LONDON – For decades, speculating on who will top the music charts on Christmas Day has been as much a part of the holiday build-up for many Brits as decorating the tree or wondering if there will be a white Christmas.
There's endless discussion in the media, bookmakers offer bets on the outcome and people gather around the office water cooler discussing what song they think will win the much-coveted number one prize.
However in recent years, the game has been somewhat spoiled. For the past five years, the song released by the winner of the popular British talent show the "X-Factor," a TV show as popular as "American Idol" in the U.S., has topped the chart.
With guaranteed TV exposure and the guiding hand of the show's omnipotent host Simon Cowell, the ballad (it's always a ballad) sung by a pretty face, inevitably outsells all its rivals.
This year it seemed no different as Joe McElderry, an angelic-looking 18-year-old with a toothy smile who has been favorably compared to the American actor Zac Efron, released his song, "The Climb." It's the kind of soaring ballad that could provide the soundtrack for many a Disney film.
Music fans however said enough was enough and launched an Internet campaign to end The "X-Factor" and Cowell's dominance over the Christmas charts.
The plan cooked up was to get the expletive-ridden song, "Killing in the Name," by the American band Rage Against the Machine, to the top spot.
A tall order, especially since the song was originally released in 1993 and had only reached number 25 at that time. But, the band willingly supported the idea and was ready for the challenge.
Given the band's name, it should come as no surprise that they are not strangers to acts of iconoclasm. The band has had a long tradition of political activism – playing protest concerts outside both the 2000 Democratic National Convention and the 2008 Republican National Convention.
The band also caused a ruckus when it tried to force its way into the New York Stock Exchange while shooting a music video with Michael Moore in 2000. And the members got kicked off the set of Saturday Night Live for trying to hang the American flag upside down during an appearance on the show when Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes was hosting the program 1996.
For his part, Cowell was clearly irked by the campaign and described it as "stupid" and "a cynical campaign geared at me."
Still, on Sunday, an estimated 5 million listened tensely to Radio 1, a national pop station, to hear which song topped the music charts. And the winner was … "Killing in the Name!"
The song had sold 500,000 copies, all via downloads, and 50,000 more than "The Climb."
Band leader Tom Morello described the victory as an "anarchy Christmas miracle." While Jon Morter, who had led the Internet campaign to end the X-factor monopoly, said, "We've given the Christmas Number One back to everyone else."
Rage Against the Machine plans to play a free gig in the U.K. next year to thank their fans.
Meantime, McElderry said he was "disappointed" by the loss. Nevertheless, the screams of his adoring teenage fan base should surely help ease the pain.