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How Christmas Music Became the Holiday Gift That Keeps on Giving

We have no doubt that you’ve heard Mariah Carey’s Christmas classic blasting out on the radio, TV adverts, in shops and at parties over the last few weeks. You’ve probably even had Michael Buble’s 2011 Christmas album on repeat to get into the spirit this year. Because without the music, it wouldn’t feel the same, would it? Year in, year out, we put on all the same tracks we know and love to get festive. 

But when did music become so integral to Santa’s season, and when should you really start blasting out the holiday hits? Read on for our take.

When is it OK to start listening to Christmas tunes? 

It’s fair to assume that Christmas music is permitted from December 1st. BBC Radio 6’s Chris Hawkins waits until that exact date, and even Mariah Carey, Queen Christmas herself, holds off until after Thanksgiving. But, as you likely know, retail stores, cafes and adverts invade us with jolly jingles much earlier than that. 

According to a BBC interview with the BPI, the music industry starts promoting its Christmas products in early November, and around 30 per cent of music consumption takes place in the year’s fourth quarter. Plus, as brands become eager to sell their products as presents, we’re ushered into the holiday season much earlier than some of us may expect. With every American citizen expected to spend an average of $886 on presents this year, it’s no wonder we see so many elves on the supermarket shelves the day after Halloween. 

Some music fans are even more eager than that, though. A study by Viberate shows that Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You and Wham’s Last Christmas are streamed over 42 thousand times every day during January and October – way before Santa’s elves are even close to finishing their toy-making. By the time 10th November hits, both tracks are accumulating almost one million streams per day on YouTube alone. 

Is it ever too early to get your ugly sweater on, then? For some people, it’s certainly not – and you can hardly blame them. Viberate’s data suggests 1 November is perfectly fine for the rest of us, though. 

Where does Christmas music come from?

Whoever wrote the first Christmas hit was onto a winner, but they probably didn’t cash in like some of our modern-day merrymakers. Mariah Carey has sold over 10 million copies of her iconic tune in the US (“You know what? I love Christmas!”, she told NME), and Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime reportedly rakes him in a whopping $400,000 every year. 

So who started the lucrative trend of writing cracking Christmas songs? Well, Christmas carols and hymns have been around for a long time following the birth of Jesus Christ. Oxford Dictionaries claims that one of the first printed carols was the Boar’s Head Carol, which dates back all the way to 1521. Still, it wouldn't be until the 19th century that groups of carol singers would congregate in the streets and sing for the locals, who would thank them by offering drinks and mince pies. 

Then, finally, along came the 1930s and the early jazz era that sparked Christmas music as we know it and love it. The theme of Christmas songs changed around this time; artists were singing more about Santa Claus, snowmen, Christmas Trees, and stockings instead of focusing on its religious connotations (could Coca-Cola’s Santa be responsible for that?)

The beloved Christmas cracker, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, was copyrighted in 1934 by Fred Coots and Harvey Gillespie and was first recorded by Harry Reser. Take a nostalgic listen below. 

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town is the most played holiday song over the last 50 years, according to ASCAP in 2016. But that should come as no surprise, given that the Jackson 5, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Buble, Frank Sinatra and Mariah Carey, among plenty others, have all imprinted the song in our memories. What would Santa’s special day be without it? 

The snowball fight for the Christmas number one 

Ever since Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and its many renditions started warmly welcoming us into the season, artists from all genres have wanted a slice of the Christmas pudding. Run DMC, The Kinks, The Darkness and many more unexpected acts have thrown their Santa hats into the ring, whether it's with original music or covers. But which track has made its way to the front of the sleigh and become the definitive Christmas song?

Yahoo! reports that Bing Crosby, Mariah Carey, Band Aid and Justin Bieber (!) are the top five selling artists in the Christmas genre. Mariah’s iconic song sits at third place behind Bing Crosby’s Silent Night and his wonderful White Christmas. Queen Mariah’s festive hit has sold over 16 million copies worldwide and is even the 12th-best selling single of all time

Crosby’s White Christmas, the best-selling Christmas song ever, has around 50 million sales and spent 11 weeks at the top of the Billboard chart. Composer Irving Berlin wrote the original song for the film Holiday Inn in 1942, winning an Oscar for Best Original Song. Crosby’s spellbinding cover is one of many, and if you add the figures from all covers of White Christmas, sales supposedly surpass 100 million. 

But, really, the ‘best Christmas song ever’ will always be subjective. Can’t stop listening to Bieber’s Mistletoe? Gone baubles for Bon Jovi’s Back Door Santa? No problem. Whatever gets you in the spirit is fine with us. Unless you’re singing Elmo and Patsy’s Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer. That’s not very Christmassy. Or is it? 

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