When is it acceptable to start playing Christmas songs?

It seems to get earlier every year: the leaves are still on the trees, but the strains of Christmas songs are drifting out of shops, and radio and personal playlists are being made.

The big retailers tend to release their Christmas adverts soon after 5 November, and the film industry is also promoting its seasonal movies.

This year's offering Last Christmas, starring Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, probably means we're set for another Wham-packed Yuletide period.

The festive hits really got going in the 1970s – from Slade to Wizzard, The Jackson 5 to Elton John, both John Lennon and Paul McCartney had solo hits, and even The Muppets got in on the act, aided by John Denver.

But is there a date in the calendar we can circle, and feel safe in the knowledge that it's fine to hit play and indulge in over four decades of festive music?

Is it ever too early for Slade?

'I look forward to the first time I play Fairytale of New York every year’

"On my 6 Music show, I like to wait until 1 December before wheeling out the Christmas songs," BBC Radio 6 Music presenter Chris Hawkins said about his policy for unleashing the festive soundtrack.

Chris added it feels like it’s become a ’thing’ for shops to start playing Christmas songs earlier and earlier, knowing it will get people talking, which, he says, is “enough to turn you into the Grinch."

He explains 6 Music like to play the classics as well as alternative Christmas songs, making for great seasonal playlists: "I look forward to the first time I play Fairytale of New York every year.

"Whenever I play that, listeners always get in touch saying it feels like Christmas has started."

Certainly for actor Hugh Grant early November seems too soon.


Tapping into the Christmas market

November is a busy time of year for the record and film industry: "The fourth quarter is the most important time of the sales calendar for the music industry," explained Gennaro Castaldo of record labels body, BPI.

"Around 30% of music consumption takes place during this period."

This doesn't include the planning or the production, which can begin in the summer, or even earlier, for both major studio album releases or special complications releases.

Mr Castaldo added the run up to Christmas remains a key time of the music year, when the single greatest level of consumption takes place – in large part driven by gifting.

"It feels like the festive season now officially starts six weeks out around mid-November, if not even sooner", Mr Castaldo said.

Last Christmas starring Emilia Clarke is one of the 2019 festive releases

Searching for Mariah Carey – in early November?

Search engines see increases in queries for Christmas songs around the late autumn, hitting a peak in the third week of December.

In the first week of November this year, Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You was streamed 80,659 times in the UK, putting her at number 88 in the Spotify 200 Charts. So does it all start after Halloween?

"Most Christmas songs are no longer released as such - they are permanently available the year round through our streaming services," Mr Castaldo explained.

However, for all that 'always available' element of modern technology, there still needs to be some sort of catalyst for us to hit peak Christmas: "It helps to release when people are properly in the festive mood," Mr Castaldo said.

"When the office parties are in full swing or people are out shopping for gifts, and Christmas songs on radio, our playlists and in the general background really hit the spot. Probably, from early December onwards," concludes Mr Castaldo.

'Emotional impact'

Rosie Axon, the Director and Founder of Chiltern Music Therapy, explained that a meaningful piece of music, such as a Christmas song, will always have an impact on mood.

"If you go into a shop say, in early November, and you’re already in a good mood and you have a favourite Christmas song and you hear that song, your mood is likely to be improved almost immediately and that will have a positive impact for you," she said.

It's not all sweetness and light, though: "If you’re already in a bad mood and have a particular Christmas song that really irritates you, it will probably have a negative impact on your mood in that moment.”

Miss Axon also believes there’s definitely the potential to spoil the enjoyment of Christmas if you listen to too many songs too soon before Christmas.

But regardless of the number of times people are exposed to Christmas songs, Miss Axon said that she has clients in music therapy that love Christmas and are just waiting to listen to some festive tracks: "Come September they’re saying 'Please can we do a Christmas song on our music therapy session?'.

"So for some people Christmas can never start too early, and that’s a really wonderful thing to be able to do."

Certain songs can spark happy memories of previous year's celebrations

Too much of a good thing

For others, though, there is little choice. If you work in retail on a shop floor, it's likely your ears will be subjected to a Christmas-themed onslaught for almost two months.

It might seem extreme, but Rosie Axon says there is the potential for a constant repetition of certain songs to be enough to put us off the whole idea of Christmas:

"Even if they had certain tracks that they love, hearing them day in day out – that positive association with that song and the impact that they would have had emotionally, would decrease definitely by the time Christmas comes around."

But, most of the time, Christmas songs spark an emotional connection with happy memories of previous Christmas periods:

"A piece of music is meaningful in different ways for people and Christmas songs are almost more so," Miss Axon said.

"It's an annual association, so every year you’ll hear them and with each year you’ll have different memories that you begin to associate with them, so Christmas songs are pretty unique."

Can there ever be too much cheesy Paul McCartney in your life?

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