Brace yourselves: what I’m about to say will be unpopular with some of you out there:

I can’t stand Christmas music.

At least, I can’t stand the 25 or so songs that are played to death every year without fail. You know the ones I’m talking about.

Now, before you go grabbing your pitchforks, this isn’t down to snobbishness or a ‘bah humbug’ attitude. (Or at least, not entirely.) I have sufficient cause to loathe those songs. And I’d like to plead my case. But to do so, I need to tell you a little story.

The year is 2009, and I’m in my second year studying English Literature and German at the University of Sheffield. I have a part time job working in the menswear section of a large chain of department stores; during term time I work an average of three shifts a week. All things considered, it’s not a bad job. Mainly working the tills, finding items for customers, and tidying up displays. It’s not very demanding mentally, but does require focus and attention, and you spend the whole shift on your feet. Although they think my southern accent is hilariously posh, my colleagues are nice. Like I say: not a bad job.

But at Christmas… it was another matter altogether.

With extended opening hours for Christmas shopping and uni having finished for the semester, I picked up a lot more shifts. I figured I could use some extra money before I went back to my parents’ for Christmas, so I took as many long shifts as I could. I walked to work in darkness, did 12 hour shifts (with 30 minutes for lunch), and walked home in darkness. The menswear section was underground, with no street level windows, so my days were spent under fluorescent lighting. In the basement. With the same 45-minute loop of Christmas music playing. Over. And over. And over.

Christmas shopping can be a stressful, frustrating experience, but that’s not an excuse to take it out on staff. And I’m sorry to say that a small but memorable minority of shoppers who visited during these long Christmas shifts were so, so rude.

And now every time I hear Mariah Carey’s vibrato opening up All I Want for Christmas is You, my mind flashes back to being lambasted by a member of the public because we didn’t have one very specific pair of trousers in a 42′ waist, 36′ leg. To spending an hour folding jumpers for a display and then watching as a customer undid the lot within 30 seconds of rummaging. To the people who would take phone calls while in the queue for the tills and not hang up or even acknowledge my existence when it was their turn. It was dehumanising.

Despite the commerce involved, we hope you will consider this out gift to you. Best Wishes. Low.
Liner notes from the reissue of Christmas by Low

Ever since that winter, I’ve not been able to listen to those songs in the same way. Before I thought they were cheesy and a bit crap, but now I actively dislike them. I guess because back then I did not wish it could be Christmas every day, thank you very much.

So I can’t stand that Christmas music. But I still listen to music about Christmas – and let me tell you: there’s a lot of stuff out there which is much better than the tired old cliche songs. There’s songs that reflect the broader idea of the season. That Christmas doesn’t mean the same thing to all people, and that this time of year can bring up a whole range of emotions. 

If you feel like maybe you’ve had enough of Cliff Richard to last a lifetime, then go find your own Christmas songs. They don’t even have to be explicitly Christmassy: I woke up early one Christmas morning when I was a kid, before anyone else in the house. So I turned on the radio and heard Joey Ramone’s cover of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World. And that’s a Christmas song to me now. 

And I’ll take that over Last Christmas any day (sorry Wham fans.)

So, there are two morals to this story:

1) Be kind to service staff – particularly at Christmas, but also for the rest of the year. They’re working really hard and your issue is probably not their fault.

2) You don’t have to subject yourself to the same handful of saccharine songs every year. There’s better Christmas music out there, and there’s more to the season than sleigh bells and tinsel.


Because no one needs to listen to Shakin’ Stevens again.

  1. A Christmas Duel – The Hives & Cyndi Lauper
  2. Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight) – The Ramones
  3. Space Christmas – Allo Darlin’
  4. A Doe to a Deer – Los Campesinos!
  5. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Slow Club
  6. Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis – Tom Waits
  7. Winter Wonderland – Earth, Wind & Fire
  8. Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects – Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
  9. Merry Christmas Baby – Otis Redding
  10. Calling and not Calling my Ex – Okkervil River
  11. What a Wonderful World – Joey Ramone
  12. You’re Just Like Christmas – The Crookes
  13. Everything’s Gonna Be Cool this Christmas – Eels
  14. All I Want for Christmas Is a Dukla Prague Away Kit – Half Man Half Biscuit
  15. Just Like Christmas – Low
  16. I Love You like a Madman – The Wave Pictures
  17. Christmas In Hollis – Run-D.M.C.
  18. You Bring the Snow – The Crookes
  19. Driving Under Stars – Marika Hackman
  20. Christmas Time Is Here – Mark Kozelek
  21. Twinkle (Little Christmas Lights) – JD McPherson
  22. 2,000 Miles – Mark Kozelek
  23. How to Make Gravy – Paul Kelly
  24. Plump Righteous – The King Khan & BBQ Show
  25. Feliz Navidad – Shame
  26. A Christmas Fucking Miracle – Run The Jewels
  27. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Phoebe Bridgers
  28. 7 O’clock News/Silent Night – Simon & Garfunkel