Home for the Curious Musician

Do People Actually Buy Christmas Albums?

Christmas music collage

I won’t keep you waiting — the short answer is yes. I was curious though since I’ve never purchased a holiday album in my life. I do immaculately own two copies of A Charlie Brown Christmas, but have no idea where they came from. So, what’s the deal with holiday albums and who’s buying them? And as a musician, should I be making one too?

Well, here’s what I discovered: Basically, holiday albums have been somewhat merrily immune to the decline in album sales that’s plagued the music industry since iTunes took over. Quite probably, a lot of people purchase holiday albums as low-cost gifts for people they don’t know what to get. Or because sales are driven by the nostalgia and communal values of Christmas: A house without a Christmas album is not a house that comes together for the holidays.

Whatever the case, holiday albums do seem to be a great way for musicians to pull in a bit of extra cash, especially in a year when an artist hasn’t released significant new material. Holiday songs are mostly public domain, since their copyrights have lapsed, which means more royalties for the singer. These albums often “hit the shelves” (that won’t be a term for much longer…) as early as October, in order to give them a bit of time to build publicity and airtime. Labels will start ramping up marketing towards mid-late November, right as Black Friday and holiday gift fever starts to set in.

In case you’re wondering, here’s a list of the Top 15 highest selling holiday albums ever (via Wikipedia, data collected between 1991—2014):

  1. Miracles: The Holiday Album / Kenny G ~ 7,310,000
  2. Noël / Josh Groban ~ 5,710,000
  3. Merry Christmas / Mariah Carey ~ 5,370,000
  4. These Are Special Times / Celine Dion ~ 5,310,000
  5. Christmas in the Aire / Mannheim Steamroller ~ 3,740,000
  6. A Fresh Aire Christmas / Mannheim Steamroller ~ 3,660,000
  7. Mannheim Steamroller Christmas / Mannheim Steamroller ~ 3,500,000
  8. Now That’s What I Call Christmas! / various artists ~ 3,480,000
  9. Christmas Eve and Other Stories / Trans-Siberian Orchestra ~ 3,430,000
  10. A Charlie Brown Christmas / Vince Guaraldi Trio ~ 3,410,000
  11. Christmas / Michael Bublé ~ 3,390,000
  12. When My Heart Finds Christmas / Harry Connick, Jr. ~ 3,150,000
  13. My Christmas / Andrea Bocelli ~ 3,010,000
  14. Christmas Extraordinaire / Mannheim Steamroller ~ 2,920,000
  15. Home for Christmas / *NSYNC ~ 2,760,000

*Honorable mentions include Elvis’ Christmas Album (1970) by Elvis Presley and “The Christmas Song” (1967) by Nat King Cole, both high sellers and influential albums in their time, although sales records cannot be accurately estimated against more recently released albums.

+ Read more: Need a last minute holiday gift? Our gift guide has the perfect present for the music lover in your life!

One of the best things about the drive to produce holiday albums is the way it sometimes brings musicians together and spurs interesting collaborations, like this unlikely musical two-some. Enjoy!

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Jeremy Young

Jeremy is a Montreal-based musician, sound artist and improviser who loves giving advice to emerging artists on how to make their tours more effective. He writes, records and performs electroacoustic "concrète" music for tape, oscillators and amplified objects and surfaces, as well as solo guitar. He has performed and released material throughout Europe and the UK, Asia, the US and Canada, mostly with his trio Sontag Shogun.