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Mariah Carey is virtually synonymous with Christmas — her holiday hit, “All I Want For Christmas,” has been a seasonal staple since 1994 and a reliable chart-topper in recent years.
Carey sought to make her reign official last year by filing a petition to trademark the title “Queen of Christmas,” meaning that no one else would be able to use it.
Her company, Lotion LLC, wanted to use that branding — as well as the terms “Princess Christmas” and “QOC” — for a range of products, from fragrances and makeup to clothing, jewelry and dog accessories, according to trademark applications.
That effort proved controversial, as at least two other artists known for their seasonal songs publicly took issue with Carey laying claim to the throne: Darlene Love, who said David Letterman christened her Queen of Christmas nearly three decades ago, and Elizabeth Chan, who describes herself as “music’s only full-time Christmas singer-songwriter.”
Chan officially filed a motion in opposition to Carey’s request earlier this year, on the basis that she herself had repeatedly been dubbed the “Queen of Christmas” and already used the brand “Princess of Christmas” in connection with her young daughter.
Carey’s team stayed largely silent — legal filings show they filed several motions to extend proceedings in recent months, but did not file a response to Chan’s objection by the fall deadline. NPR has reached out to Carey’s publicist for comment.
Earlier this week, the Trial Trademark and Appeal Board finally made a “judgment by default,” rejecting Carey’s trademark request.
Carey hasn’t commented publicly on her lost trademark bid, but does appear willing to share the title: Last week, after Dolly Parton said in an interview that she was happy to be second in line to her, Carey tagged Parton in a Tweet calling her “The Queen of the World, The Queen of Christmas, The Queen of Mine!!”
And the decision hasn’t stopped Carey from getting in the holiday spirit. Just this month, she released a children’s book called The Christmas Princess as well as a new collection of holiday-inspired bath and body products.
Meanwhile, the other Christmas queens have expressed their relief that the title can be safely shared with anyone who wants it.
“Thank you, Lord!! Congrats to all the other Queen of Christmases around the world, living and whom have passed!” Love wrote on Facebook.
WilmerHale, the law firm representing Chan, described her win as “a complete victory” in a statement issued Tuesday.
“Mariah Carey’s company was engaged in classic trademark bullying: trying to monopolize the title ‘Queen of Christmas’ with a trademark registration,” said Louis Tompros, who led Chan’s legal team. “It’s important to stand up to bullies. That’s what we helped do here. Now, because of what Elizabeth did, nobody can claim exclusive and permanent rights to the ‘Queen of Christmas’ title.”
What to know about Chan, the Christmas singer who challenged Carey’s claim
“It has been a year-long legal struggle, but I’m glad that justice has prevailed and that I can continue doing what I do best: bringing Christmas music and entertainment to the world,” Chan said in a statement.
Chan has exclusively released music and products related to Christmas for the last 10 years, according to her court filing.
It also says she has used the “Princess of Christmas” branding for her daughter — who is named Noelle, the French word for Christmas — in connection with the sale and licensing of things like music, books and entertainment for the past five years.
Chan says she’s embraced the “Queen of Christmas” moniker dating back to at least 2014. That’s also the headline of a 2018 New Yorker profile of Chan, which describes her as “America’s most successful, and perhaps only, full-time Christmas-song singer-slash-composer.”
Chan quit her executive-level job at Condé Nast in 2012 to pursue her dream of creating “a great Christmas standard,” and spent nearly two years writing a Christmas song a day before a single from her first, self-funded and self-released album landed on the 2013 Billboard chart, according to the magazine.
She’s released an all-original, all-Christmas album every year since. Her 12th album, “12 Months of Christmas,” came out in October, and features several songs directly inspired by her trademark fight.
Chan told Vulture that she wrote “Giver” for the friend who helped her find lawyers, based on a conversation about her not being able to afford them. She also wrote a song for Tompros, the head of her legal team, who asked her whether she’d ever thought about writing a Christmas song for or about lawyers. It’s called “The Santa Clause.”
Chan’s journey into the legal battle was somewhat indirect, as she explained to the publication. She first found out about Carey’s efforts to trademark the term while she was going through the normal legal process ahead of the release of her 2021 spoken-word album Queen of Christmas. She didn’t want any one person — not even herself — to hold that title exclusively.
“Everyone’s very focused on the win, and very focused on Mariah, but I feel it’s really important for people to understand my motivation in this was to really protect and save Christmas for generations after us,” she told Vulture. “I always thought about the future of Christmas music and wanting to protect the genre to allow other artists like me to shepherd in Christmas music without anything in their way.”
Chan also wanted to honor the Christmas queens that came before her, citing musicians like Karen Carpenter and Brenda Lee as well as Love and Carey. The title applies to people outside the music world too, she adds, from the Virgin Mary to winners of local Christmas pageants worldwide to her own grandmother.
“I mean, I was not the one who was trying to stop anybody else,” Chan says. “I was just the one that stood up and said, ‘Hey, you can’t stop anybody else.’ “