Popular UK Christmas Songs That Are Rather Unknown in Europe

The UK have a various mix of Christmas songs that even include Rage Against The Machine

It’s already mid-December. It feels like we’ve just skipped over summer and somehow already ended up in winter. Even though Christmas feels very sudden every year, it’s somehow a pleasant change now as it represents some sort of activity that we can do while we are stuck at home during Covid-19.

Usually, we put up a Christmas tree at home around this time – however, we already decorated the flat a week ago as it felt exciting to change the style of the living room we spent the last eight months in. Our neighbours put up their tree in mid-November. That was too early, even for my taste.

Last year, my work created a Christmas playlist that we would play in the office – this year, that is obviously not possible. So my colleague created a Spotify list in which we all fired our favourite Christmas song, just to be played at home. I had already discovered last year that Melanie Thornton’s full version of “Holidays Are Coming” is a complete stranger to Scottish people. And also this year, there are still some songs that I didn’t know before.

So in case you want to get into a Christmas mood and learn some of the most popular songs in this country, we collected some of them in this article.


The Pogues – Fairytale of New York

This song took me a few attempts before I started to like it. It just sounded to me like some song I would potentially listen to in a pub, and I didn’t find it Christmassy at all. The song is about an Irish immigrant who sleeps in a prison cell after being drunk on Christmas Eve.

A song about lost youth and ruined dreams is probably not what you would listen to in Continental Europe. Most German songs are either highly conservative church songs or made for children in which we sing about baking cookies. And we certainly don’t shout “You’re an old slut on junk”. My Silesian great grandmother would roll over in her grave.


Elton John – Step Into Christmas

A song that can’t be missed on any Christmas playlist is Elton John’s “Step Into Christmas”. It was one of the UK’s most popular Christmas songs in the early 2000s despite being released in 1973.

Elton’s positive energy, powerful piano tunes and the unusual strong bass in the background make you dance around in the kitchen and is great to get you up from the couch.


Chris De Burgh – A Spaceman Came Travelling

Compared to Elton John’s powerful Christmas song, Chris De Burgh’s Spaceman is perfect for a hot chocolate on the couch. Although the title doesn’t seem to have a lot in common with Christmas, De Burgh imagined the star of Bethlehem being a spacecraft when he wrote the song. It never became a hit in the UK but is now a popular Christmas song every year.


Aled Jones – Walking In The Air

You may have come across the famous Irn Bru advert with the snowman and may have suspected some deeper storyline behind it. The advert is based on “The Snowman” which is an animated television film from 1982. A young boy becomes friends with a snowman, and together they fly above famous Scottish land sights. Halfway through, Peter Auty starts to sing the song “Walking In The Air”. Aled Jones covered it three years after the film came out and his cover reached the UK’s top 5 charts.

If you haven’t seen the snowman yet, you can find the Youtube video below – “Walking in the Air” starts at 15:25. And please don’t forget to watch the Irn Bru advert as well. Even though the drink tastes like chewing gum and will probably never be part of a Continental household, we must appreciate that the advert is pretty clever.  


Rage Against The Machine – Killing in the Name

Yes, you read that correctly. When my manager put that song in our playlist, I was probably equally confused as you are right now. After some research, I found out that “Killing in the Name” became the Christmas number one song in 2009. The reason why it peaked is one of the reasons I love the culture here.

Before Rage Against The Machine shook up the UK’s Christmas’ charts, X-Factor used to lead the charts for five years in a row. This was obviously enough for some folk. An English couple launched a Facebook group and encouraged people to download “Killing in the Name” so that X-Factor won’t win the charts again. Never forgotten will be the BBC 5 radio performance in which the band promised not to swear. You can probably imagine how that went.


Obviously, there are a lot more Christmas songs than the ones mentioned above – especially from the 50s. While Christmas songs in Continental Europe can sometimes be a bit cringeworthy, there are beautiful English ones for all sort of music tastes. Even when they were not intended to be for Christmas in the first place.

Scotland, why are you so messy?

Random fridges are not an unusual sight in Scotland

Scotland, we need to talk about recycling. You are a country with such formidable nature and heritage that is admired throughout the world. And yet, whether you hit the town on Sunday morning or drive along Loch Lomond to the north, there’s litter everywhere. So, tell me, Scotland, why are you so messy?


Growing up in the 90s in an eastern European country, I’ve witnessed how quickly things can change. In the space of ten years of my childhood, we came from having illegal wastelands in woods and omnipresent litter in towns to having clean streets and every small village enjoying its own recycling containers. Almost every small town now operates a recycling centre where its inhabitants can dispose of everything from old furniture, electronics, clothes to old batteries or bikes.

Try throwing a piece of paper on the ground in my hometown. I can assure you at least two people will appear from nowhere, telling you to pick it up (or swear at you and then pick it up themselves, depending on their age). Thanks to the massive educational campaign, partly backed by the state, recycling became a national sport and a part of our mentality. Because why would you want to, pardon me, “shit where you eat”? Sure, you’ll still find people who are not bothered about flattening their plastic bottles before placing them into a yellow container (yellow for plastic, blue for paper) but their numbers are getting smaller and smaller by every year according to the official statistics.

This is why I was so surprised when I moved to Scotland seven years ago. At first, I thought this might be an isolated Glasgow issue. But my first ventures outside the city proved me otherwise. Seeing all the empty cans and pieces of plastic scattered along the train rails on my way to Edinburgh, reminded me of the sadness I felt as a small child with the end of winter. Not only that my favourite season was coming to an end, but the melting snow revealed the ditches next to the road being full of miscellaneous dirty items that someone threw out of their car. And there’s nothing more depressing than slushy, brown snow exposing bits of old litter scattered around like frozen corpses on Mount Everest.


I remember when Glasgow City Council introduced the first recycling scheme for businesses. Back then, nobody at my work (I worked as a bartender in the city centre) knew how to recycle. I spent months fishing out cans of Irn Bru from the general waste and placing them into the see-through recyclable bin bags. And explaining to my colleagues that little sachets with sauces, although considered food by some, do not belong to the food waste.


Their reaction was mixed. Some said this wasn’t explained to them properly by the management (which is true, a printed A4 sheet of paper in the staff room will give you next to nothing), while others simply didn’t care. Forgive me, if this isn’t true, but one of my Scottish friends once presented me with the following theory, posing the issue in the context of cultural mentality. That is, no matter what your work position, education or social status is, people here sort of expect/are taught that “someone else will clean after them” or “it’s someone’s job to do that”. I’m not sure to what extent this might be true, nevertheless, it presents a complex idea behind the notion of Britishness and how that relates to contemporary Scottishness.

And then some actually listened and learned. If anything, I’ve left that place after five years with a warming feel that I helped at least thirty people with their recycling journey (we had a high staff turnover). So here I am, writing this article, hoping that someone will find it helpful the next time they need to bin something, and they might not be just quite sure what bin (or container) to use.

The following advice relates to household rubbish management, specifically in the area of Greater Glasgow. So please, bear in mind that things might be slightly different where you live.

 

What Belongs In Which Bin

Mixed recycling – Blue Wheelie bin

Plastic: cleaner and detergent bottles, milk and drinks bottles, toiletries and shampoo bottles

Cardboard: cardboard egg boxes, cardboard fruit and veg punnets, cardboard sleeves, cereal boxes, corrugated cardboard, toilet roll tubes

Paper: brown envelopes, magazines, newspapers, shredded paper, Yellow Pages

Metal Packaging: aerosols, drinks cans, food tins

General waste – Green Wheelie bin

Food waste – Silver Wheelie bin (Flats & Tenements) or Brown Wheelie bin (Kerbside Households)

Bread, cakes and pastries

Dairy products – cheese and eggs

Raw and cooked fish and meat (including bones)

Raw and cooked fruit and vegetables (including peelings)

Rice, pasta and beans

Teabags and coffee grounds

Uneaten food and plate scrapings

Glass bins – Big Wheelie bin (Flats & Tenements) or regular Purple Wheelie bin (Kerbside Households)

Glass bottles and jar

Garden Waste – Brown Wheelie bin

Flowers

Grass cuttings

Leaves

Plants

Prunings and twigs

Weeds

 

Common items that do not belong into the household waste and should be taken to a recycling centre:

Kitchen Oil – cooking oil and fat shouldn’t be poured down sinks as it can cause blockages. They can be put into a sealed container and taken to your local recycling centre.

Batteries – they are made from trillion different materials and need to be taken apart. Instead of chucking them to your general waste, take them to a recycling centre or a collection point in a supermarket.

Electrics – same as batteries. Although your old kettle seems to be made of plastic, don’t forget about the wiring and the heating element. Some local authorities collect small electrical items as part of their kerbside collection, otherwise, you can recycle these and larger items at selected retailers and at your Recycling centre.

Mattresses and old Furniture – consider selling them or simply donating them if they are in a good condition. If not, most furniture can be recycled at your local recycling centre and some local authorities may also provide a collection service.

Shopping bags – Many larger supermarkets accept your carrier bags as well as other plastic films – look for the message ‘recycle with carrier bags at larger stores – not at kerbside’ on the label.

Pay attention to what you put into your recycling. It actually makes a big difference:

“When the wrong items are put in a recycling container or bin it causes various issues along the way. First of all, it slows down the sorting process as these items then have to be removed by hand and the wrong item can then potentially damage machinery as it is not designed for this type of material.

Then, if too many of the wrong items end up in the recycling material stream and the contamination is deemed too severe – as it would take too long to sort by hand – the entire load is diverted to landfill or incineration meaning the time and effort put into recycling in the first place was wasted.” – Zero Waste Scotland

To know what to put into your recycling, always check the product’s packaging. Most of the items include packaging labels and recycling symbols that are usually self-explanatory. If you are still unsure, have a look at this handy article from Zero Waste Scotland.

 

Recycling centres (Glasgow):

Polmadie (425 Polmadie Rd, Glasgow G42 0PJ)

Shieldhall (Renfrew Rd, Glasgow G51 4SL)

Dawsholm (75 Dalsholm Rd, Glasgow G20 0TB)

Easter Queenslie (90 Easter Queenslie Rd, Glasgow G33 4UL) – van friendly

Household Waste Recycling Centres are open 7 days a week, 8-4pm (last entry at 3.45pm).

All centres now provide a full waste disposal service, accepting the following waste types:

  • Bags of household waste
  • Electrical Items (including lamps, tv screens and monitors)
  • White Goods
  • Mattresses
  • Wood (including small furniture)
  • Cardboard
  • Garden waste
  • Scrap metal
  • Rubble
  • Dry mixed recyclables, textiles
  • Cooking oil and engine oil
  • Hazardous household items such as solvent-based paint, pesticides etc
  • Car batteries

Glasgow located households can also get their bulky waste items collected by the council. Unfortunately, this service has been limited to request-only appointments under the current circumstance. More info here.


Online Resources

https://wasteless.zerowastescotland.org.uk/

https://www.recyclenow.com/

https://www.greenerscotland.org/

https://www.glasgow.gov.uk/recycling

 

Remember, it’s okay to make mistakes. I used to put plastic films into mixed recycling until the start of this year when I got told off by our binman. The important thing is to try and not be afraid to ask (or Google) if unsure.

5 Scottish Quirks You Won’t Find in Mainland Europe

View over Glasgow’s city centre. Image by Pirkko Seitsenpiste from Pixabay

Every country has its own habits that can be totally different than the ones you know from your home country. Here is a list of some of the Scottish quirks that you will notice, even if you only visit Scotland for a short amount of time.


1. Deep Frying a Pizza

When you visit a Fish and Chips shop, you will come across a speciality from the Scottish kitchen. And no, it’s not the fish. Next to pizza, pies and other rather unusual menu additions, you will find some unidentifiable fried food in the display. This can be anything from fried Mars Bars, fried pizzas, fried pickles, to fried sausages. There is nothing Scots can’t and won’t deep fry.

Make sure you have a strong stomach before you try any of this. For beginners, a fried Mars Bar might be the best deep-fried thing to start. It doesn’t have as much fat as a deep-fried pizza, and can eventually even taste good.


2. No Sockets in the Bathroom

Probably one of the most annoying things of Scottish flats is the fact that you won’t find any sockets in the bathroom. Due to strict health and safety regulations, you will occasionally only find a special socket for shavers.

If you are used to drying your hair in front of the bathroom mirror, or want to plug in your fancy electrical toothbrush, then you will need to rearrange that. Even if your sink is 10 meters from your shower or bathtub, you won’t be allowed to install any sockets in your bathroom.


3.Restaurant Quality Pub Food 

You probably don’t associate Continental pubs with high quality food but with a standard kitchen, football, beer, and rather older customers who sit there on a regular basis. This is the complete opposite in Scotland. Of course, here are a lot of “old men pubs”, too, but these pubs are usually much friendlier than the Continental ones.

Another difference is the fact that the food in Scottish pubs can be really good. It’s completely normal to go to a pub for food and not just to have a pint. Next to simple traditional Scottish food, you can also find menus that come close to the ones you find in actual restaurants. For example, The Bell Jar in Glasgow’s Southside has a menu that includes fancy dishes such as a “Mediterrean Fish Stew with Mussels, Prawns and Haddock”.


4. The Unconditional Love For Spray Tan

Living in the North comes unfortunately with a low amount of sun hours, resulting in pale skin and low Vitamin D. Thus, when Scots get the opportunity to tan, they will. Even when that means sunbathing at 10 degrees. Or using spray tan.

In case you were wondering how it can be that you are paler than anyone else in summer, then it’s probably because everyone else is cheating. There is a huge selection of different spray tans in beauty retailers such as Boots that can be a bit overwhelming for Continentals with absolutely no clue.

If you reached the point that you don’t want to be the only Snow White at parties anymore, you can think of giving the spray tan a chance. But be warned: It can turn you into a carrot.


5. Summer Clothes During Arctic Temperatures

Scottish weather can be quite cold and rainy most of the time, this is no big secret. Once it’s windy, it’s usually time for Continentals to put on a scarf and waterproof jacket. That is the moment when you can tell from 200 meters away that someone is from mainland Europe. Even in an ice-cold winter, you will see people running around in shorts. Or in short dresses, tackling the snow on heels without any goose bumps. 


While some of the Scottish quirks are easy to adapt once you are here, others such as leaving the jacket at home for a pub crawl can be a bit more challenging. You will come across more interesting habits the longer you are in Scotland, and will be able to add some other things to the list above. Although you’re not too far away from mainland Europe, you will be surprised how many things are handled a bit differently in Scotland.