Picture this: You’re strolling through the mall, hot chocolate in hand. Out of the corner of your eye, you see a lovely red and green display at the front of your favorite department store. You walk in. The smell of peppermint tickles your nose and you hear Mariah Carey over the speakers hitting her famous high notes. “All I want for Christmas is... youuuuuuu.” What’s your next move? If you’re a retailer's ideal customer, you’ll spend the money you stashed away for the holidays with them. But for some people, just hearing Christmas music can affect your mental health in a surprising way, when played in retail stores.
Research suggests that the perfect balance of Christmas songs and scents can make customers feel good about their environment and in turn increase their spending. But psychologist Linda Blair told Sky News that nonstop Christmas tunes can be mentally exhausting.
"People working in the shops at Christmas have to [tune out] Christmas music, because if they don't, it really does stop you from being able to focus on anything else," said Blair. "You're simply spending all of your energy trying not to hear what you're hearing."
Part of the reason Christmas music can be draining is because of the Christmas creep, which is the phenomenon where Christmas merchandise appears in stores earlier and earlier each year.
Christmas is only one day out of the year, but it seems like the entire last quarter has been usurped by the winter holiday. Back in my day, stores didn’t start pushing their Christmas marketing until Black Friday (formerly the day after Thanksgiving). Now, however, Christmas starts whenever the heck retailers want it to start. There have been reports of stores breaking out their Christmas displays shortly after Halloween. (Poor Thanksgiving. It deserves its time to shine too.)
It only makes sense that Christmas music can have draining effects. Songs like “Jingle Bells” and “Frosty the Snowman” are upbeat classics heard every year. They make us feel something: Maybe they bring back memories of caroling door-to-door. Maybe lyrics about an animated snowman reminds you of the Christmas your parents refused to buy you that Robo-puppy. “Let’s wait and see what Santa brings you,” they said. Good or bad, whatever these songs make you feel, they make you feel something. And sometimes you don't want to feel. Sometimes you just want to grab a box of tampons and a gallon of ice cream in peace.
There's another explanation for why Christmas can be unbearable. Like I mentioned, we hear these songs year after year. Studies show that while a listener may enjoy a song the first time (or even the first couple times), the enjoyment that comes from listening to the same song quickly wains. So if you are already lukewarm towards Christmas tunes, chances are you’ll end up despising them too.
Christmas music isn't the only music genre to have a capitalistic effect on its listeners. Customers are likely to buy more flowers when romantic music is playing in the background. Have a low wine budget? Don't go into a store that's playing Vivaldi. Customers tend to buy more expensive wine in stores playing the Italian composer. Slow-tempo music encourages restaurant-goers to linger and subsequently order more food and drinks. (I know I'm guilty of this.) Realtors will even spray the smell of home baked cookies before an open house so potential buyers can see themselves living there.
As you can tell, retailers are almost always trying to sell their products in stealthy ways. This holiday season, be mindful of the music playing in stores. If Christmas music lifts your spirits, you’re more likely to enjoy your shopping experience, but if Christmas music annoys you, you might want to find a store that isn’t playing music that can negatively impact your mental health.