NEW YORK (MainStreet) – The prevalence of smartphones and tablets has introduced a new holiday tradition: the Christmas Day download-fest.

It seems Christmas is the biggest day of the year for app downloads, for obvious reasons: Everyone who receives a new smartphone or tablet immediately downloads a bunch of apps for their new device. On top of that, there are also plenty of existing device owners receiving gift cards for the Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) App Store or the Android Market, which they promptly use to download more apps.

Just how many downloads are we talking? Try a quarter of a billion worldwide during the course of the day.

That’s the finding of a report by Flurry, which makes analytics software used by such popular apps as Angry Birds, Skype and The New York Times. Because the software is found on more than 140,000 Android and iPhone apps, the company is able to extrapolate its data to estimate how many app downloads happen worldwide on a given day. Using this methodology, it estimates that there were 242 million app downloads on Christmas Day 2011.

For some context, the company observed that global app downloads averaged about 108 million per day for the first 20 days of the month of December, so the Christmas haul doubled the current average. And the company tells us that there were only about 85 million downloads on Christmas 2010, which speaks to the tremendous growth that tablets and smartphones have seen in the last year alone.

Given the Flurry software’s ubiquity, the company can also use its app download and usage data to determine with a high degree of accuracy how many devices are activated on a given day. And here, too, we see a huge spike on Christmas, as we might expect. After an average of 1.5 million iOS and Android devices were activated on a daily basis for the first 20 days of December, that number shot up to 6.8 million device activations on Christmas Day alone. That, too, is a big jump over last Christmas, which saw just 2.8 million device activations. As more tablets enter the market to compete with the iPad (including the Nook Tablet and Kindle Fire), it’s no surprise that people are getting even more devices on Christmas – and then buying the apps to go with them.

Matt Brownell is a staff reporter for MainStreet. You can reach him by email at, or follow him on Twitter @Brownellorama.