Why hearing Christmas music in November can be irritating

For shoppers in stores, Christmas comes early. Known as “Christmas creep,” this marketing tactic introduces holiday-themed merchandise and sounds long before December 25th. An analysis of the top 100 retailers in the U.S. found that Best Buy is even playing holiday music in October.

Is this early holiday cheer a cause for celebration? It is happening whether you like it or not. On November 1st, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” began its ascent up to top 100 charts. But for some of us, the arrival of festive hymns makes us feel like a grumpy Grinch. A 2011 Consumer Reports survey found that almost one in four of us “dread” hearing holiday music. A psychologist explains why:

Why early Christmas music can be stressful

These negative emotions are normal, Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist in the United Kingdom, told Sky News, because music is not just background noise, it is sound that is made to make you feel. “Christmas music is likely to irritate people if it’s played too loudly and too early,” she said.

Blair said the holiday music can be stressful because it reminds us of the obligations that are tied to the holiday. “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,” she said.

Music can manipulate us to spend more money until it annoys us enough to make us leave. Thirty-six percent of respondents in a 2014 poll said that listening to holiday music in a store is enough to make them leave.

Retail employers should be cognizant of the effect of endless holiday songs on their clients and employees. When shoppers enter a store, they may be hoping for respite and relief from the onslaught of “Jingle Bell Rock.”