988: Tradition

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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An 'American tradition' is anything that happened to a baby boomer twice.
Title text: An 'American tradition' is anything that happened to a baby boomer twice.


This comic uses the source of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers to say that the 20 most played Christmas songs in the US between 2000 and 2009 were all released between the 1930s and 1970s. It conspicuously excludes a number of more modern songs that seem ubiquitous, but this is because those songs do not appear on the ASCAP list.

"Popular release" in this context means release to the general public, not the version of the song which is most popular.

The Baby Boomers were born in a period of time after the second World War when medical advances meant that infant mortality rates were low but common birth control methods were not very effective.

The data appears to come from an ASCAP survey conducted in 2009.

The title text points out that many "traditions" actually have no historical precedent, they're just routines that have been spread by lots of people. The Baby Boomers, since they made up a huge fraction of the US population, were able to accidentally ground many "traditions" that their parents made up in American society just by consensus among themselves.


The 20 most-played Christmas songs (2000-2009 radio airplay) by decade of popular release
[A bar chart labeled on the X-axis with the decades "1900s" through "2000s" labeled. Each bar has, as one unit, a labeled song. A section of the graph between 1947 and 1962 has a dark-gray extension column, containing the label "Baby Boom" between a pair of arrows pointing at the edges .
"1900s", "1910s", "1920s", "1980s", "1990s", and "2000s" are empty.
"1930s" has "Santa Claus is Coming to Town".
"1940s" has "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", "Winter Wonderland", "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire", "Let it Snow", "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", "I'll be Home for Christmas", and "White Christmas".
"1950s" has "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree", "Jingle Bell Rock", "Blue Christmas", "Little Drummer Boy", "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus", "Silver Bells", "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas", "Sleigh Ride", and "Frosty the Snowman"
"1960s" has "Holly Jolly Christmas" and "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"
"1970s" has "Feliz Navidad"
The songs are coloured red and green, alternating between squares horizontally and vertically so that all tiles contrast against any direct neighbours in a check-pattern.
Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, Blue Christmas, Winter Wonderland, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Let It Snow, It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, I'll be Home for Christmas, Holly Jolly Christmas, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Frosty the Snowman, and Feliz Navidad are red.
Jingle Bell Rock, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Little Drummer Boy, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, Silver Bells, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Sleigh Ride, White Christmas, and It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year are all green.]
Every year, American culture embarks on a massive project to carefully recreate the Christmases of Baby Boomers' childhoods.

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Redacted the following from the explanation:

It would be interesting to see this research, because the most popular Christmas album of all time was not released until 1994, "Merry Christmas" by Mariah Carey. This album featured what is considered to be the most ubiquitous song around this time of the year which is "All I Want For Christmas Is You" which is also featured prominently in the very popular (and frequently replayed) movie Love Actually from 2003. The song is the only holiday song and ringtone to reach multi-platinum status in the U.S. So, usually the information that Randall presents to us doesn't immediately present itself as egregiously incorrect, but this one just seems to not factor in the popular success of a mid-90s release.

because the list on which Randall based his graph is linked later in the explanation, and Randall doesn't have control over its data (unless he's using Data Over Billboard Charts). Noëlle (talk) 12:35, 13 December 2012 (UTC)

Couldn't this be when all the older Christmas carols and such were popularly released, id est, when radios were becoming common? 15:13, 13 January 2013 (UTC)

It also doesn't include Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer which is also played incessantly. 20:26, 21 May 2013 (UTC)

And what about the alt-text? Is it perhaps suggesting that tradition is not as it is made out to be? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Eric Harvey of The Atlantic responded to this comic by pointing out that the period between radio's coming to dominance during the Depression and the onset of rock'n roll was the point where mass media was at its' most *mass* before segmentation took hold. http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/12/why-the-christmas-song-canon-has-a-baby-boomer-bias/250344/ 13:44, 17 November 2014 (UTC)

Isn't all traditions just that? Something some people did on a regular basis long time ago and we just carry on doing...that's why i don't give a damn about traditions. 15:04, 14 December 2016 (UTC)

The point is more that these particular traditions are a lot more recent than people, even baby boomers, assume. - 22:10, 23 November 2019 (UTC)

What about Last Christmas, is that not also very popular now in the US? --Kynde (talk) 10:49, 19 April 2018 (UTC)

Not that much as in Europe, look here. In Germany before Christmas you feel like Wham!rolled, switching on the radio: "Laaaast Christm...". It's annoying. --Dgbrt (talk) 13:22, 21 April 2018 (UTC)
reminds me of Flappie141.101.77.84 18:18, 10 October 2021 (UTC)


Do the red and green colors of this comic contain any pun? --ColorfulGalaxy (talk) 08:07, 24 December 2022 (UTC)

"Pun"? Not sure I'd use that word, like that. Possibly the borrowed term "visual pun", insofar as it (maybe) references the traditional christmas colour combination of green and red for holly and berries, the robes of the Three Wise Men, a tree with wrapped gifts beneath, The Grinch in a Santa costume, whatever your own cultural reference is... And perhaps meant to look like stacked festive boxes.
Not having recently read the article (only just rechecked the image), not sure how to write this sort of thing in – any bit that's not already there. Open to edits by whoever, though, if you feel strongly about it. 12:44, 24 December 2022 (UTC)