The other day, I was in a toy shop with my son, browsing Star Wars kits, waiting to watch a football match.
All was fine with the world. Or so I thought.
Because then, like a fury-stoking musical flying caribou, along came Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, bursting out from the shop’s loudspeaker.
A song with no place in the world other than at Christmas, being imposed upon me at a time when people were still trying to get by in T-shirts.
On a day when you could clearly remember the cricket season, and when you might still fancy buying an ice cream, here was a great dollop of Christmas being siphoned down by ears. Too early, surely.
Video: Christmas music drives shop staff crackers
Now, I am back in another branch of the same toy chain, this time without my son but, instead, in the company of the boss.
Gary Grant founded The Entertainer 36 years ago, and now has more than 140 shops around the country. As we talk, a cardboard snowflake, dangling from the shop ceiling, slowly rotates above us.
Mr Grant is unrepentant about his early use of Christmas music. In fact, he thinks it’s a crucial part of the seasonal shopping experience.
Image: Retailers are being urged to consider their staff and shoppers in their approach to in-store festive tunes
“It’s all about setting the scene,” he says. “What you’ll find is that Christmas music gets integrated into the music we normally play.
“In the middle of October, it starts off as being one in four songs. Now it’s one out of two. In a couple of of weeks time it’ll be all Christmas music.
“It’s like going into a supermarket and they pump in a fresh bread smell, and you think to yourself ‘oh yes, I need to buy some bread’.
“The songs I’m playing are ones you’ve grown up with and, when you hear them, something triggers inside you. It’s nostalgia. Christmas lights are going up – there’s an ice rink outside the Natural History Museum.
“Once we get past fireworks night, the focus it totally on Christmas.”
But why? Well put simply, for some retailers – The Entertainer among them – Christmas is so utterly crucial that it can’t start soon enough.
Mr Grant expects to turn over as much money in the last two months of the year as he does for other 10.
“We basically spend 10 months preparing for two,” he told me. “Without these final eight weeks we wouldn’t make any money.”
I talk to some of the customers in his shop. Some share my reluctance to embrace early-onset festive tunes – one woman told me it was “disgusting”, while another person merely called it “annoying and repetitive”.
But then there are the supporters – the fans – who say the music makes them feel warm.
“It’s wonderful,” says one man. “It gives Christmas atmosphere”.
That is the key. Christmas music is played in shops for one reason – to make us feel in the mood to celebrate with families and friends. And in the world of retail, you celebrate by spending money.
“Music goes right to our emotions immediately and it bypasses rationality,” says the clinical psychologist Linda Blair.
“Christmas music is likely to irritate people if it’s played too loudly and too early.
“It might make us feel that we’re trapped – it’s a reminder that we have to buy presents, cater for people, organise celebrations. Some people will react to that by making impulse purchases, which the retailer likes. Others might just walk out of the shop. It’s a risk.”
She says that shop workers have to “tune out” songs that they’re hearing multiple times every day for weeks on end.
It’s a sentiment shared by the union USDAW, which told Sky News: “We ask employers to consider the staff who have to listen to Christmas music all day, because playing the same songs repeatedly can become very irritating and distracting.”
In the front of the toy shop, fake snow is already falling, even while the sun beats down outside. A huge Santa’s grotto is being built outside.
In the middle of London, meanwhile, the likes of Harrods and Selfridges have been running festive sections for several months already.
Christmas has come early, and probably it always will, whether we like it or not.
Source: Sky News