This is not a new phenomenon. My grandmother (b. 1910) worked in stores all her life and I remember her bemoaning the tape-on-loop of Christmas songs which was played from November onwards - this memory is from the 1970s and maybe started even earlier in her career.
It started me thinking about the history of Christmas music as annoyance. In Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Scrooge, of course, hates carols (adding another layer of meaning to the title). I find myself sympathising with him as one young caroller
stooped down at Scrooge's keyhole to regale him with a Christmas carol: but at the first sound of
'God bless you merry gentleman! May nothing you dismay!'
Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.
The boy does it to punish Scrooge as everyone knows he hates all Christmas sentimentality and yes, it is very annoying to have a carol shouted at you through the door. When we lived in London we had one bunch who came round in about October and only knew one verse - and collecting for themselves, we guessed. They were not successful.
The tradition of annoyance is much older though and can be traced to the old British and Irish tradition of mummers. The tradition still going strong in many parts of the country. Near where I live, in the villages south of Oxford, there are still bands of these mummers going about at Christmas as a kind of rough carol singers and play performers, often using the pubs as their venues (drinking and Christmas songs have a long history too!). The key is they are disguised by their costumes so the behaviour has a carnival element of topsy-turvy about it. They are worlds away from shop muzak and use annoyance for the right reasons: the shaking up of the social order, reminder of older practices, the release of a (E P Thompson) Customs in Common style under-class energy.
Thinking back to some of the best loved carols, there is a hint of this in the words, isn't there? 'So bring us some figgy pudding…we won't go until we've got some etc.' There a menace to the words if sung vigorously enough!
In modern England, this is perhaps more a memory than a reality (I imagine the costumes cover a fair amount of bankers and doctors) but mummers I've seen are happily untidy and amateur - not sickly slick like many other Christmas traditions.
Perhaps you'd like to tell me your favourite and least favourite example of Christmas music in the comment section below?
Happy New Year!