Playlist of the month: my favourite Christmas songs

Screenshot of the cover of my favourite Christmas songs playlist on Spotify

Now that I’m blogging regularly again, I’ve decided to start a new monthly feature where I post a playlist of 10 songs, all around a theme. Last month was guitar heavy indie rock, and this month, because it’s December, I’ve chosen Christmas music.

If you want to listen along, here’s the Spotify playlist.

  • ‘Underneath the Tree’ by Kelly Clarkson. Probably the best new-ish Christmas pop song that I’ve heard of late, although it’s still a decade old.
  • ‘Fairytale of New York’ by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. We’ll disregard the gay slur in the lyrics, but it’s a good song with humour. If you prefer, this cover by Grace Petrie is good too. Sadly we lost The Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan last month.
  • ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’ by Wizzard. Probably my favourite classic Christmas pop song, although Wizzard’s lead singer Roy Wood is a bit racist nowadays.
  • ‘Stay Another Day’ by East 17. Is this a Christmas song? The lyrics are not explicitly about Christmas, but it was a Christmas number one in 1994 in the UK and the addition of bells make it sufficiently Christmassy for me.
  • ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End)’ by The Darkness. There’s room for more than one glam rock band to have a Christmas song, and this mid-2000s song by The Darkness is a better ‘new’ song.
  • ‘Christmas Truce’ by Sabaton. Sabaton are a Scandinavian metal band who sing historically accurate songs about war. This one is about the Christmas Truce from the First World War.
  • ‘Last Christmas’ by Carly Rae Jepson. Whamhalla is over for 2023 – I got out after just 36 hours this year. But if you were playing, then covers didn’t count, and this is my favourite cover version.
  • ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ by Our Last Night. This metal cover band pops up regularly in my Release Radar playlist on Spotify, as they release new songs regularly. This is their interpretation of this Christmas classic.
  • ‘Merry Axe-Mas’ by Nine Inch Nails. More metal, but not a cover this time.
  • ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ by Pentatonix. Paul McCartney’s original has always been just a bit too eighties for me. I prefer this a cappella version.

I’ll be back with another playlist sometime in January.

Why you shouldn’t buy gift cards as presents

An AI generated image of a Christmas tree with lots of presents and gift cards underneath it by a window.

When you need to buy a present for someone, and aren’t sure what to get them, gift cards seem like a good idea. With Christmas coming up, I’m going to explain why they’re not always the best idea.

They’re less flexible than cash

If you spend £10 to buy a £10 gift card, all you have done is taken £10 of cash, which can be spent anywhere, and converted it into a sort of pseudo-currency that can only be used at one shop. You can’t use a gift voucher for John Lewis at M&S for example.

Whilst multi-retailer gift cards like Love2Shop and One4All exist, they still limit you to a small range of retailers. And you can usually only spend them at large chain stores, so your recipient won’t be able to spend them at a local, independent shops. Let’s face it, Amazon is likely to be around for a long time, but independent shops would probably appreciate your custom.

They can only be used to purchase things

This might seem obvious, but you can only use gift cards to buy more things. You can’t use gift cards to pay bills, or repay debt, for example. And I mean, you really can’t – if someone claims to be HM Revenue & Customs and asks you to pay your tax bill with iTunes Gift Cards, then it’s a scam.

For someone who may be drowning in credit card debt, receiving some money that they can use to pay that off may be more meaningful. At worst, you could end up spending your money on a gift card that can only be used to buy something at a shop where the cost of getting there is higher than the value of the card.

They could also be worthless. If you’re an Android phone user, then you’re not going to get much out of an iTunes gift card, for example. You could try a web site that exchanges gift cards, where you can sell an unwanted gift card for cash. However, you’ll probably get less than its value back, and obscure gift cards may not sell for much.

They expire

Most gift cards expire after 12 months. We’ve had this problem before; a relative bought our (now) seven-year-old a gift card for a well-known toy shop chain. As their birthday is close to Christmas, we saved it to buy a gift the following year, but by the time we came to use it, it had expired. Meanwhile, cash never expires.

If the retailer goes bust, they may become worthless

We’ve recently seen the demise of Wilko in the UK, and other large chain stores like Debenhams, Jessops, Comet, Woolworths, Burtons have all disappeared in recent years. Usually, when these companies go bankrupt and call in administrators, their gift cards immediately become worthless. At best, you can sign up as a creditor of the company in the hope that you may get a fraction of the value of the gift card back.

Some people have lost serious money because of this in the past. Debenhams used to offer a wedding list service, and so those that had people buy them Debenhams gift cards as wedding presents may have lost out on hundreds of pounds.

What to do instead

Buying presents can be tricky, and I don’t think anyone wants to buy something that’ll just end up listed on eBay on Boxing Day. But maybe have a conversation with the person who you are buying a gift for first. Surprises can be nice, but so can knowing that you’re getting a thing that you actually want for Christmas. Christmas lists for Santa needn’t just be for children; you could keep a list in a note-taking app, for example, so that if anyone asks you what you want, you can tell them straight-away.

Or you could just give people cash. If all you are doing is swapping the same amount of money for a card which is restricted to one retailer and expires, then you’re taking choice away from your recipient. With cash, your recipient could use that money for:

  • the weekly food shop
  • to pay off a credit card
  • buy something nice from a small independent shop.

An Amazon gift card won’t allow the recipient to do any of those things.

If you don’t want to put bank notes or coins in the post, you can send a cheque. Despite rumblings from the banking industry a few years ago, most banks will still let you send and receive cheques. Indeed, most banking apps will let you scan cheques, so you can scan them on Christmas Day without waiting for a branch to open. Alternatively, you could send an IOU in a card, and then do a BACS transfer on Christmas Day. That’s if you already know their bank details, of course.

When is it appropriate to send gift cards?

So, now that I have written this, you may be surprised to hear that I am planning to send gift cards to some relatives this Christmas. But this is only because said relatives have specifically asked for them. And that’s fine – you could ask for gift cards as a contribution to a big purchase, for example. Just be careful that you choose a retailer that isn’t at imminent risk of bankruptcy. Money Saving Expert News is usually a good place to get news about retailers that are, or are at risk of entering administration, and their policy on accepting gift cards.

You can also sometimes buy gift cards at a discount. My employer offers Pluxee as an employee benefit, which sells gift cards at a typical 4% discount – but sometimes more. M&S is 6.5%, which means that you can buy a £25 gift card for £23.38.

If your employer doesn’t offer something similar, but you have a mortgage, then Sprive is worth considering. With Sprive, the discounts are smaller (about 3%) but the money you save is taken off your mortgage. If you decide to sign up to Sprive, use my referral code ‘HTWH65PM’ to get an additional £5 off your mortgage.

If you’re buying Amazon gift cards, it’s worth checking your personalised promotions page (sponsored link). Sometimes, Amazon offers additional discounts available if you buy gift cards in bulk.

Christmas Day is three weeks today. If you haven’t already finished your Christmas shopping, maybe reach out to your gift recipients to find out what they want. Just be aware of the last posting days for gifts.

Merry Christmas!

A photo of some socks received for Christmas as presents

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to write a Christmas blog post, what with having taken a few years out from blogging.

I received a variety of presents:

  • A bard outfit for future cosplay opportunities
  • A total of 13 pairs of socks (pictured above)
  • A handmade chopping board made by a relative
  • Plenty of chocolate
  • plus plenty of other things besides

We’re staying with my parents in York, as we normally do.

Christmas past

That being said, I was intrigued by Diamond Geezer’s list of places he has spent Christmas over the years, and thought about my own list.

As a child, from as early as I can remember, we would spend Christmas at my grandparents in East Yorkshire. This continued until my early 20s, when my grandparents became too old to host us and so my parents took on hosting duties. In Christmas 2008, we just had my grandfather over as my grandmother was in a care home by that point; she passed away in 2009.

This arrangement continued until 2012, by which time Christine and I had moved into our rented flat together. As a key worker in the NHS, Christine’s work patterns over the festive period meant that we had our first Christmas just as a couple – neither of us could drive back then so a parental visit wasn’t possible. 2013 was in York again but 2014 was back in the flat.

Christmas 2015 was also very different. By now, we had bought out house and I had passed my driving test and bought a car, but Christine was also heavily pregnant and so we didn’t want to stray too far from home.

2016 through to 2019 were back to normal, albeit with the addition of a small person. But then in 2020, the pandemic necessitated remaining at ours, so we had our second Christmas in our house and a scheduled Zoom call to speak to family.

Thanks to the various Covid vaccines, 2021 and now 2022 have been back to normal. However, I was surprised that I’ve only ever spent Christmas in 4 places, in almost 40 years of life.

If you celebrate Christmas, then I hope you have a joyous and merry one in whatever way suits you.