Data Reveals We Were Already Getting Sick Of Christmas By December 28th

By James O Malley on at

You’ve probably already forgotten about it but about three weeks ago it was Christmas Day. You remember Christmas, right? It’s that day that is hyped up endlessly and then once it arrives is ultimately disappointing and quickly forgotten - a bit like Britain’s 2011 referendum on switching to the Alternative Voting system.

Anyway, in the run-up to Christmas here at Gizmodo UK we ran an experiment - dubbed “The Christmas Index” - which was a bid to quantitatively measure just how Christmassy things were feeling. We wanted to know just how quickly that feeling of Christmas cheer and goodwill to all men hit us, and how long it took to fade away again.

Today, Gizmodo UK can exclusively reveal that it according to our research, it appears that the world finally got sick of Christmas on December 28th. Yes - our research suggests that we only really did hit “Peak Christmas” three days after the big day itself.

Measuring Christmas

So how could we measure… Christmas...ness? We figured that a good proxy for Christmas spirit might be Christmas music. Every year, as we get closer to the big day our listening libraries are slowly replaced with a much smaller canon of festive tunes. So we made the assumption that as people feel more Christmassy, they’ll listen to more Christmas music.

This raises a second question: How do we measure Christmas listening?

And this is where the streaming music revolution has been brilliant. Because there are millions of people listening on Spotify, we were able to use the Spotify API to automatically track the popularity of around 150 songs from two popular Christmas playlists on the platform. Spotify doesn’t give actual listening figures for songs - but it does give each song a “popularity” score of between 0 and 100.

So if we take the score of these 150ish songs daily and add them together, that gives us an overall Index figure for each day. And by tracking whether that number goes up or down, it tells us just how Festive or Un-festive everyone is feeling. Just like how the FTSE or Dow Jones has a single number that gives an indication of the health of the economy - but with more Christmas jumpers and fewer business suits.

Getting Sick of Christmas

Now, obviously, Christmas is over - and we’ve got an Index figure for every day over the festive period, which enables us to look back and see just how the Christmas hype came and went.

Since we started tracking in late October (except for one day in early November when our tracking computer crashed), looking at the chart above you can see that the Christmas onslaught was gradual - increasing at a relatively linear rate. The bigger bumps into the run-up tended to be on weekends - suggesting that as the weeks drew closer to the big day, more Christmas events were being held - or at least, more people started to get Christmas on the brain.

The biggest step up was on the weekend of Thanksgiving in the US, which as far as we can tell from our vantage here in the UK, is basically a rehearsal Christmas one month early, what with eating turkey and arguments around the dinner table with racist relatives.

After thanksgiving, the Christmas spirit soared and - amazingly - continued to rise all the way until December 28th when the index peaked at 7861. These statistics were logged at midnight of each day - which means that one hypothesis is that three days after Christmas, people were starting to think they’d had enough of mince pies and Cliff - Sodding - Richard.

What’s interesting is that since then, there hasn’t been a hard decline - it appears that people didn’t simply shut off the Christmas music on Boxing Day, or even on New Year’s Day. Instead, the decline of Christmas music has been fairly steady since.

Of course, this hypothesis might be flawed. We don’t know how Spotify’s algorithm works, or how it scores individual songs’ popularity. What seems likely, given the shape of the chart is that the popularity score is derived from a song’s relative popularity on the platform over a longer period of time and averaged out, so that any rise will by definition be much smoother.

There could also be a lag: Perhaps “real” peak listening happened on Christmas Day (hey, that would make more sense), but the popularity scores for that day will have been dragged down by less enthusiastic listening on earlier days. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing for sure. What this data definitely proves though, is the shock revelation that more people listen to Christmas music around Christmas time.

And perhaps more importantly? We’ve carried out some important science: For the first time, we’ve managed to measure the amount of Christmassyness in the world - which gives us a benchmark for when we’re comparing the amount of Christmas Cheer in the run-up to December 25th 2018. Thank you for being part of this scientific journey.