In Defense of Christmas Music in October
Idina Menzel is confused that her Christmas album is out before before Halloween—but the early release is actually a good thing for her, and for the public.
Ah, Christmas music! The warm tunes that remind so many of us of huddling around a fire surrounded by family. The sounds that remind of pine scents, mistletoe, and holiday cheer. There's so much good feeling attached to Christmas music that it's nice to dip into the holiday playlists early and get excited about what's to come.
But not everyone feels that way, as I learned last week.
@kevinpokeeffe NO. IT. IS. NOT. YOU WILL WAIT UNTIL THANKSGIVING. DO NOT PASS GO. DO NOT COLLECT 200 LBS OF MISTLETOE.— Nick Andersen (@nicktheandersen) October 7, 2014
My friend Nick—an even-keeled man by almost any measure who loves his share of carols—passionately believes Christmas music should start playing at the end of November and no earlier. You see reactions like his pretty commonly on social media. It's not just about being forced to hear holiday tunes; a lot of people seem offended by the idea of anyone listening to them until the designated season.
"Christmas is a short season for a reason," Nick tweeted. "It makes it intense and special."
He has at least one prominent ally in his fight: Idina Menzel, whose own album of Christmas music dropped on Tuesday. In an interview with Time's Nolan Feeney, Menzel expressed her confusion about why her album was coming out in October when she herself thinks Christmas music belongs after Thanksgiving only:
"I have very strong feelings. The album comes out October 14. I think that’s ridiculous! I don’t understand. I’ve been asking the label to tell me why. Apparently that’s when people start buying stuff for Christmas. Okay, that’s cool, but I’m barely into Halloween with my son! I completely understand if people aren’t ready for it until Thanksgiving. That’s when Christmas comes alive for me."
The most important part of that quote comes in the last two words: "for me." Christmas music is designed to fit in one specific season for Menzel. Others may—and in my case, do—feel differently. I've been listening to Menzel's album on Spotify all day, and I've been having a blast. I don't care that it came out on October 14. I only care that it's great, and it's giving me fuzzy feelings about the holiday season. But this is an important distinction: I've been listening to it in my earbuds only. I would never blast Christmas music at a party in October, because I know people feel passionately about it. My October holiday cheer is mine.
There's a far more pragmatic reason for the early Christmas music, though: sales strategy. Flash back to 2007, when Josh Groban's Noël was released. The album itself came out October 7. Seven weeks later—at the end of November, specifically—it hit number one on the Billboard 200. It topped the charts for three more weeks, increasing its sales each week. Its 3.7 million copies sold made it the top-selling album of 2007. Today, it is the second-best-performing holiday album ever.
Other albums have been similarly successful with early releases, like Susan Boyle's The Gift (beginning of November) and Kelly Clarkson's Wrapped in Red (end of October). Putting the music out early gives consumers the chance to decide when they want their Christmas album experiences to begin. Do they want to start listening early? Boom: It's available now. Do they want to wait and buy it on Black Friday, perhaps? Always an option. It's a win-win. So while the October release may baffle Menzel, there's sound marketing logic behind it.
But for the early Christmas averse, the issue is less about the music they choose to hear and more about the music they have to hear. Right now, you run very little risk of hearing Christmas tunes when walking into a CVS to pick up candy corn. Sure, you'll hear a few stores start the wintry soundtrack come November, but that's understandable. After all, Thanksgiving has less of a commercial aspect. There's food to buy and pumpkin products to be ingested, but it's not merchandise-driven in the way Halloween and Christmas are. Getting people thinking about Christmas as early as possible is to stores' benefit—but not at the expense of Halloween merchandise. So October is a safe haven for those annoyed by unseasonal Christmas tunes. In early November, best to just pack earbuds.
As for those who absolutely object to the consumption of Christmas music before Thanksgiving, the answer is simple: Chill. Explaining why someone might want to listen to a certain song—or even how they'd listen to that music—is not science. A month ago, I had the crazed desire to listen to Avril Lavigne's Under My Skin. Do I want to listen to the punk-pop princess all the time? Absolutely not! But in the moment, I wanted to be transported back to the time (and, more specifically, to the feelings I had at the time) when that record was released. The same goes for Christmas music: It may not yet be the designated season, but what's wrong with getting excited for hot chocolate and warm holiday tidings?
Thanksgiving and, to a lesser extent, Halloween deserve their due. But playing Christmas music in October and celebrating those holidays are not mutually exclusive. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go back to listening to Idina Menzel's gorgeous version of "Do You Hear What I Hear," as I'll be doing from now until the end of December.