So when does the Christmas season really start?

In his final column for the year, Hugh Miller digs out the mulled wine and takes a look at what our music streaming patterns tell us about the Christmas season.

People love to hate the early arrival of the festive season – decorations in shops, ads on TV, and Christmas music being played loudly in public spaces. But it does suggest that at least some people are ready to put up the Christmas lights and start stocking up on mince pies. I’ve personally become more relaxed over time – Christmas music in November does not bother me as much it once did.

It’s not easy to quantify when the Christmas season ‘starts’, but we can get some insights by looking at our music listening habits. If people are choosing to listen to Christmas music, then perhaps they’re into the festivities.

Luckily, there is data to look at. Spotify has provided some of its listening data on Kaggle. From that, we can extract the top 200 songs (and listen numbers) every day in Australia, for people using the streaming service, for five years to 31 December 2021. This is enough to get a feel for how Christmas music is played over the calendar year.

Step one is to identify which songs are Christmas songs.

My analysis is a little crude, but I’ve looked at lists of:

  • Songs that are much more likely to be played in December (at least 6 times more, compared to neighbouring months)
  • Songs that only appear in December top-200 lists
  •  

From this, including some manual removals, I’ve produced a list of 60 songs that are clearly Christmas-themed. While the list isn’t comprehensive, it’s enough to give a pretty good picture for how listening evolves over the silly season.

A list of the top 10 songs on the list is given below. No prizes for guessing Mariah tops the list.

Table 1- Top 10 Christmas songs in Australia, 2017-2021

Title

Artist

# streams over 5 years

All I Want for Christmas Is You

Mariah Carey

23,048,380

Last Christmas

Wham!

17,141,987

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas

Michael Bublé

16,253,488

Santa Tell Me

Ariana Grande

13,098,296

Do They Know It’s Christmas? – 1984 Version

Band Aid

9,783,753

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! (with The B. Swanson Quartet)

Frank Sinatra

8,942,405

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Andy Williams

8,326,403

Holly Jolly Christmas

Michael Bublé

8,266,378

Mistletoe

Justin Bieber

8,221,976

Sleigh Ride

The Ronettes

7,854,564

 

Once the list is identified, we can figure out how much they’re played each day over the calendar year. The main results are shown in the chart below, with the average across five years shown in black.

Figure 1 – Proportion of songs played that are Christmas themed by date

So when does the festive season start?

It still looks like the 1st of December is an important milestone, with a sharp increase in listening and momentum building thereafter across December. I find several things interesting about the figure:

  • The big two days are (unsurprisingly) Christmas Eve and Christmas day – fully 50% of streams are Christmas-themed on those days, a higher number than I had guessed.
  • There’s definitely a ‘weekend’ effect, with increased Christmas music. For instance, in 2021, you can see the elevated rates in December on the 4-5th, 11-12th and 18-19th. This suggests that perhaps Christmas music is more for social gatherings than individual listeners.
  • It’s hard to answer ‘is Christmas getting earlier?’ with only five years of data, but it is mildly interesting to note that the 2017 year sits below average and 2021 above. But perhaps 2021 reflected a hankering for Christmas after a long couple of years with the pandemic.
  • Christmas music disappears incredibly quickly. In fact, there was only one song in the dataset that survived into January across the whole five years, which is also one of the few Australian songs – Sia’s Snowman.

All the normal sorts of caveats apply. Spotify’s top 200 lists are obviously one slice of reality, rather than anything definitive. Spotify might be recommending Christmas music from a certain date, which would obviously heavily influence the patterns.  But as a way of encapsulating the seasonal build-up, it gives a fair picture.

Whatever your plans for December and January, I hope you’re able to make some time for relaxation, friends and family. Thanks for reading!

 

 

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Comments

Image of Chris Dolman
Chris Dolman says

19 December 2022

I'm sad to report that in my household, Mariah seems to be played from around late August, when 'Christmas excitement' begins... I think (hope, for others' sake!?) that we may be an outlier


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