Merry Christmas is the fourth studio album by Mariah Carey, and her first Christmas album. Released by Columbia Records on October 28, 1994, at the peak of the initial stretch of Carey’s career, between Music Box (1993) and Daydream (1995), the album features cover versions of popular Christmas songs in addition to original material. Carey worked with Walter Afanasieff, with whom she wrote all of the original tracks, as well as producing Carey’s interpretations of the covered material. Three singles were released from the album, of which “All I Want for Christmas Is You” went on to become one of the best-selling singles of all time and the best-selling Christmas ringtone in the United States.
Carey has expressed her belief in God and the connection between music and spirituality, and felt the album was finally a way to portray her spirituality through music. After the success of Carey’s previous effort, Music Box, there was speculation of a new project in the works; however it was not until October 1994, only one month before the album’s release, that Billboard announced Carey would be releasing an album for the Christmas season. Initially, critics were shocked; they did not know how Carey would fare as an entertainer across genres, as she had previously only been viewed as a pop star. Nevertheless, Carey, unaffected by the speculation, continued working on and promoting the album in high spirits, confident in her work. The idea proved to be wise, earning Carey recognition in various markets including Christian radio and contemporary R&B stations, as well as extended her fame in Japan, where the album experienced much of its success.
“You have to have a nice balance between standard Christian hymns and fun songs. It was definitely a priority for me to write at least a few new songs, but for the most part, people really want to hear the standards at Christmas, no matter how good a new song is.“ —Carey, describing Merry Christmas during an interview with CD Review.
Critical response to the album‘s contemporary Christmas theme was mixed. Some music critics complimented the “gospel and soul-inflected” vocals and even called it “Carey’s best record” to date. Re-released on multiple occasions in various formats since its debut, the album has sold 5.7 million copies in the United States as of December 2019 and has been certified eight times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Internationally, it reached number one in Japan, Latvia, and Lithuania. It achieved top-ten in 16 additional countries including Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. As of 2021, Merry Christmas has sold 15 million copies worldwide, becoming one of the best-selling holiday albums of all time.