A Very Special Christmas was the brainchild of music producer Jimmy Iovine, who wanted to produce a Christmas album as a memorial to his father. The idea of the record benefiting Special Olympics was suggested by Iovine's wife Vicki, as she was a volunteer for the organization. Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, the founders of A&M Records, along with Bobby Shriver, helped the Iovines realize the project. Since the release of the first album in 1987, the series has raised over $100 million for Special Olympics, more than any other benefit series. The album cover art is designed by artist Keith Haring.
In 1995, the jazz-oriented Jazz to the World was released by Blue Note Records. The following year, World Christmas, which focused on diverse artists from around the globe, was released by Blue Note subsidiary Metro Blue Records. Although they are not part of the main A Very Special Christmas series, the proceeds from these albums also benefit Special Olympics.