Welcome or not, we all know it when we hear it. But, what makes Christmas music sound Christmassy? We’ve done some digging.

With Halloween done and dusted, it’s time to turn our sights to the next big holiday – Christmas. Whether you’re a certified Scrooge, or a festive fiend, you’ll start hearing a lot of Christmas music soon. That’s if you haven’t already. I saw my first Christmas TV ad of the year halfway through October this time around, and I didn’t love it.

Seasonal songs come in many forms. There’s the classic commercial Christmas bangers, royalty free Christmas songs, or public domain Christmas carols. So, if you’re searching for the perfect track for your holiday content, or you’re just down a bit of a musical rabbit hole, we’ve got you. Sometimes a track will sound inexplicably Christmassy, but it’s mid-July. One Day by Paolo Nutini is an example of this, for me. So what does make Christmas music sound Christmassy – and any music, for that matter?

It’s the Bells

Maybe it’s because I reside in a country where the preferred mode of transport is a car, rather than an open sleigh, but I don’t notice an increase in the general presence of jingling bells the closer we get to Christmas. When it comes to the music side of things, however, they’re everywhere.

Bells were attached to the harnesses of horses pulling sleighs to act as a warning to pedestrians. In the absence of headlamps, this helped people avoid being flattened as they crossed a snowy road. So it makes sense that the same would apply for magical reindeer drawn sleighs, hence their ubiquity at Christmas.

If a Christmas song doesn’t feature bells, is it even Christmassy?


So many of the festive greats are songs that lyrically focus on times gone by. Music filled with sentiment and longing for the past fits very nicely in during the holiday period. This promotes the nostalgic, warm and fuzzy feeling that’s synonymous with Christmastime.

A great example of this is the Wham! hit, Last Christmas. It’s about the past, specifically Christmas. Double Wham!my (sorry).

The Christmas Chord

Festive lyrical content is an obvious answer to, “what makes Christmas music so Christmassy.” But, is there more to it than that?

The musicality of seasonal songs may help to create that recognisable and distinctive Christmassy feel. Without knowledge in music theory, this point may fly over your head faster than Rudolph on Christmas Eve.

The link between Mariah Carey’s uber-successful All I Want for Christmas Is You and lastingly popular classics like White Christmas is in the chords. Or one chord, to be exact. This chord is a “delicious, spicy, warm” (sounds a lot like mulled wine) component that is shared by Carey’s festive smash hit, the much-loved Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), and the classic American jazz standards.

This breakdown may help you avoid a, well, breakdown when it becomes impossible to go a day without hearing Christmas music. Or, it might have made things worse. But, now you know what makes Christmas music sound Christmassy.

Go grab yourself a mince pie and a sherry, and try to listen to some festive tunes without dissecting them!