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The Invasion of the Christmas Carols

Many of us mark our seasons by firsts: the first robin of spring, the first sunburn of summer, the first interception by our terrible quarterback of the fall.

The Christmas season is no different—or, at least, so mall music supervisors tell us: It begins with the first Christmas carol playing in the vicinity of cash registers.

Which means that it must be Christmastime!

What? Your Thanksgiving turkey is still fattening up somewhere in Iowa? No matter. I heard my first Christmas carol the other day while at a nearby bakery: Ray Charles singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” His message was unmistakable. Ray was giving us diners our yearly cue that it was time to start shopping. The only way the message could’ve been clearer is if Charles sang, “You better buy now/you better buy lots!”

A bakery seems like an odd place to pipe in Christmas carols so early in the season, given its penchant for selling perishable goods. But I’ve learned you ignore Ray Charles at your peril. I promptly bought 17 loaves of sourdough, a couple bags of baguettes and can only hope that they last until Dec. 25.

I love Christmas. Who doesn’t? Still (as I considered whether blueberry muffins might make for suitable stocking stuffers), I couldn’t help but wonder whether it’s actually good  to launch the Christmas musical season before we even throw away our jack-o-lanterns.

Turns out, some believe it’s not even healthy.

According to Linda Blair (a British psychologist, not the actress who played that poor little girl in The Exorcist), hearing Christmas music too early is actually bad for you. In an interview on Britain’s Sky News (not to be confused with The Terminator’s SkyNet), Blair said that early Christmas music can be an unwelcome reminder of all the stresses that come with the season: shopping, parking, dinners, relatives, taffy pulling, etc. “You’re simply spending all of your energy trying not to hear what you’re hearing,” she says.

Some experts say that Christmas music can even be commercially counterproductive. Mood Media’s Danny Turner, which handles the musical needs for lots of big retailers, says that sometimes holiday music—be it too much or too strange or too early—can annoy shoppers. Annoyed shoppers presumably don’t spend as much. Moreover, think about those poor, poor store employees that have to listen to “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” half a bazillion times. “If they’re not happy, nobody’s going to be happy,” Turner says.

But that doesn’t stop merchants from rolling out Christmas music earlier and earlier. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Best Buy began playing Christmas carols on Oct. 22. Given its reported business woes, the big-box electronic store can probably use all the help it can get, but it’s hardly alone. Sears, Kmart and Michael’s are among the retailers who began playing Christmas music Nov. 1. Walmart is scheduled to roll out its own seasonal songs this Monday. Giant Eagle and J.C. Penney plan to wait a while yet, pushing out their own barrage of holiday hummers on Nov. 23 … when they open on Thanksgiving Day.

But that’s a topic for another blog, and I have no time to write it right now. Gotta giftwrap my sourdough.