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Why 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' is a staple year after year

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's that time of year for chestnuts roasting on an open fire - which I'm not sure I've ever actually seen - sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling, too, and Mariah Carey. On her TikTok account, she breaks out of a block of ice - defrosting, if you will. And that leads to the opening notes of a song that has come to herald Christmas.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARIAH CAREY: It's time. (Singing) I don't want a lot for Christmas.

SIMON: "All I Want For Christmas Is You." The song hit 1 billion streams on Spotify this week.

GARY TRUST: It's not the holiday season until Mariah says it is.

SIMON: That's Gary Trust, Billboard's senior director of charts. Now, Mariah Carey was already famous when she recorded this song in 1994, and Gary Trust explains the song was an unconventional choice at the time.

TRUST: It was rare that anyone at that time was putting out original holiday music. It was just sort of accepted that you'd release covers of standards because holiday music tends to be about comfort and nostalgia and songs that we've all grown up with over the holidays.

SIMON: But the song paid off in all ways - irresistible, bubbly as holiday champagne. Go ahead, try not to sing along. (Singing) All I want for - sorry.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU")

CAREY: (Singing) I won't make a list and send it to the North Pole for St. Nick.

TRUST: It sounds like what we've always traditionally thought a holiday song sounds like, with those jingle bells and just the fun, upbeat sound, but updated for the 90s and obviously Mariah's vocals. With different lyrics, I feel like this could be a hit any time of the year.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU")

CAREY: (Singing) Baby, all I want for Christmas is you.

SIMON: And now Mariah Carey's Christmas classic - can we call it that finally? - reigns on social media. Memes and videos about the song go viral every year, and Mariah Carey joins in, like in this impromptu rendition on TikTok she posted a few days ago with several family members joining in.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAREY: (Singing) All I want for Christmas...

MOROCCAN CANNON: ...Is...

MARIAH CAREY, MONROE CANNON AND MOROCCAN CANON: ...You, you.

TRUST: She makes it really personal, and it's just that connection back-and-forth. I think memes really work when there's that interaction, obviously. That's how they keep growing. So I think if she didn't have a sense of humor, maybe we wouldn't connect with her as much.

SIMON: "All I Want For Christmas Is You" has become part of our holiday soundtrack and, says Gary Trust, part of who Mariah Carey is to so many millions of people.

TRUST: There's a new Christmas stocking at Target that you can get, Mariah Christmas wrapping paper. It's become kind of its own industry, and she's sort of a modern-day Santa Claus at this point.

SIMON: And what a gift she's given us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU")

CAREY: (Singing) And everyone is singing. I hear those sleigh bells ringing.

SIMON: That was Gary Trust, Billboard's senior director of charts. All we want for Christmas is BJ Leiderman to do our theme music. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.