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The Digital Christmas Music Problem

Christmas CD covers

It’s now January, and your “smart” playlists are still littered with Christmas music. If you own a digital music library that you stream in your home, you’ve inevitably encountered this problem each year: how do you manage your Christmas (or any other seasonally celebrated holiday) music so that it’s readily available when you want it and out of mind when you don’t? Managing digital music collections can be challenging enough with file formats, meta data, album artwork, file server and storage options, backups, etc. Seasonal music just adds another wrinkle. In the old days, you just stored your Christmas CDs/cassettes/singles/LPs separately, so they were physically out of the way. But now…it’s just bits, and your Christmas bits are all mixed in with your regular bits. So how do you handle that? We’ve tried a couple of things that we’ll share here, but we want to find out what you’re doing. Leave a comment on this post and share your strategy with us.


First off, to isolate your seasonal music, you’re going to have to identify it as such. iTunes likes to assign holiday music to the Holiday genre. This is good (and politically correct), but it doesn’t necessarily file your music appropriately. How would you categorize your John Phillips Sousa marches or your copy of “Monster Mash”? That, too, is holiday music, is it not? To properly bin your seasonal songs, you’ll need to be more granular. For example, you could assign all Christmas music a genre of [wait for it]…Christmas.

You can even get more granular if you like. Music streaming services these days tend to sport multiple holiday genres, like Classic Christmas, Popular Christmas, etc. Just make sure the holiday name itself (in this example, Christmas) is included in each. You’ll find out why in a minute.

That handles albums (a collection of tunes that were once sold as a single unit on a physical platter), but don’t forget about singles and tracks that artists may have otherwise included on other non-seasonal albums (I’m looking at you, “Last Christmas”). And if you’re purchasing music from multiple sources or you catalog them in multiple systems, this just got a whole lot more complicated.


The easiest way of handling seasonal music listening is to create dynamic playlists that filter out the music you don’t want to hear except for a few days or weeks a year. If you’re creating playlists for, say, awesome 80s tunes, be sure to add the equivalent of “AND Genre is not equal to your-celebrated-holiday” to your playlist definition to ensure you’re not hearing George Michael pine about his lost Christmas love sometime in April. If you have multiple genres for the same holiday, then use something like the following logic instead: “AND Genre does not contain your-celebrated-holiday.”

This same problem may likely plague all your smart/automatic playlists. If you have playlists for your most recently purchased/played tracks or “favorites” based on number of plays, those may be peppered with holiday cheer well into the new year. Be sure to tweak those playlists with the same logic discussed above.

Screenshot 2015-01-14 10.08.18

Depending on how complex your playlist engine is, you may also be able to nest playlist logic. For example, in iTunes, you can could create a playlist called Christmas Music that includes all music where the Genre contains “Christmas.” Then add the expression “AND Playlist is not Christmas Music” to all your other playlists. Note that some cloud-sync’ing services like iTunes Match may not let you nest cloud-based playlists, so your mileage with this trick may vary.

Hidden Holidays

Finally, there’s the brute force method—it’s the equivalent of putting the holiday CDs back in the attic. That is, you can always remove your holiday tunes from your music library altogether. This is often the easiest way to handle things, depending on your media player’s capabilities, but it also limits your ability to rock the Jingle Bell Rock in July if you’re so inclined.

For this method to work best, you should store all of your affected music files under a specific folder that you can either ignore, hide, or remove from your media player. For best results, if you have a Music folder that your player references, then create a Your-Holiday Music folder at the same level to contain the holiday tunes. For example, on my home server, I might have the following folders:

D:\Shared Media\Music\
D:\Shared Media\Christmas Music\

Different players monitor and reference media differently, so you’ll need to have some familiarity with how yours works.

WindowsChristmasIn Windows (and consequently Media Player and Media Center), you can just add this folder to your Music library before the holiday, then remove it afterward. Similarly for Sonos and other systems that can monitor multiple folders, you can do the same.

In iTunes, however, you cannot monitor folders, and since there are two ways you can include content in your iTunes library—directly or by reference—you’ll need to be careful not to delete your actual music files. If you add music to your iTunes library without copying it to your iTunes Media folder, however, you should be able to just drag your seasonal folder into your iTunes library before the holiday, then delete all of the holiday music from your My Music view after the holiday. Music purchased from the iTunes store can usually be deleted and downloaded again later.

As with any destructive project, be sure to back up your complete music library before trying any of this!


About the author

Richard Gunther

Richard is a product experience consultant with a life-long interest in consumer electronics. He has been immersed in smart home tech for decades now and hosts The DMZ's home automation podcast, Home: On and co-hosts Entertainment 2.0 with Josh Pollard. Richard looks at products through an experience lens, always seeking the right mix of utility and delight.

1 Comment

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  • I was working this issue in the past. In Itunes, I gave all holiday songs (politically correct) “one star” since I was not using the star rating for anything else. Rating with the stars is quick, then I did a mass change on all the song with one star and gave them the “Christmas” genre. This saves you from doing that drop down or typing the genre so many times.