Don't delay! Time's almost up for you to vote for your favourite holiday songs. Here's some background to our big event

There's not long left now. You have until midnight US Eastern time this Friday to cast your votes in Mushroom FM’s holiday countdown and receive an invitation to our Christmas party
where we play the top 100 on Sunday beginning at 9 AM Eastern, 2 PM UK. Have you voted? Have all your family and friends voted? If you answered no to either of those questions, then you have important work to do!

Our holiday countdown and Christmas party's a tradition we've run for some years now, and we feel that at the end of a particularly tough year it has taken on additional significance. Our aim is that for you, participation is easy, festive and fun. But there's a lot going on behind the scenes.

What happens when you cast your vote? Quite a lot as it happens. After you've cast your vote by either typing in the songs you want to vote for or selecting them from our simple combo box for each position, we ensure it's a legitimate vote and then enter it into the countdown system. We take this process seriously, so there are robust checks and balances as we seek to avoid anyone taking it to the Supreme Court. Your raw voting data is available for verification by multiple people, which means we can be assured of the integrity
of the voting process including people only voting once.

Once we officially enter your data into the voting system, that's when you receive an email to invite you to the Christmas party. More about the Christmas party side of the show shortly. Haven't seen the email inviting you to the party after voting? Check your junk folder, especially if you're using Gmail. It's notorious for being overzealous about what it thinks is spam.

When you vote, the ranking of your songs matters. Internally, each of your top 10 is accorded a series of points. So when you vote a song number one, you push it higher up the chart than if you vote it number 10.

There are many ways one might calculate charts such as the one we build every Christmas, but we've settled on best practice as worked out by our mathematical and technical genius Gordon Luke. We don't call him Spreadsheet Luke for nothing you know!

From a listener’s perspective, you may think that this show would be an easy one for the fun guys to prepare for. After all, the listeners are in charge of what songs make the chart, so that’s the music taken care of, right? Well, it’s not quite that simple.
When it comes to some modern songs that are often popular on our countdown, like Straight No Chaser’s “Text Me Merry Christmas”, The Pogues “Fairytale of
New York” or a popular song on the Countdown, “A Maori Christmas” by Billy T James, there’s only one version to play. But Have you ever thought of how many versions of the same Christmas songs are out there, be they modern standards or traditional carols? Some versions of “Silent Night” are so unique that you’d prefer the night to stay silent. Jethro Tull’s fluty version of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” has a catchy swing about it that puts a spring in your step, but it’s hardly traditional.

Because Christmas is more about traditions than any other season, people feel a strong sense of attachment to the Christmas music they identify with. This means that we take great care with the versions of each song we choose. Where there are literally hundreds, even thousands of versions to choose from,

we aim to strike a balance between the traditional and the adventurous. The idea is that you’ll hear something familiar one moment, perhaps a recently released version of a Christmas classic that’s popular presently, and of course our listeners make sure you’re never too far away from a Christmas novelty track.

It’s for this reason that in most cases, we don’t accept a specific artist for Christmas classics when you vote. Good though it is, few people would want to hear the chart monopolised by, say, 100 versions of Rudolph. We make an occasional exception where there are two versions of the same song that are so different that they tend to be polarising. “Mary’s Boychild” is a case in point, where the Bony M version is very popular, as is the Harry Belafonte original.

So for the team behind putting the countdown together, the votes closing is the end of the first part of the process, but it’s at that point that preparation really picks up. We trust that yet again, this year we’ll bring you a mix of old and new, familiar and interesting, that fills you with Christmas cheer.

Being able to tune in to hear how the 10 songs you voted for ranked in the countdown, or indeed whether they made it to the countdown at all since we have nearly 300 songs people have voted for at this point, is a lot of fun. But we add even more to the fun by turning the countdown in to another of Mushroom FM’s famous social media events.

When you vote, our system automatically assigns you to one of four virtual tables at our Christmas party, named after the first four reindeer in “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”. They are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen.

While the initial assignments are random, this is one setting those of us working on the countdown do have the tools and authority to override. When we can clearly tell that two people are related, we’ll do all we can to seat them at the same table. Our annual countdown event attracts a wide audience, many of whom aren’t Mushroom FM regulars. However Mushroom FM’s core listener base is very loyal, meaning we tend to remember details they’ve told the fun guys over the years. We’ll do our best to seat people together, even if they don’t have the same last name, if we know they’re a couple or related in some way. It’s one of the cool things about Mushroom FM. We’re big enough to pull something like the countdown off, still very much small enough to care about those details.

We publish the seating plan a little ahead of the countdown, usually midnight on the day of the countdown. This way, you can see who you’re sitting with and perhaps begin to get to know your table mates on Twitter. It’s totally optional, but you have the opportunity to provide your Twitter name at the time you vote. It’s a cool way to help your table mates reach out and say “hi”.

Key to participating fully in the party is tracking our Mushroom FM hashtag on Twitter. You do this by making use of your Twitter client’s search function. Make sure you’re searching for tweets and not people, and in the search box, type #MushroomFM. Save the search if that’s an option in your Twitter client, then you can return easily to tracking the hashtag whenever you want. We promote our hashtag year-round as a great way to keep in touch with other Mushroom FM listeners, but at events like our Christmas party, it’s especially useful so you can enjoy the fun chitchat of the party.

What would a Christmas party be without plenty of delicious, usually forbidden food? Ah, now that’s where you come in. Be sure to stock up ahead of our 10 hours of festive fun. And the good news is that we've been doing virtual parties long before they were essential. We know how to throw a good virtual party, where the social distancing is guaranteed.

To encourage your participation in the spirit of the season, if you make a contribution via Twitter or email that is meritorious in the opinion of the fun guy on air, you’re awarded Christmas crackers for your table. We keep a scoreboard which is available in real-time for everyone to view, so you can see where your table ranks.

Why Christmas crackers are awarded, and how many, is completely in the hands of the fun guy hosting at the time. Behind the scenes, we have an awesome web interface available to the team which allows us to allocate crackers and update the scoreboard.

When we began this holiday tradition, we soon realised that Christmas crackers aren’t very common in the US, and many people from that part of the world thought we were referring to food. For many of us, Christmas crackers are an essential part of the Christmas table, with a cracker placed above the plate. So what are they?

They were first made in the mid-1800s by a London sweet maker, Tom Smith. He had seen the French 'bon bon' sweets (almonds wrapped in pretty paper) on a visit to Paris in 1840. He returned to London and tried selling similar sweets in England. They came with a small motto or riddle. Sadly for Tom at the time but luckily for us, they didn't sell very well. So our hero had to think about how to develop his idea to be viable commercially.

Legend says that one night, while he was sitting in front of his log fire, he became fixated with the sparks and crackles coming from the fire. He thought it would be fun if his sweets and toys could be opened with a crack when their fancy wrappers were pulled in half.

In 1861, Tom Smith launched his new range of what he called 'Bangs of Expectation'! It's thought that he bought the recipe for the small cracks and bangs in crackers from a fireworks company called Brock’s Fireworks.

Crackers were also nicknamed 'cosaques' and were thought to be named after the 'Cossack' soldiers who had a reputation for riding on their horses and firing guns into the air.

When Tom died, his expanding cracker business was taken over by his three sons, Tom, Walter and Henry. Walter turned out to be the innovator. He introduced the hats into crackers and travelled around the world looking for new ideas for gifts to put in the crackers.

The company developed a range of 'themed' crackers. There were crackers for bachelors and spinsters (single men and women), where the gifts were items like false teeth and wedding rings! There were also crackers for Suffragettes (women who campaigned to get women the vote), war heroes and even Charlie Chaplain! Crackers were also made for special occasions like Coronations. The British Royal Family still has special crackers made for them today! Very expensive crackers were made such as the 'Millionaire's Crackers' which contained a solid silver box with a piece of gold and silver jewellery inside it!

Of course we’re now in the era of mass-production, and the Christmas Crackers that are used today, readily available from supermarkets in many parts of the world, are short cardboard tubes wrapped in colourful paper. There is normally a Cracker next to each plate on the Christmas dinner table. When the crackers are pulled - with a bang! - a colourful party hat, a toy or gift and a festive joke falls out! The party hats look like crowns and it is thought that they symbolise the crowns that might have been worn by the Wise Men.

Crackers are famous for their very bad jokes, and we try to bring you some of these during our Christmas party. So, you’d be crackers not to take part!

So you see, there really is a lot to this much-anticipated event and we would love for you to be a part of it.

If you’ve already voted, thank you. Be sure all your friends and family have too. If you’ve not voted yet, time
really is running out. Head on over to our accessible voting form and do it right now before some looming Christmas task distracts you.

and join us at 9 AM Eastern time, 2 PM UK on Sunday when Geno, Sara, Gordon, Damo and Jonathan, along with other famous fun guys, count them down and party all day long.