Today’s Christmas song is ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’. This is a festive song recorded by Welsh singer-songwriter Shakin’ Stevens. Written by Bob Heatie and produced by Dave Edmunds, it was the fourth number-one single for Shakin' Stevens on the ‘United Kingdom Singles Chart’.
It was released on 25 November 1985 and was the Christmas Number 1 song for that year. Ever since it has been included on many top-selling Christmas collections and received frequent airplay every Christmas. In 2007, the song re-entered the UK top 30 and reached Number 22 on the Christmas chart. This is because downloads are included in the ‘UK Singles Chart’; whereas in past years this would have been impossible unless there was a physical re-release of the song. From 2007 to 2017, the song charted in the UK at peak positions 22, 36, 49, 47, 42, 46, 54, 38, 26, 17 and 10. In December 2018 it reached Number 9 in the UK chart, its highest position since 1985.
‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ was recorded in 1984. Its original planned release was put back by a year to avoid clashing with the runaway success of Band Aid’s charity single ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ to which Stevens did not contribute, having been out of the country touring at the time of recording.
‘Merry Christmas’ is a seasonal expression that is spoken by everyone to each other every Christmas. As a rule, the sentiment expresses a genuine wish that the person being greeted enjoys themselves this Christmas. Often, however, the greeter of this seasonal welcome will not be fully aware of the precise circumstances of the person being greeted; sometimes making the wishing of ‘Merry Christmas’ itself, words that are too difficult to hear or take on board positively for the recipient of them.
The person being greeted may have just received their redundancy notice from their employer and hasn’t yet told their wife and children of the sad news. Or they may have received a ‘Final Warning’ for fuel arrears or have been served with divorce papers or been told that they have a terminal illness and will not see another Christmas. They may have incurred massive debts and face house eviction in the New Year or be harbouring some secret that will change their life like a single woman who finds herself pregnant by a past boyfriend who is no longer on the scene, or perhaps a married person who has fallen in love with someone else and has decided to tell their spouse and end their marriage.
Knock on any door down any street in any town this Christmas, and within that household, you will most likely find some unwelcome personal circumstances of one of its members. All families have its own perennial problems and unsatisfactory situations they have to cope with and manage ‘behind closed doors’.
I have always loved Christmas and celebrated this season of December; not only because of its religious significance in my life but because Christmas happiness is a large part of my family upbringing and heritage. Although I was the oldest child of seven children born to Irish parents who migrated to West Yorkshire in 1945, my dear mother would never let Christmas pass us by without making a song and dance about it.
Mum attended ‘Midnight Mass’ every year with any of her children who could walk the three miles journey from Windybank Estate to Cleckheaton Catholic Church and back. Every year, my mother would look around the church congregation to see if she could spot her oldest brother, Willie, at Midnight Mass.
Uncle Willie lived alone in the house of his deceased parents in Portlaw, County Waterford in Ireland. This was my maternal grandparent’s home, in whose front room, where I was born. Uncle Willie would exchange letters weekly with my mother, and every December he would write to my mother saying that if she looked for him at the Midnight Mass in Cleckheaton, she might spot him at the back of the church.
Uncle Willie had been 'a drunk' as long as I’d known him, as well as being a man who couldn’t utter one sentence without three ‘fakes’ in them (the Irish pronunciation for its English swear-word equivalent). While my mother dearly hoped that her brother Willie would show up, a large part of her wished he’d wait outside the church if he did, instead of entering it eating fish and chips and ‘effin’ and ‘blinding’ during the crowded service, and proudly making himself known to all and sundry as being my mum’s brother.
One year, Uncle Willie was at Midnight Mass in Cleckheaton, having caught the ferry across to England at the last moment to surprise us all. Mum naturally asked him to stay with us for Christmas (adding that I would be willing to sleep with my two sisters for a week). I was 11 years old at the time and although I loved my sisters, I didn’t want to share a double bed with them and their rude awakenings.
Just as Uncle Willie would drink six or seven pints of beer if you invited to buy him one pint, similarly, having been invited by my mum to stay one week at our house over the Christmas period, he stopped with us over two months!
During his two-month stay with us, Uncle Willie was drunk for the most part. My father never drank a drop of alcohol and yet because Willie was my mother’s brother, he put up with him ‘because he was family’. After that first year when Willie had crossed the Irish Sea to spend Christmas and see his oldest sister and her family, although we looked for his presence at Midnight Mass in Cleckheaton every year that followed, mum was both sad yet somewhat relieved when she didn’t find him there.
I am pleased to say that for almost five years prior to his death in Portlaw, Ireland, Uncle Willie stopped drinking. He was buried a teetotal man in the Church which I’d been baptised in as an infant. All my mother’s seven children and their partners attended his Irish funeral.
Uncle Willie had made himself a bit of a recluse over his final few years on earth and because he housed so many cats as his companions, many of the villagers considered him to be a bit odd.
As we travelled into Portlaw by car on the day of Uncle Willie’s funeral, we approached the bridge on the last stage of the journey and looked up the steep hill towards ‘St. Patrick’s R/C Church’ to see if anyone from the village would be walking up to attend Uncle Willie’s funeral. There wasn’t a soul in sight and our hearts saddened that not one of his neighbours had seen fit to attend his burial service. As we turned the corner in our cars to go up the hill towards the church, from the bottom of Williams Street in Portlaw village (just like a crowd scene out of the film ‘The Quiet Man’), emerged over 100 villagers crossing the bridge to walk up the steep hill to church where they’d say their final farewells to Uncle Willie.
Whatever one has to say about the Irish, never let it be said that they don’t look after their own!
My mother brought the Christmas spirit into our family home from my childhood years and kept it there until she died at the early age of 64 years. Every Christmas Eve, she would join all her grown-up children and their partners at some pub gathering and make merry until she was literally unable to drink another rum and black currant juice or tell another one of her ‘tall’ tales about Ireland and folk she grew up with. While dad never danced or drank, mum would dance and drink his portion gladly in his absence from family gatherings.
While my mother could tell the tallest of stories, she was never small on honesty whenever she expressed her true emotions with us. Never a day passed when she didn’t tell all her children that she loved us. When mum looked us in the eye and said she loved us, we knew she did, and whenever mum said ‘Merry Christmas’ to anyone, we also knew that she truly meant it.
Sheila and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Love and peace. Bill xxx