How Did Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” Become Popular?

By: Alyssa Miller | Published: Dec 15, 2023

All I want for Christmas is to never get tired of this song. And, based on the Billboard charts for the last several years, I’m not alone.

Mariah Carey’s 1994 holiday song “All I Want for Christmas Is You” has dominated the holiday season just like Whams! “Last Christmas” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee. But why is Carey’s carol so successful? Let’s get into it.

“All I Want for Christmas Is You” Is (Probably) the Most Famous Christmas Song … Ever! 

“All I Want for Christmas Is You” reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 for the past four years in a row (except for this year). The chart represented the most popular songs each week by airplay, sales, and streams across the music industry.


Source: Baro Ph/YouTube

The pop holiday masterpiece written and performed by Carey (with co-writing credits to her longtime collaborator at the time Walter Afanasieff) has dominated the zeitgeist since 1994.

The Song Is Engineered for Success

Musicologist and professor at the Berklee College of Music Joe Bennett notes that “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is perfectly engineered to succeed. While most holiday music in the mid-’90s came from artists who had fallen out of the limelight, Carey was at the top of her game.


Source: Mariah Carey/YouTube

The love and holiday song set Carey, who was known for her power ballads, up for success. It is also vague enough for the song’s messaging about wanting someone for the holidays that everyone can connect to.

Don’t Just Take It from the Musicologist

In a recent interview with “Good Morning America,” Carey explained that she didn’t want to make a Christmas song that couldn’t outlive her career. “That was my goal, to do something timeless that didn’t feel like the ‘90s,” Carey explained.

Mariah Carey in "All I Want for Christmas Is You"

Source: Mariah Carey/YouTube

The holiday reference mixed with instruments and arrangements from Phil Spector’s 1965 holiday classic, “A Christmas Gift for You,” and reference to “White Christmas” make the song a hit across generations.

“All I Want for Christmas Is You” Has Dominated the Charts 

Even if “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is your least favorite holiday song, the public seems to still enjoy it. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” has been at the top of Billboard’s seasonal hits since 2010. The song has been No. 1 for 57 of the 62 weeks it has run (via AP News).

Santa Claus and Mariah Carey perform during a pre-tape performance for NBC's Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center on November 27, 2012 in New York City

Source: James Devaney/WireImage

Even though the song currently sits at No. 2 on Billboard’s chart, the four-minute-long song has been played over 1.65 billion times. That’s pretty impressive!

The Song Was Rumored to Have Been Written in 15 Minutes

According to Afanasieff, much of the work on “All I Want for Christmas Is You” was done by him and Carry in the summer of 1994. The duo has been behind hits on Carey’s albums “Emotions” and “Music Box.”

Someone playing piano

Source: Jesús Bascón/Wikimedia Commons

After playing with a boogie-woogie piano and Carey finding lyrics to fit the melodies she liked, the song was written and composed in just 15 minutes, according to Parade.


Mariah Carey Claims She Wrote the Song Herself

While Afanasieff holds strong that they wrote the song together, Carey tells a different story. In her “Good Morning America” interview, the self-titled Queen of Christmas said the idea just came to her one day while she was on a Casio keyboard.

Mariah Carey holding a "Queen of Christmas" sash on stage

Source: Mariah Carey/YouTube

“I was working on it by myself so I was writing on this little Casio keyboard, writing down words and thinking about, ‘What do I think about Christmas? What do I love? What do I want? What do I dream of?’” she said.


Walter Afanasieff Hits Back at Mariah Carey’s Lie

Afanasieff has talked about Carey taking full credit for the song before. “Mariah has been very wonderful, positive and a force of nature,” Afanasieff told Variety in 2019. “She’s the one that made the song a hit and she’s awesome.”

Pages of lyrics on a table next to a guitar

Source: Kevin Hodgson/Flickr

Afanasieff adds, “But she definitely does not share credit where credit is due. As a result, it has really hurt my reputation and, as a result, has left me with a bittersweet taste in my mouth.”


“All I Want for Christmas Is You” Is About to Become a $100 Million Song

While the song might drive retail workers batty from the absurd amount of times they have to listen to the track, the brains behind the holiday hit are predicted by The Economist to earn over $100 million.

Mariah Carey defrosting for the holidays

Source: Mariah Carey/YouTube

The season is ruled by the song, with Carey often making cheeky remarks about the holiday season being her time to shine with promo videos teasing the song’s upcoming cultural dominance around Halloween.


Country Singers Are Suing Mariah Carey and Walter Afanasieff

However, the song’s co-authors are constantly fighting to keep their earnings. Authors of different songs with the same title have sued, seeking $20 million in damages. Andy Stone and Troy Powers are citing their own 1989 country song, “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” in their lawsuit.

A scale in a law office

Source: Mohamedramadanabdalstar/Wikimedia Commons

Stone and Powers believe that there is an “overwhelming likelihood” that Carey and Afanasieff had heard their song before recording Carey’s holiday hit.


The Lawsuit Might Not Go Anywhere

While the two songs share similar themes, they have no musical similarities. Plus the theme of wanting someone for Christmas is not an original idea. Bing Crosby, Carla Thomas, and Buck Owens all have songs that allude to wanting someone for Christmas.

Mariah Carey singing on stage

Source: PickPik

It doesn’t seem like the two artists suing Carey and Afanasieff will get much from their lawsuit.


Pop Christmas Songs Are Always Going to Be Hits

It is hard for a good poppy Christmas song to not perform well. The rising pop star Sabrina Carpenter, who has been opening for the South American leg of Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, dropped her first Christmas EP, “Fruitcake.” Fans, both old and new, are devouring her album, with some songs becoming instant Christmas hits.

Sabrina Carpenter holding a fruitcake over her face

Source: Sabrina Carpenter/YouTube

While we can enjoy some new holiday favorites, the classics, like “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” are here to stay. So turn up the volume, sip some hot cocoa by the tree, and sing along before the season ends.