Why you’re still hearing Christmas music in stores and restaurants after Christmas

O holy night—that goes on forever.
O holy night—that goes on forever.
Image: Reuters/Hannibal Hanschke
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Christmas may be over, but its soundtrack—those unmistakable, oft-maddening jingles about reindeer and sleighs and snow-capped romances—linger on.

Each year, retail stores and restaurants around the world flood their floors with Christmas music in the weeks leading up to Dec. 25. It’s an effective way to make people spend more, which is also why many brands have been rolling out holiday-themed marketing earlier and earlier (see: Quartz’s Christmas creep calculator). According to audio consulting company Soundtrack Your Brand, the music trend usually reaches its peak on Christmas Eve, when one out of every four songs played in restaurants and stores is Christmas-related.

Yet even after Christmas itself, brands continue to blast holiday music for days—at least.

Why? For one, holiday music isn’t just tied to the holidays: Many songs evoke broader ideas of joy and togetherness, and brands seize on the opportunity to keep customers feeling upbeat.

“The basic tenets, be they seasonal sentimentality, the warmth of gathering friends and family, or just coming home, remain up front and celebrated,” says Danny Turner, vice president of programming at international brand marketing company Mood Media. “One of the other directions that we’ve seen over the past few seasons has been the inclination to become more seasonal in approach and broader in message.”

A second reason is that—in a pattern tied to Christmas creep—brands don’t like to be the first to quit a behavior that clearly works. Soundtrack Your Brand, which advises businesses on their music strategy, specifically tells its clients:

There’s no rush to delete Christmas music from your playlists. Your competitors will keep playing their Christmas playlists for a while, and there’s no reason for you not to do the same. Keep playing Christmas music after Christmas and keep the busy sales days feeling festive.

Yet as Christmas music becomes more ubiquitous, customers are growing tired of it, which means stores and restaurants may need to rethink their approach in the future.

Notes Turner, “Creating a randomized playlist of tired musical holiday chestnuts and hitting shuffle is not a strategy—it’s a seasonal surrender.”