The Invasion of the Christmas Carols

Christmas music

Many of us mark our seasons by firsts: the first robin of spring, the first sunburn of summer, the first interception by our terrible quarterback of the fall.

The Christmas season is no different—or, at least, so mall music supervisors tell us: It begins with the first Christmas carol playing in the vicinity of cash registers.

Which means that it must be Christmastime!

What? Your Thanksgiving turkey is still fattening up somewhere in Iowa? No matter. I heard my first Christmas carol the other day while at a nearby bakery: Ray Charles singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” His message was unmistakable. Ray was giving us diners our yearly cue that it was time to start shopping. The only way the message could’ve been clearer is if Charles sang, “You better buy now/you better buy lots!”

A bakery seems like an odd place to pipe in Christmas carols so early in the season, given its penchant for selling perishable goods. But I’ve learned you ignore Ray Charles at your peril. I promptly bought 17 loaves of sourdough, a couple bags of baguettes and can only hope that they last until Dec. 25.

I love Christmas. Who doesn’t? Still (as I considered whether blueberry muffins might make for suitable stocking stuffers), I couldn’t help but wonder whether it’s actually good  to launch the Christmas musical season before we even throw away our jack-o-lanterns.

Turns out, some believe it’s not even healthy.

According to Linda Blair (a British psychologist, not the actress who played that poor little girl in The Exorcist), hearing Christmas music too early is actually bad for you. In an interview on Britain’s Sky News (not to be confused with The Terminator’s SkyNet), Blair said that early Christmas music can be an unwelcome reminder of all the stresses that come with the season: shopping, parking, dinners, relatives, taffy pulling, etc. “You’re simply spending all of your energy trying not to hear what you’re hearing,” she says.

Some experts say that Christmas music can even be commercially counterproductive. Mood Media’s Danny Turner, which handles the musical needs for lots of big retailers, says that sometimes holiday music—be it too much or too strange or too early—can annoy shoppers. Annoyed shoppers presumably don’t spend as much. Moreover, think about those poor, poor store employees that have to listen to “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” half a bazillion times. “If they’re not happy, nobody’s going to be happy,” Turner says.

But that doesn’t stop merchants from rolling out Christmas music earlier and earlier. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Best Buy began playing Christmas carols on Oct. 22. Given its reported business woes, the big-box electronic store can probably use all the help it can get, but it’s hardly alone. Sears, Kmart and Michael’s are among the retailers who began playing Christmas music Nov. 1. Walmart is scheduled to roll out its own seasonal songs this Monday. Giant Eagle and J.C. Penney plan to wait a while yet, pushing out their own barrage of holiday hummers on Nov. 23 … when they open on Thanksgiving Day.

But that’s a topic for another blog, and I have no time to write it right now. Gotta giftwrap my sourdough.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Julienne Dy 5 months ago
Last year, I started listening to Christmas music right after election season (which was around early November, by the way).  I REALLY needed something bright and cheery to take the edge off all that collective nationwide stress.
wapotter 5 months ago
It is nice to hear certain songs year-round.  It's the whimsical Christmas tunes (Santa, Rudolph, the Twelve Days) that become old.  I have been hearing about "Black Friday Now" for about two weeks--THAT is what gets old for me.  The obvious pitch and dig in my pocketbook.  How did Thanksgiving get such short-shrift?
Andrew Gilbertson 5 months ago
To me, Christmas music is something that evokes a mood, a nostalgia, an excitement- you pull it out too early (like November), and by the time actual Christmas rolls around, those feelings have burnt out. They aren't sustainable; the hype has built too early and the trappings of the season have become tiresome b the time the day of celebration rolls around. (My brother in law, meanwhile, starts listening in August).

Clearly, different people have different preferences. But I'd sure love it if Christmas music stayed out of public spaces until December, or at least after Thanksgiving.
Julienne Dy 6 months ago
I must be one of those word people who can listen to Christmas tunes any time of the year.   Of course, it's only my own playlist,  and I use earphones.   I just get these weird moods when I really went Christmas music out of season. 
bobed 6 months ago
Oh, but there is no such thing as "Christmas music out of season"! Christ's birth and death covers His children at all points of the year! :)
Becky 6 months ago
We all hear regular music over and over all year round, so it always strikes me funny that people want clear date boundaries with Christmas music - if you enjoy music, why wouldn't you enjoy it for more than a few weeks? I enjoy it any time because I just like the music, so I also listen to it "off season" at times. :)
Anonymous 6 months ago

I like Christmas music, but I also like to get it a little closer to the actual date. Let's face it, there's only so many renditions of your favorites you can take before it gets old. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy both the songs that celebrate the season and the more secular varieties (Jingle Bells, Deck the Halls, etc.) but after hearing them over and over again way before we're through October, it gets a little stale.

Not that I don't like Christmas; it's just how the radio plays the same rendition of the same songs over and over again.

Inkfeather1 . 6 months ago
Agreed. I don't even listen to my favorite non-Christmas songs over and over that much. Stores need to tone it down on the Christmas songs until after Thanksgiving I think. Maybe what we really need is some Thanksgiving songs...
bobed 6 months ago
Dont know if I'll ever understand people that don't like Christmas. I love Christmas. My family wants to kill me when I start playing the joyful music in October, but it's worth it.
Andrew Gilbertson 5 months ago
It's not about not liking Christmas- it's about wanting to keep Christmas special. For some of us, the excitement isn't sustainable. Starting the Christmas music early is liking going for a sugar rush or coffee binge two hours before a big corporate meeting- it's too soon, and by the time the actual meeting gets there, you've just got the after-rush crash. (Or like those early-bloomers that come before the last frost of the year, and die out by the time Spring arrives).

Believe me, those of us that want to wait also love Christmas- but saving the things that evoke that spirit until closer to the date is just what helps us to enjoy it more, rather than burning out on it prematurely. It's not that we're trying to be killjoys; we're just trying to keep our own way of enjoying alive. We try not to be October/November-Grinches in the process, but I know we don't always succeed. :-)
charitysplace 6 months ago
I like to hear Christmas music for about two weeks, right around Christmas. Anytime before that and I find it distracting. =P