Sleighing the Charts: The Enduring Success of Christmas Hits - The JUNO Awards

December brings with it a sense of joy, warmth, and of course, the familiar melodies of Christmas music. But Christmas music is more than just a soundtrack for holiday festivities, it’s a lucrative industry that generates an estimated $177 million annually in the United States alone. From classic carols to contemporary hits, the genre has proven to be a timeless and profitable niche for artists.

Mariah Carey is one musician whose association with Christmas has become so ubiquitous it has grown into a cultural phenomenon. Each year on November 1, Carey announces the end of what fans refer to as her “hibernation”, the time of year when her 1994 hit single, “All I Want for Christmas is You,” begins to dominate airwaves, holiday playlists, and shopping centres worldwide.

The first-ever holiday song to be certified diamond, “All I Want for Christmas is You” re-enters the charts year after year, outperforming even non-holiday music as the No.1 track on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for the past four years. With over 16 million copies sold worldwide, “All I Want for Christmas is You”, is one of the most commercially successful Christmas songs of all time, generating a suspected $10 million in earnings each holiday season.

The renewed popularity of our beloved Christmas songs each December can be largely attributed to the rise of music streaming platforms and playlist placement. In 2022, 28 years after its release, “All I Want for Christmas is You” surpassed the single-day record for the most Spotify streams, securing its place as the all-time most streamed song in a single day, with an impressive 21.2 million global streams.

Streaming services have allowed for a more passive approach to music consumption where audiences can satisfy all their Christmas music cravings with a single playlist. While most music services offer a myriad of curated playlists, many feature the same familiar Christmas classics audiences know and love. The more listeners enjoy the music featured, the more likely streaming algorithms are to keep offering them.

Canadian crooner, Michael Bublé is another artist whose name can be found each Christmas atop charts and holiday playlists. Referred to as the King of Contemporary Christmas, Bublé’s JUNO-winning album, Christmas is his biggest-selling album to date. Since its release in 2011, Christmas has moved over 6 million equivalent album units and its songs have accumulated 1.9 billion streams in the United States, according to MRC Data.

Yet, for artists keen on launching their own Christmas songs and tapping into the lucrative Christmas music market, the task is more challenging than it may seem. Despite the vast selection of music offerings available to consumers, data indicates that when it comes to holiday music, listeners consistently gravitate towards a limited selection of classic hits, most of which were released decades ago.

Despite Michael Bublé’s album being a recent addition to the collection of popular Christmas tunes, a significant portion of its 16 tracks consist of reimagined versions of traditional Christmas classics. A standout example is the well-received song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Originally recorded by Judy Garland in 1944, the track has seen eight iterations by various artists featured on Billboard’s Holiday 100 chart from 2011 to 2019.

While marketing and streaming service algorithms do play a large part in the success of Christmas songs, much of it can simply be attributed to the positive memories and warm feelings these carols evoke. Christmas music provides a sense of nostalgia that spans generations, and hearing these familiar songs, whether they are originals or covers, reminds us of joy-filled holidays throughout the years.