Crowning a Monarch
In 1994, Christmas as we know it was forever changed when Mariah Carey released her first Christmas album. Before 1994, the phrase “Merry Christmas” was merely a holiday greeting… until Mariah Carey claimed the phrase for her own.
Its omnipresence every holiday season makes it difficult to fathom, but it was November 1, 1994 when Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas first graced the earth. Since then, Mariah has become synonymous with Christmas. It’s as if she received the Mandate of Heaven. Mariah Carey sits beside Nat King Cole on the throne: she is the indisputable Queen of Christmas. Her iconic album forms her tiara, and “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is its crown jewel. Merry Christmas is the blueprint for all modern holiday collections; its festive mix of traditional covers and original songs that possess a perennial relevancy formed an archetype of quality and success that is often emulated. What feels almost like a right-of-passage now (thanks to Mariah) seemed like a risk in 1994 in the eyes of the 24 year old Princess of Pop.
Taking the Risk
The Queen of Christmas Mariah Carey didn’t even want to make a Christmas album at that point in her career. Presented to her by then-husband and label head Tommy Mottolla, Mariah was hesitant about the idea. In her own words, she thought it was going to turn her into “Connie Francis.” Nevertheless, she did surrender to the idea and started to write original music for it. She sat down at her Casio keyboard in her upstate New York mansion and wrote the basis of what would become the ubiquitous, perennial classic that is “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”
“All I Want For Christmas Is You” is a condensation of all the things that make a perfect Christmas. According to Mariah, it is composed of all the things she would wish for during the holidays. The joyful and romantic nature of the song is embellished and made even more vivid by the 1960s Phil Spector sound that she and Walter Afanasieff channeled with the production. For years people believed the song was a cover of an old Motown era record, which is actually both offensive and a compliment to Mariah as a songwriter.
Penning New Classics
Mariah wanted her first Christmas album to be so special that she created two more original songs for it. One is the emotional “Miss You Most (At Christmas Time),” which captures the nostalgic feeling of missing a lost loved one the most during a festive occasion such as a holiday; the other is the children’s choir-assisted “Jesus Born on This Day,” a Gospel-tinged celebration of Jesus coming to save humanity from sin with his “light and grace” on Christmas Day.
Mariah’s renditions of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” both follow the Phil Spector blueprint. In recent years, they have not only become two of the most popular songs on the album, but arguably the songs’ definitive modern renditions.
The other major uptempo number, “Joy to the World,” is actually a mash-up of the traditional hymn and the upbeat chorus of the Three Dog Night version, held together by a thumping dance beat. Mariah also being the remix Queen, of course she had to make it even more festive with a set of completely re-sung remixes created with David Morales that will be released on this special edition of Merry Christmas for the first time ever.
If her rendition of “Silent Night” opens the album with a sweet and subdued piano and vocal approach, Mariah quickly comes swinging in the vocals department with her epic take on “O’ Holy Night,” which is a complete church moment. Poised and operatic, Mariah’s voice soars to heaven and will make you “fall on your knees” in prayer for Jesus. The power is real.
Another mash-up Mariah created is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Gloria in Excelsis Deo),” which seamlessly unites a traditional 1739 Christmas carol and a sacred hymn with a crystal clear and moving vocal performance.
“Jesus Oh What a Wonderful Child” is Mariah’s first full experiment with Gospel. The continuous back and forth with the choir and the final praise session are the perfect religious experience to close the album.
Upon its original release, only international fans were blessed with the beautiful a cappella harmonies of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” the traditional hymn that Mariah made her own to announce the coming of Jesus through her signature layered vocals. With 2019’s Anniversary Edition, it will finally be part of the album for everyone around the world.
Many have tried to recapture the magic of Merry Christmas, and, specifically, “All I Want For Christmas is You”. Britney’s Spears’ “My Only Wish This Year,” Leona Lewis’ “One More Sleep,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Underneath the Tree” and Ariana Grande’s “Santa Tell Me” are just a few examples of Pop divas channeling their inner Mariah and describing what makes Christmas more festive for them.
It’s no secret that the part of the reason why “All I Want For Christmas Is You” has had such a huge resurgence in the media is the famous school talent scene in the hugely popular 2003 film Love Actually. Olivia Olson’s cover for the movie sparked a renewed interest in the song and many artists started releasing or performing their own renditions of it in different genres, from John Mayer, to Michael Bublé, to Shania Twain and Lady Antebellum, just to name a few.
Over the years Mariah has made Christmas a top priority in her busy schedule and as the Queen of Christmas, she’s been called to grace numerous stages during the holidays. She’s performed her festive classics at the tree lighting ceremony at the Rockefeller Center for years, twice at the Disney World Parade and even at the Obamas’ Christmas in Washington celebration in 2010.
The staggering chart stats alone for both Merry Christmas and “All I Want For Christmas Is You” would suffice to clear any doubt on the significance of Mariah’s Christmas music. The album has sold close to 6 million copies in the US and is estimated to have cleared 20 million worldwide, with the figures getting bigger with each passing year.
“All I Want For Christmas Is You” keeps getting new chart peaks all around the world and in the 2018 holiday season it was #1 in 15 countries. In the US, it has topped the Billboard Holiday 100 chart for 35 weeks since the chart’s 2011 inception. Ever since 2012, Billboard has also allowed holiday titles to chart on the Hot 100 if the song has enough points to make it inside the top 50. “All I Want For Christmas Is You” has appeared every year. It also became the first ever holiday song to reach #1 on the streaming chart.
All I Want For Christmas is… #19
In 2019, when the song and album celebrated their 25th anniversaries, Mariah Carey finally earned her much-coveted 19th #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2020, she reclaimed the pole position, tallying a total of five weeks at #1 across three different chart years.
With parodies, viral videos and covers of the song popping up every year, the Queen of Christmas made history in her 25th year on the throne. Mariah’s team prepared a campaign fit for a Queen to celebrate the anniversary with the release of a deluxe edition of Merry Christmas, merchandise items, collectable CD singles, cassettes and vinyls of “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and a special tour version of her annual All I Want For Christmas Is You: A Night of Joy and Festivity residency (including a date at the legendary Madison Square Garden).
Deluxe Anniversary Edition
The deluxe edition of Merry Christmas features special audio recordings of Mariah’s 1994 special fundraising concert at the St. John the Divine Cathedral for the Fresh Air Fund, which had never been released before.
The Merry Christmas Deluxe Anniversary Edition track-listing is completed by Mariah’s original compositions “Oh Santa!,” “Christmas Time Is in the Air Again” and a duet version of “When Christmas Comes” with John Legend from her second Christmas album Merry Christmas II You (2010). Also included are the 2018 Golden Globe-nominated song “The Star” from the omonymous animated movie and “Lil Snowman” from Mariah’s own animated film (All I Want For Christmas Is You). The ultimate magic touch is Mariah’s introlude over the notes of Tchaikovski’s classic “Sugar Fairy Plum.”