Back when I was in high school and university, I earned record-buying money by working in a grocery store. From about mid-November on, the manager stuck an 8-track in the store PA and subjected employees to the same 12 classic Christmas songs over and over and OVER again.
I still remember the running order. “Feliz Navidad” from Jose Felciano. “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives. Dean Martin doing “White Christmas.” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee. Gene Autry’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” And so on, all on a constant loop FOR SIX GODDAM WEEKS!
Back then, those were the only Christmas songs that ever got played because compared to today, there just weren’t that many Christmas songs. We made due with at best a couple dozen. And we played the shit out of them.
But things began to change in the 1980s. Each year brought an exponential increase in new Christmas recordings. By the dawn of the 21st century, we were drowning in them. Why? Three reasons.
- Artists woke up to the fact that Christmas songs could be huge moneymakers year after year. Have a new hit holiday song (Marian Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You”) and millions of dollars would pour in every year for decades.
- Certain radio stations began flipping to a 24/7 all-Christmas format as early as the end of September usually with tremendous ratings success. That created a constant demand for new holiday-related material.
- Streaming. Starting a few years back, people began creating holiday playlists, leading to a whole new level of music consumption. This year, 13 songs have accounted for more than one billion streams with Mariah Carey’s song being streamed more than 210 million times.
The result is that there’s been a swing away from the classics and a rise in listening to songs from the 1980s forward. This graph from Statista shows how the eras of Christmas music have shifted to more recent decades.