The Holiday season is a magical time, and for many New York City is one of the most magical places during this time of year. It’s supposed to be a time of coming together. A time of “gifts and giving”. Naturally, The Pogues would be the ones to deconstruct their myth with their classic “Fairytale of New York”. It’s a song about two ex-lovers (most likely immigrants) remembering the happy times they had in New York, only to see it blow up in their face.
The song weaves in and out of the past and present, each part of their relationship represented by events that occurred on Christmas Eve. There’s MacGown lying drunk at the beginning on Christmas Eve sometime after their relationship failed. He then remembers a past Christmas Eve which found the two lovers wandering around New York City, hand in hand. At first it seems like McColl’s appearance in the song is a conversation between the two. But it’s more likely that it is an internal monologue. MacGowan is probably slipping in and out of consciousness reflecting on real conversations and events, and later what she would most likely tell him if she saw him lying in a drunk-tank.
Sometime before, the two lovers came to New York City in search of a better life. The lure of New York City during Christmas had a profound effect on them. MacGown promised that Broadway was waiting for her. They listened to Sinatra, held hands and walked around Manhattan on Christmas Eve. They built their dreams around each other, as many lovers do. And then the fall-out happens. He finds her overdosed “lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed.” It’s likely that she threw him out calling him a “scumbag, a maggot”. “Happy Christmas your arse!” She tells him. “I pray God it’s our last!”
And it was most likely their last. In the drunk-tank MacGowan is forced to reconcile with himself. “I could have been someone,” He laments. Real or imaginary, McColl tells him, “well so could anyone. You took my dreams from me, when I first found you.” “I kept them with me babe,” He says, perhaps more to himself than to her.