is Over, but it’s not. What comes out at the top most frequently is ‘Fairytale of New York’ by The Pogues with Kirsty McColl. People in the UK just love this one – and in Ireland too.
After all, Shane McGowan is Irish. Kirsty McColl of course, was a British singer – famous originally for her song ‘There’s A Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis’ – don’t know if you know that one?! Unfortunately, she’s no longer with us after a boating accident in Mexico in 2000, in which she saved her own son’s life, but died herself.
‘Fairytale of New York’ is the most popular Christmas song of all time for people in the UK and Ireland. And that’s a funny one! If you watch the video it’s basically a drunken man, a duet, sung by a couple. They’re wishing each other Merry Christmas, but also calling each other names, talking about their dreams and their disappointment – and how they’ve fallen on hard times, and things haven’t worked out as they thought they would. But they’re also reminiscing – to ‘reminisce’, R-E-M-I-N-I-S-C-E - that’s a verb meaning ‘to think and talk about past times and how things used to be, with some affection usually’. So even though they’re arguing, they’re singing about past Christmases as well as this one and remembering being together.
I think people like this song because it captures the ‘sentimental’ feel about Christmas. Why so many people in the UK and around the world like to celebrate Christmas, even though they’re not practising Christians – well, it’s part of our culture. And for most people, Christmas has the history of all the other Christmases past that we’ve known, woven into it. I think that’s why ‘Fairytale of New York’ remains so popular and has spent more time in our top 20 than any other song.
Anyway, let us know whether you have different Christmas favourite songs, what your favourites are and what you listen to in your country at Christmas, if you do. Everybody’s different. I asked my elder daughter and she said ‘Mm, Michael Bublé!
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
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- All I Want For Christmas – Mariah Carey
- White Christmas - Bing Crosby
- Happy Xmas (War is Over) John Lennon
- Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town – Bruce Springsteen
- Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town – Jackson 5
- Last Christmas – Wham!
- Driving Home For Christmas – Chris Rea
- The Road to Hell – Chris Rea (not Christmassy!)
- I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day – Wizzard
- Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade
- Feliz Navidad - José Feliciano
- One More Sleep – Leona Lewis
- Do They Know It’s Christmas? - Bandaid (1984)
- Fairytale of New York – The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl