The Story Behind “All I Want for Christmas is You”

Nearly seventy years ago a music teacher filling in for his wife’s second grade class asked the children what they wanted for Christmas.   When hearing the sibilant sounds erupting all over the room, it inspired the man, Donald Yetter Gardner, to compose “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.” Two years later, the song was number one in the country.

So I decided to ask my students the same thing. I told them to fill in the blank: “All I want for Christmas is . . .” and as if they had rehearsed their answer for hours, the chorus of voices came back loud and clear, “. . . YOU!” Obviously, the Mariah Carey song had left an indelible impression on their minds. To millennials, “All I Want” is their “White Christmas.”

“All I Want” is on the Top 30 Holiday Songs of the Century list compiled by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) [ascap.com/press/2014/1203-top-holiday-songs-100-years], the newest song on the list.

Commemorating its 20th anniversary, the 1994 composition was co-written and co-produced by Walter Afanasieff. If his name doesn’t ring a Christmas bell, look at some of the recording artists he has worked with: Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Savage Garden, Beyoncé, Michael Bolton, Josh Groban, Luther Vandross.

Multiple Grammy award winner and nominee, Afanasieff won his first for producing Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from “Titanic.” Within the last couple of months he has produced Barbra Streisand’s latest album “Partners” which is nominated for a Grammy Award this year, and Idina Menzel’s “Holiday Wishes.”  Menzel, who made a name for herself in “Wicked,” also sang “Let it Go” in the Disney animated film “Frozen.”

What’s interesting is that while Afanasieff worked on the Oscar-winning songs “Beauty and the Beast” and “A Whole New World,” the Disney executives who knew him had left the company so he wasn’t on the radar when “Frozen” was made.

He is currently working on a Broadway musical for Menzel revolving around Julia Butterfly Hill, the activist who sat in a redwood tree for 738 days back in the late 1990s.

Afanasieff is no stranger to producing Christmas albums. The first one he did with Kenny G called “Miracles” has sold over 10 million copies.

A modest and gracious person, Afanasieff said that when he and Carey wrote “All I Want” in New York during the summertime they never expected it would become a classic.

“I thought ‘Miss You Most (at Christmas Time)’ was going to be the big hit off the album,” Afanasieff said.

“‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ is basically a simple song; it took form quickly, no more than an hour or so for the music, and Mariah had the lyrics soon after that.”  All of the instruments heard on the recording is “just me playing all of the parts sequenced from the keyboard.”

One quality unique about “All I Want” is that “we created probably the only uptempo Christmas love song . . . that everybody can relate to.”

Afanasieff feels “very appreciative of the legacy of the song.”

“When I hear the song playing during Christmas, in a mall or someplace, it makes me feel quite proud.”

Perhaps someone out there will end up writing a new Christmas classic that in 2035 will be marking its 20th anniversary, part of the canon of carols.

Perhaps it may even be Afanasieff himself.

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