Some people love Christmas music, while others find it annoying at best and even bad for their mental health at worst.
According to research completed by Statista in 2018, 32% of American adults think Christmas music is great, 21% say it’s good and 31% say it is OK.
In the minority we have 8% who say it is terrible and 7% who say it is bad.
Research compiled by Consumer Reports in 2011 also reinforces this, reporting that 23% of Americans “dread” holiday music.
It is clear from multiple bodies of research, that the majority of people like Christmas music or at least, have no overly negative feelings towards it, however there is a 20% minority that dislike Christmas music, find it annoying and even “dread” it.
This minority often gets labelled as “The Grinch”, depicted as sitting in the corner mumbling “bah-humbug”.
On a surface level, Christmas music with it’s overly jolly nature, repetitive melodies and cliché lyrics can be annoying however it can go beyond the annoying and deeply affect people, inducing stress and anxiety as revealed by clinical psychologists.
The strong influence of Christmas music on our emotions fascinates me, so I had to look deeper and do my own research into why this musical genre has such power over us, myself included.
Why Do I Dread Christmas Music?
I found it really interesting that the Consumer Reports survey from 2011 which reported that 23% of Americans “dread” Christmas music, used the term “dread”.
There are many reasons why some people find Christmas music annoying including:
1. Over Exposure Effect
We can simply hear a piece of music too often.
Each year the same Christmas classics are rolled out and as a result, most of us will have heard the same piece of Christmas music hundreds of times.
According to Dr Williamson, endless loops of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or any tinsel-y tune can have a psychological impact known as the ‘mere exposure effect’.
In a nutshell, we hear a piece of music and like it, then we hear it again and like it until we hit a peak. Then we crash down. At this point we have heard it too much.
2. Retail Saturation
If you do your Christmas shopping in person, moving from shop to shop is like skipping through a Christmas music playlist.
I recall one year, hearing “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” by Roy Wood, in every single store.
Whatever shopping circuit I was in, I just happened to catch that song in every store. I have to be honest, it was fun in the beginning and a bit of a novelty but after the fifth time, I got annoyed.
Normally, I like this tune but since that day, I am no longer a fan. As well as overexposure, it brought my attention to the marketing tactics of the season and the pressure sales.
Today, many people associate Christmas music with retail. It is the season of sales and Christmas music becomes the soundtrack to aggressive advertising campaigns.
3. Cliché Lyrics
Some people love the cliché lyrics but they have an annoying cringe factor for many more.
Although often mild while trying to create a calming atmosphere, these lyrics of peacefulness, happiness and love can be very annoying for some people while they stand in a long cold queue or think about the traditional family arguments on Christmas day.
Personally, I love the cliche lyrics and “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” is a wonderful image.
However, for many, this calm and idyllic Christmas is a fantasy and the cheesy lyrics just rub salt into their Christmas aspirations.
4. Superficial Happiness
This constant upbeat, happy-go-lucky music is fun but does drive some people crazy.
5. “Tinselly” Instruments
Christmas music will often use certain instruments such as bells which have a high-frequency “tinsel” sound that grates on some peoples nerves.
Personally, I love the bells but the really high-frequency percussion and sounds can cause your ears to fatigue and cause irritation.
For many, it is the sounds in the Christmas music that can cause it to be annoying.
Is Christmas Music Good For Your Mental Health?
Some people love Christmas music while others just find it annoying, but what about those Americans that reported that they “dread” Christmas music?
Articles published by retail giants will tell you that Christmas music is good for your mental health but what does the psychological research say?
I find this area of music fascinating, so I got myself a hot cup of tea and settled in to read dozens of academic articles by musical psychological researchers about the effects of Christmas music on our mental health, but I was shocked to find very few published articles available.
There are dozens and dozens of articles on the effects of retail music, music in advertising and as a result Christmas music, but all this research is from a retail perspective.
For example, this study which shows when retailers get the perfect balance between scent and sound in a retail setting this will encourage shoppers to stay longer and spend more.
The most prominent voice on the effects of Christmas music on mental health is clinical psychologist, Linda Blair.
In 2017 Linda Blair told Sky News:
Christmas music is likely to irritate people if it’s played too loudly and too early,” Blair said. “It might make us feel that we’re trapped. It’s a reminder that we have to buy presents, cater for people, organize celebrations. Some people will react to that by making impulse purchases, which the retailer likes. Others might just walk out of the shop. It’s a risk.Sky News
Again, there is a retailer angle, however the comments about Christmas music inducing a feeling of being trapped resonated with me personally.
December is a very busy month; work stress, presents, booking flights to see family, having to attend social anxiety inducing events and other factors all come into play and for me personally, hearing the first piece of Christmas music can often be a stress trigger.
Scott Dehorty, a licensed certified social worker and the executive director at Maryland House Detox, a treatment centre in Linthicum Heights, Maryland told Healthine
The songs actually trigger a countdown clock in our minds and can cause stress and anxiety about the number of items we need to complete before December 25th. Instead of feeling warm feelings of family and giving, it can trigger thoughts of how many people we need to shop for, party planning, travelling, seeing relatives we may not want to see, and all sort of negative feelings.Healthline
It is such a shame that Christmas is turning into one big to-do list for so many, and as a result, Christmas music is not the jolly soundtrack of festivities but the soundtrack to crowds, long queues, gaining weight, overspending and travelling.
Music can be the root of strong emotions and memories and in theory, Christmas music should cause a happy and festive feeling, but for so many, Christmas music is the first stress trigger of the season.
I think it is time we acknowledge this in society and stop calling the Christmas music haters “Grinch’s”. Perhaps you know someone who just finds Christmas music annoying, or perhaps it creates a deep anxiety in them that they cannot show for fear of being the “kill joy”.
The bottom line is that you don’t have to enjoy Christmas music. If you feel obliged to love Christmas music – you don’t.
“Tis the season to be”……whatever you feel like.
From November, the retail giants of the world start drip feeding Christmas to us in small marketing bursts until December 1st, when they open the flood gates completely.
Christmas music is fundamental to the holiday season. Some of us love it and some of us hate it, however, whichever category you fall into, come December it is hard to avoid.
For many Christmas music can have some annoying tropes but for others it induces an unhealthy feeling of dread as it acts as a stress trigger telling us to begin the seasons “to-do” list.
Each year, Christmas music stirs emotions in me. Sometimes good and sometimes bad. Either way, the emotion is often strong and powerful.
It is easy to understand why Christmas music makes us happy, but what about the Christmas music that creates negative emotions in us?
I wish more academic research was completed in the field of Christmas music and our relationships with it. It is such a common soundtrack for so many, with deep nostalgic roots, we could learn a lot about ourselves and our feelings towards this holiday season.