Poet, author and Mariah superfan Hanif Abdurraqib on growing up with “All I Want for Christmas Is You”
I didn't grow up celebrating Christmas, but I did grow up celebrating Mariah. Music Box was the first album I purchased with my own money; by the time “All I Want for Christmas Is You” came out, one year later, I was prepared for Mariah to be the sole reason for my Christmas to mean something. I would listen to it on headphones at the start of winter break as a kid, dutifully but regretfully retiring it every Dec. 26. It was the one holiday indulgence I allowed myself.
All of the best Christmas songs are also love songs, and “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is the one that’s most honest about the fact that what we really want during the holidays is a warm body to share a bed or a couch with. In the music video, that someone is notably missing. We see Mariah kick around alone in the snow, revel in opening gifts alone, twirl around a tree solo, sometimes petting a dog. And it feels right: Somehow that tone of bittersweet absence is what makes the song work.
Now, when it is cold enough to heat up a mug of anything warm and sit on a couch in winter, I find that I still want the kind of companionship that Mariah sings about. Most of all, I want the feeling that listening to “All I Want for Christmas Is You” has always given me. In every box I open on Christmas morning, I want what I feel when the percussion first kicks in. I want to open a box with not only Mariah’s signature high note at the end but also the anticipation of that note -- the gift that we wait for eagerly, hoping for its arrival, knowing that it is promised. If all great Christmas songs capture some feeling deeply specific to the season, let it be said that this is the greatest example of the form: a song about desire, for a holiday about wanting.