'A beacon in the dark of winter': the Christmas songs that shaped us


When I was a child, the weeks leading to Christmas felt like being dragged on one endless shopping trip. I remember spending an unhealthy amount of time in my local Debenhams and the Orwellian voice of their in-house radio presenter announcing the shrill wail of Noddy Holder and Shane MacGowan’s drawl. Bells would jingle over the tinny speakers as I sat in the shoe section, waiting for respite in the form of some Blue, or even Gabrielle. It instilled a reflexive urge to get away from any and all Christmas songs.

Then came Love Actually. Watched every Christmas during my dad’s channel-flicking binges, it was so intensely saturated with festive cheer and it soon swam into a confusing mental montage of Mr Bean wrapping gifts, Hugh Grant dancing to Girls Aloud and Emma Thompson crying to Joni Mitchell.

The last Christmas before my mum died in 2013, though, she was in hospital and there was no shopping trip. Yet we did watch Love Actually, and although the film remained charmless, I’ll always remember my mum smiling and quietly singing along to Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You in the closing scenes. It seemed a moment of respite: the Christmas cheer was working. In the five years since, I look back on those shopping trips with a different view: I’m glad we had the chance to spend that time together. And whenever Mariah Carey’s song comes on, it puts a smile on my face. Just don’t make me sit through another rerun of Love Actually.

Read the piece in the Guardian.

[This was published on 12/11/18]