Getting through Christmas season is always an adventure. It’s that time of year when time just flows a bit differently. Some years I get this crazy itch to go home. Many years I take some kind of exotic trip. On rare occasions I just stay home.
This year I decided to see what my own city of Sydney had to offer.
I spent three days walking the city, seeing the sites, visiting my favorite pub for a sing-a-long, and reflecting on my life, the state of the world, and where things were going.
Like many people I suspect, sometimes I get a song stuck in my head that follows me around for a few days or even weeks. Often this song becomes part of the “soundtrack” for whatever experiences I’m having at the time.
I recently learned that the most popular Christmas song in the UK is “The Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues. For those that might not be familiar with this song, it’s about a couple of drunks looking back on their lives and their lost dreams while also remembering when things were good. It’s not exactly the most “feel good” song, and it’s a little surprising it’s become such a popular Christmas song. Maybe people recognize it as being a little closer to real life than other Christmas songs. Who knows? But I must admit I became a fan this year and have sort of had the song on repeat these last couple of weeks.
A sad footnote to the story was that the lead singer of The Pogues, Shane MacGowan, died this year not long before Christmas. Much like the hero of his Christmas song, Shane lived life hard and fast. His death kind of seemed like the end of something to me. I got the same feeling when Kurt Cobain died in 1994. Like an age was coming to an end. The Pogues were dirty, gritty, and cool. And at the risk of sounding like an old man shaking his rake in the air, they don’t really make music like that anymore. A lot of history’s most influential musicians have died in the last few years or are on their last laps. Like I say, it felt like the end of something to me.
But as for this the song, one particular lyric stood out to me.
‘It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me,
Now look, I’m not trying to get morbid here, but when I heard that lyric, I thought back on the past year and all of the friends I had lost since last Christmas. Many likely had no idea they “wouldn’t see another one” at the time, I’m quite certain of that.
I couldn’t stop thinking about this. For those of us that have lost friends, particularly at a young age, it all seems kind of surreal when it happens. Freud once said the two biggest mistakes people make are thinking illness and disease won’t happen to them and thinking they have an unlimited amount of time.
So as I was walking around Christmas night, I was thinking about all of this and the fact that for some of us, this WILL be our last Christmas. It was a sobering thought and as I was walking the streets I reflected about what that meant. If we know this to be true, I mean we REALLY know it to be true, what should we do with this information? Call our friends and family and tell them we love them? Take a trip to some exotic place we’ve always wanted to go? Focus more on our health? Quit our jobs and hit the road?
As I was thinking these thoughts, I heard music and followed the sound. I realized I was at Martin Place, where Sydney’s biggest and brightest Christmas tree stood proudly. It was Christmas night around 9 PM and I assumed most people’s Christmas was over by now.
But I assumed wrong.
There was a huge crowd of people around the tree. There was a singer belting out Christmas songs, and people were loudly singing along. Others were taking pictures in front of the tree and laughing and dancing.
But all I heard in MY head was the Fairytale of New York,
'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’
It was the happy part of the song when things were good. That was the vibe at the tree that night. These people were joyful and happy and completely in the moment.
It was a lovely place to be. Some of these people were probably having the best Christmas of their lives. Making memories that they would remember forever.
And man was that feeling contagious. It made me realize that, although my earlier thoughts were that it would be the last Christmas for some people, that didn’t mean life stopped happening.
And more than that, it made me realize that not only was that a pleasant alternative, it was actually the point. We need to live as much as possible, because time was fleeting.
As Emily Dickenson said,
That it will never come again
Is what makes life so sweet.
And after that, I bought myself some Hot Chocolate and joined in with the singing. I might have 50 Christmases’ left or I might have one. I didn’t have much control over that.
But I sure as hell could enjoy this Christmas. This moment.
That was in my control.
So in the end, I had my little “Fairytale of Sydney.”
And to all the people I’ve lost this year, thank you for sharing some of your time with me. I won’t forget the gift. You’ve helped me realize that we don’t get unlimited time and I need to use mine as richly and authentically and as passionately as I possibly can.
Happy New Year everyone.