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How Retail Workers Deal With Nonstop Christmas Music Without Going Nuts

‘I heard ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ 27 times last week — I counted.’

For Sean, a 13-year retail veteran, the worst part of the holiday shopping season isn’t the increased crowds, rude customers or cold weather. It’s the nonstop Christmas music — eight hours a day, every day. Worse yet, at Sean’s store, the holiday cheer begins on November 1st. “An hour into the first day, I’m already nuts,” the 40-year-old tells me.

Before it closed, Sean worked at Younkers — a Midwest version of Macy’s — where corporate controlled the playlist. “All they played was maudlin Christmas music from the World War II era,” he says. But just because his new store simulcasts the radio, he’s not saved from hearing the same songs over and over again. “The radio station we’re forced to listen to goes from adult contemporary to nothing but Christmas music with the flip of a switch,” he explains. “During my normal shifts, I can hear the same song at least six times. Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ is a big culprit, along with ‘We Need a Little Christmas.’” 

“I know the first milliseconds of them because of the sheer number of times I’ve heard them all,” he continues.

Sean’s misery, however, is our gain. He’s become an expert in blocking out all that musical holiday cheer. It’s an expertise that he — and a few other big-box workers — happily shared with me to help everyone else avoid losing their minds after being subjected to two months’ worth of Christmas songs on the radio.

Focus on Something Else. Literally Anything Else.

In what might be the cruelest irony, working harder seems to be the best remedy. “I find talking to customers — or really focusing on tasks like putting away stock — can take my mind off the music,” Sean explains. As he gets into his flow state, he’ll lose awareness of the melodies. “It’ll be two hours, and I’ll realize I haven’t gone crazy.”

Kiara, a 17-year-old who works the register at a large department store, tries to keep busy as well. She also challenges herself to complete tasks within the timeframe of certain songs. “I try to see how many people I can serve in a single song,” she says. “I keep myself as productive as possible, and on the odd occasion, I’m able to keep myself busy enough that I tune out of what’s playing.”

Still, it’s not without its challenges. “I heard ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ 27 times last week — I counted,” Kiara tells me. “Last week, our CD glitched, and we had to listen to ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ for two hours straight. I actually want to drown myself.”

Channel Your Inner Grinch

“I have no strategy for coping, other than complaining about it to my friends all the time,” explains Olivia, a 22-year-old in Canada, who’s worked in retail for six years. “I’d feel like a Grinch if I mentioned the annoyance to my coworkers; they seem particularly festive.” Olivia didn’t mind the music so much at first, but now, as soon as November arrives, “I have so much dread,” she says. “I know it’s only a matter of time before the same everlasting loop of ‘Jingle Bells.’ Plus, the music is the first sign of the impending doom to come: stressed customers, understaffed shifts and beratings from my boss to push sales.”

She adds, “It reminds me of the absolute misery that working during the holidays can be. Not only are you working extra time (for minimum wage) during time that could be spent with your family, but you also have to deal with customers who are extra irritable.”

Get A/V Savvy

When Grinching out to her friends no longer works, Olivia takes matters into her own hands. “One thing I’ll do is turn down the music a little,” Olivia admits. “It’s my small act of rebellion, but it makes me feel slightly better.”

Create Your Own White Noise

“I came up with the idea of using a white noise app on my phone to block out the music playing in the store,” Sean tells me. “No one seemed to notice, which was nice. Or at least they didn’t ask about it, even though it was kind of an obvious sound. But it did seem to work. I heard it much more than the music!”

Be Your Own ‘Weird Al’

Sean also recommends having a sense of humor about your plight. “We’ll do plenty of parodies,” he says. “Like, ‘Last Christmas, I Ripped a Big Fart,’ or ‘Silver Bells, I’m in Hell.’ We get a good laugh.”

The downside, though? “You have to keep doing new ones or else the parodies get to be as old as the original.”

Pray for a Christmas Miracle

“One year at Younkers, for some reason the Christmas music was never loaded in,” Sean says. “So we just got the usual music, which was awesome. We all loved it. On Christmas Eve, the store manager did decide we needed some Christmas music and put a radio station on. But at least we made it through the holiday season with our sanity intact.”