Depending on your point of view, Christmas may be a deeply religious time of the year, with the focus on Christ. Alternatively, you may take a more secular approach, whilst still adhering to what are sometimes called Christian ideals, and put the emphasis on giving, charity, family and looking after others. For others, Christmas is simply about time off work, whilst others focus very much on the eating, drinking and making merry aspects. Of course, these are far from mutually exclusive and many people include elements of all these things in their festive period. Increasingly, however, Christmas is also a time for betting!
Before we explain more about what we mean, we should first point out that responsible gambling is perhaps more important than ever at this time of year. First, Christmas is expensive, with presents to buy, various nights out to fund and the cost of the big day itself if you are hosting. But more than that it can also be a stressful time of year and one during which emotions are heightened. Betting when you are stressed, tired, drunk, hungover or even just a little over-emotional is not advised. So, whilst we are going to look at Christmas betting, we do so whilst simultaneously advising a fair degree of caution.
Much as Christmas is associated with gigantic meals, seeing friends and family, giving and receiving presents and much, much more, it is also, for many, very much linked to sport. Whether your interest lies in the festive footballing fixture frenzy, the brilliant horse racing on Boxing Day (and all through Christmas and into the New Year) or the darts world championships that take place, there is so much great sport to bet on.
However, those huge sporting occasions are not our focus here. They are traditional Christmas staples for many and can provide a great relief from family “fun” (charades, anyone?). However, in this piece we are instead looking at the growing number of novelty bets available at Christmas. These are many and varied and we’ll be generous and inclusive in our definition of Christmas novelty bets, including a range of markets and events over the whole period (which if supermarket shelves and TV ads are to be believed runs from about September to February!).
Christmas Number 1
One of the earliest examples of a novelty bet, this market is offered by almost all UK bookies. It is quite simply a wager on what song will be number one at Christmas. This is based on the official UK singles charts and you will normally see just the artist listed at the bookie. If a certain artist (probably with curly ginger hair) has more than one song in contention these will be listed and priced separately.
You can bet on this market at any time prior to the announcement and the odds are usually available many weeks or even months in advance. The way the singles chart works has been evolving for many years with the advent of streaming and the way we buy and listen to music these days. This has had quite a big impact on this novelty Christmas bet because it gives previously released songs a greater chance. It also means the market is more open because it is far easier for people or groups to release singles these days without having to rely on big record labels. This, and the rise of social media, means that comedy and novelty songs, as well as charity releases and “protest” songs, have a far bigger chance of “going viral” and preventing established stars from claiming the coveted top spot at Christmas.
Perhaps the best example of this came in 2009 when an English DJ launched a campaign to get Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing in the Name” to number one. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the campaign was to stop that year’s winner of the X Factor from topping the chart. Many music fans disliked the contrived, commercial nature of the show, and especially the fact that it had essentially become a guaranteed Christmas number one.
The campaign gained traction and a Facebook group attracted over 750,000 members, all vowing to buy (via download, as the single was not re-released) the iconic RATM banger. When X Factor boss, Simon Cowell, dismissed the campaign as “stupid” it only served to bring more publicity and so a run of four straight Christmas number ones for Cowell’s show ended.
“F**k you, I won’t do what you tell me” might not be everyone’s idea of a classic Christmas lyric but the song, which peaked at number 25 on its original 1993 release, became the fastest-selling digital track in UK history. The 502,672 downloads in a week proved more than enough to see off the TV show’s Joe McElderry, whilst more than £162,000 was raised for charity (through royalties donated by the band and a JustGiving page that ran alongside the original Facebook group.
More recently, we have seen more chart history in the shape of Lad Baby. The husband and wife (and lad, and baby) YouTubing team are a true novelty act but achieved something that neither the Spice Girls nor The Beatles could manage in making it to Christmas number one for four years running. Those other two groups managed three in a row, something LadBaby did between 2018 and 2020.
However, LadBaby matched the Fab Four’s overall four Christmas number ones and made it four in a row for them (alongside Ed Sheeran and Eton John) in 2021. Incredibly, at the time of writing, they are odds-on favourites to make it five in a row in 2022!
Strategy & Tips
Finding real value in this market is a tough task, in part because the bookies tend to price it quite poorly, factoring in a decent margin for themselves due to its unpredictable nature. The two examples given illustrate just some of the problems this market can pose. In 2009, many a punter would have confidently backed the X Factor winner months before Christmas. Many of those probably believed they were buying money, such was the power of the show at the time (it was back to Christmas number one 12 months later) and the run of hits it had produced.
Then, out of nowhere (well, out of a Facebook group started by a little-known DJ from Essex), along comes Rage! Equally, in 2018, who could have predicted that a song about sausage rolls would make it to Christmas number one? And then that the same thing would happen in 2019, 2020, 2021 and… maybe 2022?
It is a market where the value can seem to be available by getting on a selection very early but such a strategy is risky. As well as the issues mentioned already, there is the fact that release dates are flexible and new entries can be added to the field at virtually any time. In short, we would suggest that unless you have some very strong insider intelligence, this market is best taken for exactly what it is – a fun, novelty bet.
Are You Dreaming of a White Christmas?
Another of the more established Christmas bet is wagering on whether or not we will see a white Christmas. The Met Office define a white Christmas as “for one snowflake to be observed falling in the 24 hours of 25 December somewhere in the UK”.
The weather experts themselves add that whilst they used to use the sole location of their London building to determine if it had been a white Christmas, due to “the increase in betting on where will see a white Christmas” they now include a number of other observation sites too.
Most bookmakers will have a range of sub-markets for this bet, with the location of the white Christmas specified. Usually the market is settled according to the Met Office’s verdict but you should double-check the terms and conditions with the bookie at which you make this novelty Christmas bet.
Understanding the Ts and Cs is crucial, as one punter found out to their dismay back in 2010. We rather suspect they were trying it on, rather than genuinely unaware but who knows? Also, the issue concerned not this specific market, but a more general rule about combining selections in accas.
Related selections, known in betting lingo as related contingencies, cannot be combined in an acca. Instead, they must be priced as a single bet with odds determined by the bookmaker. But that apparently wasn’t known to 52 year old Cliff Bryant who was expecting around £7m from his two white Christmas accas but, instead, received just £31.78!
Bryant tried to place an acca on it being a white Christmas in a whole host of towns and cities, largely in the north of England. However, if it is 6/1 for snow in Manchester and the same price for snow in Stockport and Salford, snow in all three would not be priced at the 342/1 acca odds. The three locations are just a few miles apart, so the real odds would be more like 7/1. Clearly, if it snows in one, the chance of it snowing in the others is far greater, meaning the selections are related.
2010 was, in fact, the last time we saw a widespread white Christmas and we also saw one in 2009. But just how likely is this fairy tale phenomenon? Well, according to the Met Office snow is far more likely later in the winter and even into March. On average, December sees just 3.9 days of sleet or snow, lagging behind February (5.6 days in a shorter month), January (5.3 days) and even March (4.2 days).
Of course, these numbers have been, and will continue to be, affected by climate change. Such grand, nationwide white Christmases were far more common in the 1700s and 1800s and with warmer, wetter winters generally predicted they only seem set to become even less likely.
In one sense though, a white Christmas still remains likely, with Met office stats showing that about half of the years since 1960 have seen 5% or more of their network record Christmas Day snowfall. In 2021, 6% of stations witnessed snow falling, though fewer than 1% had snow on the ground. 2020 saw similar numbers, though no snow whatsoever was recorded in 2018 or 2019.
2010 was just one of four years since 1960 when 40% or more of the Met Office’s stations had snow on the floor at 9 am on 25th December. In addition, it saw snow or sleet fall at almost 20% of stations, with a massive 83% having the white stuff on the ground.
Strategy & Tips
What do all these stats and numbers mean for betting on a white Christmas though? Well, much depends on the specifics of the market you are betting on. What the Met Office call a “widespread” white Christmas is clearly a rarity, happening four times in over 60 years. But on the other hand, it is also very rare for none of the forecaster’s stations to see snow.
Indeed, they state that, based on stats since 1960 where at least 5% of their locations saw sleet or snow on the 25th, “we can probably expect more than half of all Christmas Days to be a ‘white Christmas’”. So, is backing a white Christmas at odds of evens a decent bet?
Well, as we have said, many markets offered by bookies relate to a specific place/Met Office station so you really do need to be aware of what exactly you are betting on. This is a market with few measurable or observable variables, with a very strong correlation between one thing – the forecast – and the odds.
This is different to betting on sport where you have so many factors to consider, many of which cannot be judged in a truly scientific way. This means that unless you can create a weather-forecasting model that is more accurate than the widely available ones used by bookies to price the market, finding value is essentially impossible.
Or is it? Whilst we would strongly recommend viewing this market as, once again, a fun, novelty one, there is a way to beat the bookies. The nature of forecasting is to change your prediction in light of new information. Anyone who has ever had a day to the beach planned, or perhaps a trip to watch cricket, and has been monitoring the weather forecast almost every minute waiting to see if it will rain or not, will know that weather forecasts change quite frequently.
If you can be very quick to react to such a change, assuming it is favourable, you should be able to grab some real value. If, for example, a new forecast sees some arctic winds blowing into the UK on Christmas Day that were not previously forecast, snow might become far more likely. The bookies will often only cut their odds on these markets in reaction to bets being placed. This means that if you can be quick off the line, you might be able to back a white Christmas at 5/1, only to see the odds reduced shortly after to 2/1.
Football Christmas Bets
As well as the above two markets that are very obviously novelty specials, there are some sporting Christmas bets worth being aware of. In football, betting on who will be bottom of the league at Christmas is a popular market. The same bet can also be made for who will be top at Christmas, as well as other related bets, such as being in the top four or the bottom three. These are generally only available for the Premier League but you may also see them listed for other divisions too.
BBC Sports Personality of the Year
BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) award has been running since 1954. It has changed over the years but essentially crowns the sportsperson who has most captured the public’s imagination that year. Usually taking place within a week or so of Christmas, for many sports fans it is a big part of the festive season and a nice way to look back on a whole year of brilliant sport across a range of disciplines.
As well as the main award there are prizes for the best team, world star (the key prize is for UK sportspeople only), best coach and a number of other lesser prizes too. Some bookies may offer betting on a number of these but most focus on the top award. Past winners include Bobby Moore, Seb Coe, Ian Botham, Daley Thompson, Torvill and Dean, Nigel Mansell, David Beckham, Jonny Wilkinson, Chris Hoy, Andy Murray and Mo Farah.
Betting on SPOTY is popular, with the market available year-round as punters try and grab the early value. There are many factors to think about, with athletes who are successful at the Olympics or their sport’s world cup tending to do well, whilst success in the Ashes (cricket), or a major (golf or tennis) also giving someone a good chance.
Much can change in a year, whilst there have also been times when stars have won more based on their overall career than their actual achievements in the relevant 12 months. Social media campaigns have also been launched to garner recognition for some legends of less popular sports, with horse racing’s Tony McCoy one such beneficiary.
Whilst plumping for a star you expect to have a big year and getting on early is one tactic, it can be risky. One huge performance from someone else can see everyone, including previous favourites who have achieved great things, blown out of the water and consigned to the status of also-rans. The most obvious example of this is Emma Radacanu, who won in 2021, almost entirely thanks to her US Open success.
Strictly Come Dancing
Strictly Come Dancing is another television event that has become a big part of the festive period for many and betting on the show is very popular. The main show typically finishes around a week before Christmas, with the final almost a marker for when Christmas really gets started.
However, in addition to the core programme there is always a Christmas special, usually shown on the big day itself. This is a smaller, standalone dancing feast, with the winner crowned on the night and again, this is a popular betting heat. If you love your dancing and understand how the show works (mainly in terms of which sorts of celebrities and dancers tend to prosper) there is every chance you can land a winner on the dancefloor!
If you love betting on anything and everything Christmas, be sure to check out the novelty and specials areas of your favourite betting site. There is every chance that more markets could be added. You might find more typical sporting ones, such as how many goals will be scored in the Premier League on Boxing Day, or niche specials such as how long the King’s speech will be, or whether he will use a certain phrase or word.
Bookies love to be creative with their markets, especially at this time of year. With more and more punters taking an interest in this type of special bet we expect to see more and more unusual wagers available, so keep your eyes peeled!