‘It’s timeee!’ for a celebration of Mariah Carey, the ultimate Queen of Christmas

Orla Tinsley: The next day, as I fought for life, the joy and magic of that night, suspended in time, was something that could live forever

Light snow dusted the sidewalks in New York City that morning and outside the Beacon Theatre, on the Upper West Side, the weight of time and its commitments seemed to melt away as the crowd heated up in anticipation.

We were deep into December 2017. The drunken Santas of SantaCon had already stumbled around the Lower East Side in revelry and vomit but the throngs of glowing faces lining up to see the Rockefeller Christmas tree was growing by the day. If you’re trying to picture it, that’s the tree that Kevin McAlister, lost in New York, gazes up at wishing that his mom would reappear – and she does. It’s a place of Christmas miracles. Nearby, as the light show projection on the Saks windows illuminated the night and its festive music floated down Fifth Avenue, somewhere, in the greatest city in the world, Mariah Carey was preparing to take the stage.

“It’s timeee!” for a celebration in Mariah World parlance. Every year on November 1st Carey’s fans – the Lambily – are given a moment when a video posted on Carey’s Instagram signals the end of one season and the advent of her own personal Christmas kingdom. These immortal words – like spells whispered between witches from centuries past – unleash the most iconic Christmas song of our time, All I Want For Christmas is You. In fact, it is one of the biggest selling singles of all time. But Mariah Carey doesn’t do time.

“I don’t have birthdays, I have anniversaries. I just don’t accept it,” Carey has famously said more than once, dahling. What Carey does is moments and this year on her Instagram the diva, timelessly frozen in a block of ice, breaks free by unleashing one of her famous meticulously high pitched G6 whistle notes as the opening chimes of All I Want For Christmas is You play. The Emancipation of Mimi is not only the name of her 2005 comeback album but the relentless theme of a woman who has freed herself over and over again from abusive relationships to cultural expectations.


Carey’s relationship to the moment manifests from her innate diva character which someone raised by her mother, an actual opera diva, and by her “guncles” – her fabulous gay uncles – could hardly ignore. While there was dysfunction around the family Christmas table, it was the guncles, Burt and Myron, who created what she calls in her memoir a “homey Christmas”, and thank goodness they did. The queen of Christmas gives us moments each festive season where she is timeless, tireless and raking in an estimated $3 million every year from All I Want For Christmas is You. Last year it was a kind of BDSM Wicked Witch of the West cycling furiously mid crazed cackle that signalled the moment and then poof! An ageless Carey appeared. She was wearing what seemed to be the very red and white outfit from the original 1994 video of the festive hit. Time? I don’t know her.

That name, the “Queen of Christmas”, Carey tried to trademark in 2022 but in a blow to her reign it was rejected by US officials. And yet somehow the song she wrote in 1994 has crowned her queen – legally or not – as All I Want For Christmas resides at number one in the Billboard Global chart for the second week again this season.

But it’s not such a happy Christmas for the song’s co-writer, Walter Afanasieff, who previously told Variety of his despair. “I’m constantly, every single year at this same time of the year having to defend myself, because a lot of people just don’t believe that I’m a co-writer of the song. Mariah has been very wonderful, positive and a force of nature. She’s the one that made the song a hit and she’s awesome. But she definitely does not share credit where credit is due. As a result, it has really hurt my reputation,” Afanasieff said.

In 2020, Carey became the first artist to achieve a number one on the Hot Billboard 100 across four separate decades.

Back at the Beacon Theatre that day, as my best friend and I took our seats, the lights dimmed, and when that unmistakable silhouette ascended the stage along with that voice, time dissolved. We were alive in Mariah World which, much like her then airing reality show, was camp and classic with comforting amounts of divadom, shade, spectacular and sheer giftedness. That night, as we stood together in a Mariah Moment we manifested an anniversary that now holds testament to friendship and the ways in which divadom, and all its trappings and thrills, can support, hold and inspire in the most challenging times. It’s something to take joy in, talk about, trivialise and something that tenderises a world when it has become too sharp at the edges.

“Me and Mariah go back like babies and pacifiers, Ol’ dirty dog no liar” the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard famously rapped on the first Fantasy remix. His words echoed in my ears for a moment as the peculiar rapture of that time and the reality I existed in sunk in. By now, because of end stage cystic fibrosis, I had been waiting for a double lung transplant for nine months. It was long enough to grow a newborn human and just enough time for my own 30-year-old body to deteriorate into almost nothingness. Now, just hours after the concert, I was being placed on life support. If this was it, I thought, what a final night of freedom to have.

What I remembered most was the sheer breadth of her catalogue, the surprise and thrill as I recalled songs I had forgotten alive right in front of me. The finale, when the song of the moment illuminated the theatre, Santa Claus himself burst through the backdoors bringing joy to all. That whole day I had been feeling unwell but I did my make-up, we showed up for one another and in turn the Queen of Christmas showed up for us. That, to me, was the most powerful kind of moment. The next day, as I fought for life, the joy and magic of that night, suspended in time, was something that could live forever.

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