Do They Know It’s Christmas? – Band Aid

The biggest British and Irish musical acts around came together to record a song written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise money for the starving people of Ethiopia, who were enduring a terrible famine. The record shot to the top of the charts, becoming the Christmas Number One of 1984 and remained there for five weeks. It became the fastest-selling song of all time and has sold nearly four million copies in the UK.

Artists who took part included U2’s lead singer Bono, George Michael, Paul Young, Spandau Ballet, Boy George, and Sting.

Do They Know It’s Christmas was number one in thirteen other countries, and within five years had sold nearly 12 million copies globally. It raised millions for charity and helped raise awareness of famines. It also led to the massive Live Aid concert months later, which Geldof again helped organise.

The song has been re-recorded three other times in 1989, 2004, and 2014, all of them reaching the top of the charts.


The Snowman

It’s hard to imagine Christmas without this enchanting animation based on Raymond Briggs’ popular children’s book. It was adapted for television in 1982 and was first shown on Boxing Day of that year on brand new TV channel Channel 4.

The story is about a little boy who wakes up to snow and decides to make a snowman, which on the stroke of midnight comes alive. While his parents are asleep, the boy and the snowman fly to the North Pole and meet Father Christmas and other snowmen. But sadly a day later when the little boy wakes, he finds a crumpled heap of snow in the garden…his new friend has sadly melted.

Over the last 35 years, The Snowman has been introduced to new generations and been essential repeat viewing for adults as well as children. The twenty-six minute long film features no spoken words, except for the iconic song ‘Walking in the Air’, which is sung by choirboy Peter Auty, but was made more famous by teenager Aled Jones, who achieved a top five hit with it in the charts in 1985.

To mark the 30th anniversary of The Snowman, a sequel was shown on Channel 4 called The Snowman and the Snowdog, which Raymond Briggs also wrote.



Once in Royal David’s City

English organist Henry John Gauntlett set Cecil Frances Alexander’s poem to music in 1849 after finding it in Miss Cecil Humphreys’ hymbook Hymns for Little Children.

For almost one hundred years since 1919, Once in Royal David’s City has started the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at the King’s College Chapel in Cambridge. The first verse of the hymn is sung by a solo boy chorister, the second verse by the choir, and the congregation joins in with the third.


Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) – The Darkness

Rock band The Darkness narrowly missed out on being Christmas Number One in 2003 with this catchy tune, which features leader singer Justin Hawkins’ falsetto.

The lyrics both celebrate Christmas and are laced with innuendo, poking fun at some aspects of the holiday season.

The Polar Express

Chris Van Allsburg’s 1985 children’s book is brought to the big screen in this 3D-animated fantasy film, in which Tom Hanks plays a prominent part, voicing six different roles.

The story centres around a train called the Polar Express, which a little boy, sceptical about whether Father Christmas really exists, boards and befriends other children who are on their way to the North Pole to meet Santa.

The animation is a popular family favourite at Christmas time, even though the critics were more impressed with its visuals than the actual story.

Carol of the Bells

Ukranian composer Mykola Leontovych  composed this immensely popular carol in 1914. The lyrics are based on a folk story of a swallow flying into a household to bring the good news that the coming year will  be prosperous.

Peter Wilhousky added lyrics, which alluded to Christmas and rearranged the melody, which evokes the ringing of bells.

Stay Another Day – East 17

Stay Another Day was Christmas Number One for boy band East 17 in 1994. Although a festive tune, there is a sad story behind it as the lead singer Tony Mortimer wrote it as a tribute to his brother Ollie, who committed suicide.

Two videos for the song were made: one of the band recording the song in a studio, and the Christmas version with the members dressed in white furry parka jackets with snow falling in the background.

Mortimer won an Ivor Novello award for song writing, and the song, which sold over 900,000 copies, was nominated for Best Single at the 1995 Brit Awards.


The Nightmare Before Christmas

This 1993 stop-motion animation was produced by Tim Burton and is based on a poem that he wrote in 1982 about a resident called Jack Skellington from a place called Halloween Town, who stumbles across Christmas when he walks through one of several portals that represent different special holidays.

He tries to sell the idea of Christmas to his fellow inhabitants of Halloween Town, but they find it strange and are not convinced. Nevertheless, Jack is determined that Halloween Town will celebrate Christmas, but unfortunately things don’t go as well as he intended.

The Nightmare Before Christmas earned high praise from the critics and it was nominated for an Oscar for Best Visual Effects.

Shepherd’s Pipe Carol – John Rutter

English composer John Rutter, famous for his compositions and arrangements of choral music, wrote this beautiful carol in the 1960s while he was an undergraduate at college in Cambridge.

The words of the carol celebrate a shepherd boy’s piping on his way to Bethlehem to see the newly born Jesus. Rutter says that he got the idea from a Christmas opera in which he starred as a boy soprano.

Wonderful Christmastime – Paul McCartney

Although considered by music critics to be a rather mediocre offering from former Beatles singer Paul McCartney, Wonderful Christmastime has since its release in 1979 established itself as a firm Christmas favourite, which many artists have covered.

McCartney’s fellow band members from Wings do not appear on the record, but they do feature in the video that accompanied the song.