Header image courtesy of Larina Marina (via Shutterstock)
Now that the holiday season is in full swing, it’s time for shopping malls all over the world to flip their stereos to a saccharine, Christmas-centric playlist. And while we love yuletide tunes like “White Christmas” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” these pop classics don’t really speak to Hongkongers in the same way as, say, some catchy Cantonese numbers. From lesser-known cuts from the likes of a former Hong Kong Chief Executive to popular hits from the king of Canto-pop, Eason Chan, our Santa sack of Cantonese Christmas songs will have your friends singing praises about your playlist. So let’s bring on those sleigh bells!
One of Hong Kong’s many attempts at a girl group, Cookies was all the hype in Hong Kong in the early 2000s. Though the group has long since disbanded, its self-titled Christmas song continues to live on as a staple in Canto-pop history. The song’s first stanza clearly states the girls’ intentions: “If you want to have a happy Christmas, there must be Christmas songs / Sick of all the usuals, you’re better off with me singing / Give me a new song to try if you’re just going to replay the old usuals / Let me give it my own spin, and try not to break its boringness.” In the remaining five minutes of the song, Cookies strings eight classic English Christmas melodies such as “Jingle Bell” and “Joy to the World,” giving them a Hong Kong spin with Cantonese lyrics about the habits of Hongkongers during the holiday season.
If you ask any Hongkonger what Cantonese Christmas songs they know, chances are the first song that springs to mind is Eason Chan’s maudlin Christmas anthem “Lonely Christmas.” While most festive tunes are filled with joy and wonder, in his lyrics, Chan croons about the loneliness of spending Christmas being single. His lyrics compare people’s expectations of Christmas with his reality: “A sleigh ride just flew by, but it forgot to toss a present down to me / The light shines the brightest tonight, but it just illuminates my loneliness / Who can kindly spare me a kiss, showing I once had bliss.” His lyrics reflect how in Hong Kong, Christmas is usually more about friends and lovers rather than family. If you weren’t all choked up about being single at Christmas before listening to this 1990s song, you sure will be afterwards.
If “Lonely Christmas” brought on the waterworks, then you might want to steer clear of Andy Hui’s heart-wrenching frosty ballad. It may be the season to be jolly, but Hui is feeling blue. As if being single during the holidays wasn’t tough enough, Hui painfully sings about breaking up right before Christmas—ouch. “Gone through so many nights just to break up with you, I don’t have a Christmas this year,” he laments. “The one I’m supposed to be with is meeting with him, is it still even Christmas, is it still worth pretending to celebrate?” Hui’s superb vocal performance radiates a sincerity that makes you want to cry along with him.
Yet another ballad of doomed romance—a topic Canto-pop loves revisiting—this loungey number is the ultimate song about being friend-zoned. The lyrics describe the singer never being able to have the courage to confess his love to his friend, so every year during Christmas, he’s forced to stay by her side only as a friend, while painfully watching her be with other men. Lead singer Mau Hou-cheong’s low mellifluous voice, combined with the laid-back, jazzy melody tugs at the sentimental heartstrings of our city, making this song one of the most listened to Canto-pop Christmas songs of all time.
McDull is a little cartoon school pig who endeared himself to the Hong Kong public in the 1990s and early 2000s for his optimism and dry Cantonese humour. He is so popular he even has his own statue in the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui! McDull’s films are filled with ingenious local jokes, an authentic storyline, and adorable songs with tongue-in-cheek lyrics. In this song, the witty McDull puts his own spin on the classic carol, “O Christmas Tree,” singing about the smell of the plastic Christmas tree wafting around the living room, and the only snow Hongkongers have is made from styrofoam. McDull’s adorable voice singing this hilarious Hong Kong-esque song would make anyone melt like a snowman under a hairdryer.
While most of us recognise Donald Tsang for serving as our city’s Chief Executive for seven years—or more recently, for his corruption charges—they might not know that he once side-hustled as a rapper. He even had a rapper name: Bow Tie.
Right before the Christmas of 2010, Tsang opted out of the predictable Christmas greeting, and instead, dropped a rap song in collaboration with Hong Kong rapper, MC Jin. The lyrics are filled with political references and the title is a play on Tsang’s 2009 campaign slogan, “Act Now.” The line, “If the rapping isn’t good, please don’t throw a banana,” refers to politician Wong Yuk-man’s banana-throwing incident in 2009.
Although the music video was an attempt to bridge the gap between Tsang and younger Hongkongers through hip-hop, I think we can all agree that his awkward hand-jamming, clapping, and head-nodding just highlighted the generation gap even more... Brownie points for effort though.