The Most Wonderful Time of Year (for Music)

For many, the holidays mean time with family and friends, decorations and dinners, shopping and gift-giving, and of course— holiday music. If you’ve ever found yourself sitting in traffic listening to the radio, or strolling through a department store, you’d know that as soon as Thanksgiving is over, the holiday music begins. 

Whether you like it or not, it’s almost impossible to escape the sounds of the season, both old classics and new ones being pumped out by current artists. So why are we so inclined to love (or hate) holiday music? What do constant playing and streaming mean for artists? Who currently holds the highest-grossing holiday song of all time? Follow along as we sleigh into these thoughts and learn a little more about why it’s the most wonderful time of the year— for music.

Rudolf the Red Nos-talgia

According to Psychology Today, music is very effective in creating nostalgia, which is both an emotional and a remembering response. If you remember watching animated movies like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, which both debuted in the 1960s, you’re probably familiar with the catchy tunes that came along with these holiday classics. If you were to hear those songs today, it could potentially trigger emotional responses that may bring you back to moments in your childhood during the holiday season. That’s nostalgia.

Holiday music can also trigger negative responses. Those who may be reminded of particular challenging times or are anxious about the current state of the world can be negatively affected by holiday music. The simple repetition of the same songs over and over can also be particularly annoying especially if it’s not a song you enjoy. 

Whether it’s good or bad, you can’t deny that holiday music has a way of affecting our emotions, even more so during a season that promotes festivities, togetherness, and making memories.

It’s Beginning to Look a lot like Royalties

We can’t talk about holiday music without discussing the business of it all. Many artists create Christmas songs to help boost revenue streams, which has proven to be very profitable for some. For example, Mariah Carey’s hit song “All I want for Christmas is You” is estimated to have earned over $60 million in revenue over the years, with Mariah collecting royalties as both a performer, co-writer, and co-producer on the song.

So why the spike during the holidays? According to, there are a few reasons. Christmas albums are often given as gifts during the holidays which helps immensely with sales. Christmas music also often performs well on streaming services, as people tend to play their favorites to get into the holiday spirit, or throughout retail stores worldwide. Many holiday songs are also tied to movies which helps with generating exposure, as was the case with Mariah Carey’s hit featured in the 2003 blockbuster, “Love Actually”. All in all, a successful holiday song can mean big business for artists, producers, songwriters, and publishers alike.  

Rocking Around the Christmas Charts

We’ve talked about the psychology of holiday music, and delved a little deeper into the business of it all, now let’s talk about the best-of-the-best ranking holiday tunes. According to Newsweek, the best-selling Christmas song of all time is “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby. Released in 1942, the song is not only the best-selling Christmas song of all time but also the best-selling single of all time, with an estimated 50 million copies sold, earning it a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. Coming in second is Bing Crosby again with “White Christmas”, and finally Mariah’s “All I want for Christmas is You” rounding out the top 3. 

Not So Silent Night

If you’re getting into the holiday spirit and wish to indulge in some festive music, we invite you to check out our SAE Institute Virtual Holiday Showcase this Tuesday, December 21st at 8pm EST! Hear from our students as they spread some cheer and show off their talents. Stay tuned to our Instagram for details and be sure to explore the rest of our site for more news, information, and events. Happy listening!