As it celebrates its 25th anniversary, Mariah Carey's Christmas classic is more popular than ever


October's gone, the Halloween decorations have been put away, a few banana Laffy Taffy wrappers the only remnant of what once was. 

Now, it's Mariah season.

As soon as November strikes, the holidays begin. They're a whir of parties, decorations and festive cheer where time becomes a blur and you can't help but feel dizzy from it all. And it unfolds against the inescapable backdrop of Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You," one of the most honest expressions of pure joy ever captured on record.

Even Grinches can't deny its splendor, a blustery Phil Spector-style wall of sound that hits like a winter blast. For 25 years, "All I Want for Christmas Is You" has been the soundtrack of happiness. Its appeal is not limited to two months a year; I once heard it in a Jersey Shore bar at the peak of summer and the place lit up like a Christmas tree.

Just put it on and try not to smile. And we deserve a few smiles; at a time when we're defined by our division and everything in our country is topsy-turvy, "All I Want for Christmas Is You" is a unifier. (Sure, it has its deniers, but so does climate change.)

Showing its extraordinary legs, the song is more popular than ever. Last year, it racked up 10.82 million plays on Christmas day, setting the single-day record for most Spotify streams. It rose to No. 3 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, a new peak for the song, making it the highest-charting holiday single of all-time. 

This year, it's going all the way to No. 1.

It won't get there on its own. Mariah is going all out for the song's 25th season, and on Friday she released a new cut of the song's music video, featuring unreleased footage from its original shoot. She's doing a run of dates on her annual holiday tour. On her website she's selling "All I Want for Christmas Is You"-branded hats, sweatshirts, stockings, enamel pins, 12" records and cassette singles. Christmas cheer will only get you so far; this is still capitalism, after all. 

Its ascendancy has already begun, just as fans are dusting off their Christmas Mariah Funko Pops. Right on cue, "All I Want for Christmas Is You" re-entered the top 200 on iTunes' U.S. sales chart this week. Spotify has bumped it to the top of Mariah's artist profile. And if you haven't heard it yet on the radio or in CVS — holiday stations began their all-Christmas playlists Nov. 1 — you will soon.

Mariah herself greeted November's arrival with an Instagram post that showed her going to sleep in her Halloween costume (she dressed as an '80s rocker) and waking up to a phone call from Santa, the opening chimes of "All I Want" playing as the clock struck midnight. "It's time!" she says, stretching her arms, clad in her own Mariah-branded Christmas pajamas, which shockingly aren't available on her website.

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The post is an example of Mariah's self-awareness and newfound mastery of meme culture. (She even participated in this summer's bottle-cap challenge, popping a bottle like only she can.) And she showed grace this year when she congratulated Lil Nas X for breaking her all-time Hot 100 streak, a record you know she did not want to give up.  

"All I Want for Christmas Is You" was not always the holiday juggernaut it has become. Upon initial release — President Bill Clinton was in his first term in office, "Pulp Fiction" was the No. 1 movie at the box office and R.E.M. was on the cover of Rolling Stone — it was not made available commercially as a single, although it still managed to scale the Billboard charts. Its world domination began with its inclusion in "Love Actually," the 2003 Christmas-set romantic comedy that has become a holiday tradition in its own right. In the film, the song is used as the centerpiece of the performance that ties its disparate storylines together.

Now it's everywhere. There's a version with Justin Bieber, released as part of his 2011 Christmas album. It's been covered by Michael Buble, Fifth Harmony, She & Him and My Chemical Romance. It was even covered by Mariah herself, who re-recorded the song and included it on her second Christmas album, 2010's "Merry Christmas II You." 

But nothing tops the original, which has become as much a part of the Christmas season as sleigh bells or snowmen. It's the gift that keeps on giving. There's a lot to be upset about these days, and it's tough to bring people together. "All I Want for Christmas Is You" brings people together, and it makes Mariah season the most wonderful time of the year.


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