What makes the perfect Christmas song?

By Matthew Allen

Every year, we listen to the same classic Christmas songs. ‘All I want for Christmas is you’, ‘White Christmas’, ‘Fairytale of New York’… the list goes on. But how many of the songs that you listen to around Christmas were released in the last 5 years? 10 years? Even 20 years?!? The world needs a new classic Christmas tune and we’re going to use the power of statistics to make it!

Statistics is the analysis, interpretation and presentation of data and information. You use statistics every day, but probably without even realising it. Huge companies spend millions of pounds each year to use statistics to better design, produce, sell and deliver products to us. Sports teams are now deciding who plays each week, based on the statistics of their previous games. But, how could we use statistics to create the perfect song? Specifically, could we use statistics to create the perfect Christmas number 1 song? Well, let’s have a go!

christmassongsThe Data

Every statistical analysis starts with some data. When we talk about data, we are just talking about information. In our case, the data we will use will be the information on the most popular Christmas songs of all time. We will study what all these songs have in common, and use this information to design the perfect Christmas song.

We’ve chosen the top 25, highest selling Christmas singles of all time. Hopefully some of your favourites are on this list! This collection of data is often called a ‘sample’, which is basically just a collection of data which all have something in common, which in this case in being popular Christmas songs.

Who should sing the song?

So, how do we decide what makes these songs better than the rest? We can study the specific attributes or qualities of the songs, such as the length of the song, who sings it and what festive words are in it.

artistchartSo, let’s begin looking at the data. First, let’s look at who should sing our song. Here is a pie chart (or mince pie chart, if you like!) showing what type of artist sings our 25 best selling Christmas songs. As we can see, the most common artist is a solo artist. So, we know that we should have a solo person singing our Christmas song and not a band. But, should it be a female or male singer?

artistsexchartLooking at the pie chart to the left, we can see that the majority of the most successful songs are sung by male artists, rather than women. So, from these two graphs, it is clear that our perfect Christmas number 1 song should be sung by a solo male artist.

decadechartNext, we need to decide what type of song it should be. In the pie chart to the right, we can see that the most successful songs were released in the 1980’s, followed closely by the 1970’s. Since then, each decade has produced fewer hit Christmas songs. The artist that should sing our Christmas song should have been popular in the 1980’s.


But, what style of music should our song be? We can see here that the most popular style of Christmas songs is Rock! Pop is pretty close behind, but we clearly need a rock theme for our Christmas song!

So, our song needs to be a rock song, sung by a male solo artist who was popular in the 1980’s. There is only one person to sing our song… OZZY OSBOURNE!

What should the song be?

songlengthNow we have our artist, but what should our song be like? Let’s begin by seeing how long the song should be. Looking at our graph to the right, we see that the largest bar correlates to 3.8 minutes, which is 3 minutes and 48 seconds. This means that our average length of song is 3 minutes and 48 seconds. So, if we want a top hit, we don’t want a song with a 4 minute guitar solo in the middle of it!


The argument of ‘Christmas vs. XMAS’ has been raging for decades. But, are songs that use the word ‘Christmas’ in the title or the word ‘XMAS’ more successful? In the table to the left, I’ve shown the mean (average) sales of all the songs with the word Christmas or XMAS in the title, along with where they are in the table of most played songs on the radio. Using the word XMAS in the title wins in both categories, so we should stick to using the word ‘XMAS’ rather than ‘Christmas’ if we want a number one hit!

Our statistically perfect Christmas number 1!

The moon Enceladus

Saturn’s moon Enceladus is always covered in ice

The time has come to put all of this information together and design the perfect Christmas number 1 song. We’ve already decided that the person who will sing our song is 1980’s heavy rock singer Ozzy Osbourne. The song will be 3 minutes and 48 seconds long. But what should our song be called? We want a science related title, as we are science made simple! I can think of nowhere in the Universe which is more ‘Christmassy’ than Saturn’s moon Enceladus! This distant moon in our Solar System is around -198 degrees Celsius, making it permanently covered in ice, which surely makes it one of the most festive places in the Universe.

Following on from the great success of the song ‘Do they know it’s Christmas’, it’s clear that the title of our song should be… ‘Do they know it’s Christmas on Enceladus’! And of course, every Christmas song should have a festive album cover!


So, this is our statistically perfect Christmas number 1 song: Ozzy Osbourne – Do they know it’s Christmas on Enceladus. Of course, it’s unlikely that we will be able to get Ozzy Osbourne to sing a song about a Christmas on one of Saturn’s moons. Even if we did get him to sing the song, I’m not sure many people would buy it! This is a key lesson to learn when working with statistics – statistics can sometime be very useful, but sometimes it can also be a load of old rubbish!

About the Blogger – Matthew Allen

Matthew is an astrophysicist who has been working at space made simple since 2016. He has a passion for technology, including Virtual and Augmented reality, statistics and astronomy.

sms group shot with props smallWe are science made simple, a social enterprise who perform science, maths and engineering shows to schools, festivals and public audiences.

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