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Christmas number-one singles in the UK: Map

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Each year, record companies compete for the number-one single spot on the British charts on or around Christmas Day. Having the UK Christmas number one is very prestigious and leads to a lot of media coverage. Since people are buying gifts for the Christmas period, single sales are extremely high in the week before Christmas, and since the Christmas number one is the single with the highest sales, record companies can make sizeable profit from trying to get their single to Number One. Many members of the public place bets with a bookmaker' on who will be Christmas number one.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the subject of the Christmas number one began to excite significant media coverage. However it seems to date back to 1973, when two of the most successful bands of the day - Slade and Wizzard - both released Christmas-related singles ("Merry Xmas Everybody" and "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" respectively) in an attempt to clinch the festive chart-topper, with Slade ultimately coming out on top.

Two years later, Queen released "Bohemian Rhapsody" for the first time. Containing no Christmas themes, it was not intended to be a Christmas No. 1, and was released in November. It stayed in the charts for so long (9 weeks), however, that it ran through the Christmas period, and was still No. 1 by the 31st of January 1976. When it was re-released after Freddie Mercury's death in 1991, it also was at No. 1 over the Christmas period, making it the only song to claim the place, in its original version, twice.

The definition of the Christmas number one single is the entry at the top of the official UK singles chart released on the Sunday before Christmas Day, or Christmas Day itself if it falls on a Sunday. (The weekly charts are announced on Sundays covering the sales from the previous week.) Therefore, if Christmas Day falls at the end of the week, records bought in the last few days before Christmas do not play a part in determining the "Christmas Number One".

The Christmas number one formerly went most often to sentimental, Christmas-related or novelty songs—a fact parodied in the plot of the film Love Actually—although this has become rarer in recent years, not least because of reality television shows such as The X Factor and Popstars: The Rivals. The only X Factor winner never to have achieved the coveted Christmas Number One is Steve Brookstein from the first series; however, his single was not released until the day after the Christmas chart. In 2008, nearly 50,000 people pledged to purchase Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up", but it failed to reach the top ten.

The Reality TV monopoly of the Christmas number 1

The race for the Christmas number-one of 2002 was focused on by the Britishmarker ITV television programme Popstars: the Rivals, a reality TV show that formed an all-male and an all-female pop group - One True Voice and Girls Aloud respectively - and made them compete for the Christmas number-one spot. Girls Aloud, a band that still achieves success in the UKmarker today, obtained the spot with their single "Sound of the Underground" and therefore ultimately won the contest.

This has been further continued with The X Factor, also broadcast on ITV in the UK, in which the winner's single is released the week before Christmas in order to contend the number one spot. Many people have criticised this and its proponents, such as Simon Cowell, for hijacking the charts and eliminating any element of surprise in awaiting for the number one single. Also, many of these songs do not revolve around Christmas at all. This has continued into 2008, with the fifth series of The X Factor ending on 13 December 2008. Again The X Factor won with Alexandra Burke becoming Christmas number one in 2008, selling more than the Top 20 singles combined.

As a result, UK bookmakers have begun to open books, and indeed pay out, on the song that makes Christmas number 2 as if it is number 1, given that since 2005, the number 1 song has been by the winner of The X Factor.

See also List of Christmas number one singles.

UK Christmas number twos

Examples of songs which reached number two in the Christmas chart include "Last Christmas" by Wham!, that lost out to Band Aid but still became the best-selling single in the UK that failed to reach the top spot; "Fairytale of New York" by The Pogues, kept off by Pet Shop Boys' cover of "Always on My Mind"; "JCB Song" by Nizlopi, which was kept off the top spot by reality TV star Shayne Ward's "That's My Goal" and "Christmas Time " by The Darkness, kept off once again by a cover version, this time Gary Jules' rendition of Tears for Fears' "Mad World". Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" also only reached number two, but still re-appears regularly in the UK singles chart in the weeks prior to Christmas. In 2008 Jeff Buckley's cover of "Hallelujah" reached number 2.

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