December 6, 2023

What Spotify Can Teach Your Radio Station about Christmas Music

At Integr8 Research, we routinely examine streaming data alongside our own callout for local clients and national subscribers for a full picture what music is most relevant right now. Generally, relevant music means contemporary music.

However, there’s a special time of year when the most relevant hits are decades—even centuries—old music.

While analyzing the Top 200 weekly streams in the U.S. on Spotify’s charts, we noticed that at the height of the holiday season in 2022:

  • 80 of the Top 200 songs on Spotify were Christmas songs.
  • Nine of the Top 10 songs on Spotify were holiday hits.
  • 50% of all streams among the Top 200 songs were Christmas songs.

Considering that Millennials and Gen Zers remain overrepresented among Spotify users, we can learn a lot about how Christmas music is changing by examining their Spotify usage.

Here are five insights your station should know about Christmas music from Spotify’s user data.


A decade ago, a popular meme highlighted how the 20 most-played Christmas songs on the radio were primarily a snapshot of the songs Baby Boomers heard on the radio when they were grade-schoolers:

The most played songs on radio are from the timeframe when Boomers were kids

Music nerds pontificated that those Boomer childhood chestnuts would eventually fade away as younger generations sought to recreate their own childhood Christmas soundtracks. The thinking went that, by the 2020s, songs from the 1990s and 2000s would dominate holiday favorites as younger generations sought to recreate their own childhoods, not their parents’ childhoods.

So now that the future is here, what are those 90s babies playing on Spotify to get them in the holiday spirit?

Perry Como.

Christmas music on Spotify by genre

Almost half (46%) of the Christmas music that made Spotify’s Top 200 last year were songs from pre-rock era Standards artists. Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, and Andy Williams are the most-streamed Christmas crooners on Spotify, along with new Standards artist Michael Bublé.

The second most popular style, representing 19% of all Christmas music plays, are from pre-Beatles Rock ‘n’ Roll Oldies artists, namely Brenda Lee, Bobby Helms, The Ronettes, and Elvis Presley,

In aggregate, almost two-thirds of the most-played Christmas songs on Spotify are from styles and eras of music that radio abandoned decades ago the rest of the year.

What happened?

As Boomer parents played those songs for their own families, their kids grew to think of Bing Crosby and Brenda Lee as Christmas music artists, not one-time Pop superstars who also recorded Christmas songs.

As Chris Molanphy details in the Christmas music episode of his Hit Parade podcast, younger listeners often have no idea that one-time pop icons from Nat King Cole to Brenda Lee had dozens of massive hits in their day; They know these icons exclusively for their enduring Christmas hits. Ask a Gen Zer what genre Andy Williams performs, they’ll likely tell you Christmas music.

Today, Christmas music isn’t simply Boomers’ memories of their childhood Christmas: It’s everyone’s childhood Christmas memory.


There is a striking difference between the songs many associate with Christmas and the Christmas songs Spotify users play most: Little Drummer Boy, O’ Little Town of Bethlehem, The First Noel, and Silent Night will all be on your radio this year. However, no versions of these classic carols are among the 80 holiday titles that made the Spotify Top 200 last year.

In fact, only three (3) of the 81 Christmas songs that made Spotify’s Top 200 last year reference the nativity; Bing Crosby’s renditions of “Do You Hear What I Hear,” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Joy To The World” from Nat King Cole.

Religious affiliation and church attendance is declining in the United States. Are religious Christmas songs losing their relevance as Americans become less religious?

We’ll stay in our new music lane and let Barma Research tackle Christianity’s weekly cume erosion.


In the week immediately after Halloween, while decent people are still sucking down Pumpkin Spice stuff, there are Americans among us who collectively play Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” almost 2 million times on Spotify.

It’s only the 149th most-played song for that first week in November.  But still…

Thaw Mariah Carey for the Christmas season

Christmas music continues growing throughout November, but truly takes off after Thanksgiving, just as the good Lord intended: Plays of Christmas songs on Spotify jump 2 ½ times during the week immediately after Thanksgiving.

Ultimately, almost half of the plays of holiday titles on Spotify occur during the week before and the week of Christmas.

Once Christmas is over, however, Americans’ appetite for yuletide cheer goes away faster than your mom cleaning up giftwrap. During the week of New Year’s Day, not a single Christmas song remains among Spotify’s Top 200 songs.

Christmas music on Spotify: Total streams by week


Here are the Top 5 Christmas songs on Spotify for the entire 2022 holiday season:

  1. Brenda Lee – Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree
  2. Mariah Carey – All I Want for Christmas Is You
  3. Bobby Helms – Jingle Bell Rock
  4. Wham! – Last Christmas
  5. Andy Williams – It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

What songs are gaining or losing appeal this year? So far, none:

The Top 5 Christmas songs on Spotify for the week of Thanksgiving 2023

  1. Brenda Lee – Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree
  2. Mariah Carey – All I Want for Christmas Is You
  3. Bobby Helms – Jingle Bell Rock
  4. Wham! – Last Christmas
  5. Andy Williams – It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

For Christmas music fans, the classics abide.


1) If your station targets a young audience, know that they like old Christmas songs. Even among Spotify users who are younger than the general music audience, the appetite for Andy Williams is much stronger than for Ariana Grande. If your station simply sprinkles in holiday hits, you may wish to limit your Christmas selections to those songs from contemporary core artists to align with listeners’ expectations of your music. If your strategy is to be the Christmas station in your market, however, you’d better bring the Bing.

2) Focus on snow and Santa. The songs that enjoy the broadest appeal among the younger user base for Spotify are songs evoking the spirit of the season, not the religious significance of the holiday. Unless you’re a religious station (obvi) or you’re in a market where listeners are far more likely to, “remember the reason for the season,” focusing on secular titles ensures your Christmas selections appeal to the widest possible audience.

3) The appetite for Christmas music steadily grows throughout the season. A few listeners are ready for Christmas right after Halloween. Others get into the spirit after Thanksgiving. However, half of all Christmas music streaming occurs during the two weeks leading up to the big day. This observation of Spotify usage confirms what many programmers have known for decades: Steadily increasing the percentage of songs of the season in rotation throughout December is a solid strategy.

4) Understand if your audience wants your station to play Christmas music. Younger listeners love Christmas music. Even at the height of the holidays, however, the majority of Spotify’s 200 most-streamed songs are regular songs. If your market has a dominant Christmas music station, you might be the station listeners go to escape the sleigh bells. Furthermore, perceptual research shows that if your market has a station with a dominant Christmas music image, it is very difficult to unseat that station.

“Matt, you promised us five insights.” That brings us to one more issue we need to clear up…


Early in the season, Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” is the song Spotify users are most likely to play. Starting after Thanksgiving, however, Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” consistently garners more streams each week than what Carey wants. By Christmas week, Little Miss Dynamite is rockin’ over a third more plays per week on Spotify than is Carey.

Christmas music on Spotify: Mariah vs. Brenda

Hail to the real Queen of Christmas.

Brenda Lee Rockin' Around The Ch

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