The holidays are a special time around 30 Rock. While tourists flock to see the towering Christmas tree, the Saturday Night Live writers room is busy thinking of holiday sketches you’ll reminisce about as you put up the stockings for years to come. Some of SNL’s all-time great sketches illustrate the best of the holiday spirit or lack thereof as show’s biggest stars often shined the brightest just before the New Year.
From unlikely Santas to unorthodox gift-giving, we’re looking at 25 of our favorite Saturday Night Live holiday sketches. We’ll be going in chronological order here. There is a big dose of modern stuff in there, but what can I say? The show might be more miss than hit these days, but they really hit it out of the park year after year with the Christmas sketches.
Very early in the show’s run, we get this classic where an adult woman (Laraine Newman) is all about sitting on Santa’s lap like when she was a little kid. The initial laugh is that before sitting down, she puts pieces of toilet paper on Santa’s leg for protection, like one would do in a public bathroom. Dan Aykroyd, her companion on this trip, seems shocked by this. Not that she’s trying to protect herself from germs, but because she’s not going far enough!
Suddenly, it turns out to be a commercial for Santi-Wrap, a festive and plasticky take on toilet seat covers. Not only do those two sell the product concept so well, but John Belushi as the mall Santa pushes it further by coming off as a complete disaster of a man who is probably riddled with disease.
One of the show’s all-time best line deliveries is Belushi’s drunken, “Ho ho ho…” which has both defiant gusto and the sense that he’s seconds away from vomiting all over himself.
Mr. Robinson’s Christmas (1984)
Saturday Night Live has been a stepping stone to superstardom ever since Chevy Chase became a household name during its first season. In the 80s, Eddie Murphy’s recurring roles on SNL helped raise his profile as he eventually became one of, if not the biggest star of the decade. It was around Christmas time when Murphy’s spin on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood became one of the sketches that came to define his tenure at Studio 8H.
Mr. Robinson’s neighborhood isn’t quite as nice as Mister Rogers’ but at Christmas time you have to make the best with what you have. Mr. Robinson was able to do that with a chunk of lettuce and a headless doll and Murphy was able to make the most of every opportunity he had on SNL.
It’s a Wonderful Life: The Lost Ending (1986)
If you’ve seen the 1946 American Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life, odds are you’ve been inspired by its heart-warming ending. Thanks to SNL and host William Shatner, we now have footage of the “fabled” lost ending to Frank Capra’s Christmas epic and it’s anything but heartwarming. Rather than end the film with everyone coming to George Bailey’s aid in his time of need and celebrating his lifetime of selflessness and kindness, it decides to give Mr. Potter a fate more explicit than being doomed to failure and loneliness. Phil Hartman pops in as Uncle Billy and not only remembers what happened to the missing money, but knows exactly who has it!
Dana Carvey makes the sketch as a George Bailey hell-bent on revenge. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without seeing him give Mr. Potter a beat down alongside his bloodthirsty loved ones.
Master Thespian Plays Santa Claus (1987)
Jon Lovitz’s characters were usually very hammy by design. Whether he was a pathological liar or the Devil himself, he always went to 11. One of his better recurring characters was Master Thespian, a scene-chewing Shakespearean actor who takes himself and his roles far too seriously.
In this installment, he would be playing the role of a mall Santa Claus.
Thespian doesn’t seem to have heard of Santa, but he’s down for the part. Finding out that there’s no actual script, he improvises and figures out the character via making mistakes and getting scolded by the Macy’s manager (played by Phil Hartman, choosing to base his performance on Frank Nelson because why not). To his surprise, Santa Claus actually LIKES children! These are notes a performer needs to know, man!
Seeing him play off the kids and Hartman is a blast. Speaking of which, one of the better gags is a fart joke that somehow proves how great an actor Master Thespian truly is. THANK YOUUUUUU!
Hanukkah Harry (1989)
Santa Claus (Phil Hartman) is violently ill with the flu, so it seems Christmas might be cancelled. Luckily, there is one man capable of fulfilling his obligations through the same kind of holiday magic. Hanukkah Harry (Jon Lovitz), Santa’s Jewish counterpart, is called in to help.
At its core, it’s a lengthy sketch about Jewish jokes and how lame Hanukkah is outside of it lasting eight days. Springing off of that, it actually makes for a really good, if a little touching, holiday story. There are definite laughs in there, but what was created to be a parody hits a little too close and becomes a genuine gem celebrating both holidays and the spirit of togetherness.
“On Moishe! On Herschel! On Schlomo!”
Motivational Santa (1993)
What started as a pep talk for troubled teens turned into Chris Farley’s iconic recurring character. Matt Foley, the thrice-divorced, sweaty, overweight man who lived in a van down by the river, crashed into our living rooms in 1993 and remained a fixture on SNL until Farley was fired from the show in 1995.
Sometimes a sketch is so successful that the writers are almost forced to bring one or more of its characters around again and Matt Foley was no exception. In one of the funnier times Matt Foley returned, he was hired to spread Christmas cheer as a motivational mall Santa, offering up this gem:
“‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the van
Your ol’ buddy Matt fell asleep on the can.
His children were nestled two time zones away,
With his first wife and her husband, in sunny L.A.
Matt woke up and realized with a chill and a quiver
That he was living in a van down by the river!“
Though many of the same jokes and physical gags are recycled, Farley’s effort, from the painfully high pitch of his voice to crashing down the chimney, earns the Motivational Santa a place in SNL Christmas lore.
Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah Song (1994)
Yes, we’ve heard Adam Sandler’s “The Hanukkah Song” a million times over, but we shouldn’t let that cloud our judgement. It’s one of the first clips that pops into your head when you think “SNL Holiday Sketches” and it will go down as a landmark moment when the history of “Weekend Update” is written 200 years from now. Sandler didn’t use his time to evoke images of being a Jew at Christmas, rather he chose to praise the Festival of Lights and name-drop all the famous people who celebrate it. Since debuting the song in 1994, Sandler’s updated it for his comedy albums and standup routine and given Jewish kids something other than “The Dreidel Song” to belt during during the holidays. Sandler’s clever, original moment is about as influential as it gets for any not-ready-for-prime time player.
It did lead to the movie Eight Crazy Nights, so it isn’t free from sin.
TV Funhouse: Fun with Real Audio (1997)
It’s rare for SNL to get poignant, but here’s a fantastic example. In this animated short, Jesus Christ returns to Earth and spends the first opening minutes being ignored and shoved into the background for disagreeing with televangelists who use his name to line their pockets with donations or to justify their hatred of homosexuals. These bits are, of course, animated over actual audio of said real life sociopaths. Jesus is able to give them their just desserts with his divine magic, but it bums him out.
Walking the city streets, unnoticed by the public at large, Jesus watches Christmas-themed TV through a store window and is disappointed with what he sees. That is, until he comes across Linus’ speech at the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas and we get a final moment that’s adorable, uplifting, and pretty hilarious.
NPR’S Delicious Dish: Schweddy Balls (1998)
The dry, NPR-host banter between Ana Gasteyer’s Margaret Jo McCullen — who cheerfully admits that she leaves tap water and rice out for Santa because “Christmas foods really wreak havoc on the ol’ digestive system” — and Molly Shannon’s Teri Rialto as they discuss delectable Yuletide “balls” with Alec Baldwin’s Pete Schweddy is a can’t-miss skit. The trio makes monotone an art form, while remaining dedicated to the naivety of the characters involved. (In response to Alec Baldwin’s, “But the thing I most like to bring out this time of year are my balls,” their faces barely twitch.) It’s double entendre at its finest, and never fails to leave me in stitches.
Pete Schweddy returned in another episode where he introduced the women to his hotdogs, but having them show so much interest in putting his wiener in their mouths was a little too easy a joke to pull off.
I Wish It Was Christmas Today (2000-the heat death of the universe)
On one December episode, there was a short segment of Horatio Sanz, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Kattan, and Tracy Morgan playing a catchy, albeit incredibly stupid song about Christmas being on the way. Sanz played a skinny guitar while singing, Fallon occasionally pressed an elephant noise button on the keyboard, Kattan held the keyboard while shaking his head, and Morgan danced with a look on his face like he got dragged on stage against his will. It was silly and would have probably been forgotten soon after.
Instead, they returned a week later and insisted on playing it again despite being explicitly told not to. Soon they would start playing it during non-December months to show Christmas’ superiority over other holidays. After Simon Cowell insulted the group, he sheepishly agreed that he wanted to join them and broke out some maracas. One year, when Sanz was the only one left in the cast, he replaced his buddies with Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, and Animal while Kermit the Frog danced in a way that you have to wonder if a Muppet is capable of snorting coke.
The song still gets brought out now and then, usually on Fallon’s show. It’s even been covered by Julian Casablancas and Cheap Trick of all people!
They did sing a completely different Christmas song one time, but nobody cared.
Glengarry Glen Elf: Christmas Motivation (2005)
Alec Baldwin seems to be the go-to host for classic Christmas sketches. Playing on his iconic Glengarry Glen Ross character Blake, Baldwin (in a way) reprises the role as 615-year-old “elf from the home office” sent to straighten out the subpar work of Santa’s elves. There couldn’t have been a more perfect break in character than when Baldwin says “Always Be Closing” instead of “Always Be Cobbling” as scripted. It’s a slip-up that makes for a perfect holiday sketch, full of deep-bellied laughs.
TV Funhouse: Christmastime for the Jews (2005)
Not only is the witty “Christmas for the Jews” written by comedy legend Robert Smigel, but it’s sung by David Letterman’s Christmas angel Darlene Love. In “Christmas for the Jews,” the characters see “Fiddler on the Roof,” grab an early dinner, and enjoy dreamland Daily Show reruns. It’s an intriguing and catchy look at the other side of the Christmas season, complete with a very Rankin-Bass animation style.
Digital Short: Dick in a Box (2006)
Justin Timberlake is one of the most entertaining, versatile hosts that SNL has been gifted. A member of their prestigious Five-Timers Club, “Dick in a Box” is Timberlake’s most memorable sketch, filled with skeevy, disgusting come-ons from Andy Samberg and Timberlake, which has been viewed just millions and millions of times. In 2006, Timberlake had already impressed critics and viewers alike with his acting range in Alpha Dog, but his comedic turns on SNL solidified him as an actor. Timberlake has done a lot of impressive things in his time as an entertainer, but there are few more enjoyable (or laughable) than “Dick in a Box.”
These two R&B weirdos would return later on to sleep with each other’s moms as reciprocated Mother’s Day presents and later swear that being in a two-guy/one-girl three-way isn’t considered gay.
John Malkovich Reads ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (2008)
As quipped by the man himself, no one emits Christmas spirit quite like John Malkovich. This admission yields the self-reflexive irony of Malkovich reading “The Night Before Christmas” to the children of SNL’s staff. Malkovich, pausing during his reading of the holiday classic, asks the children about the suicide rate rising during the holidays, talking about how shooting a home invader in California is “perfectly legal,” musing about how the tonnage of Santa’s sleigh and reindeer would (scientifically speaking) burst into flames, how in Portugal their version of Saint Nicholas steals children’s toes, as well as reciting the gem: “You know what they say about hopes; they’re what we cling to when reality has left us nothing else.” If you’re in a lighthearted Christmas mood, Malkovich’s monologue is certainly one to enjoy.
Stefon on Holiday Travel (2010)
Bill Hader was highly respected for his versatility and range during his time at SNL, but it was his improvisational skills that turned a Weekend Update bit into a must-see recurring segment. Stefon, likely the defining character for SNL during the 2010s thus far, informed New Yorkers and tourists alike of the city’s hottest nightclubs – with Hader almost always breaking down in laughter as his cue cards were frequently changed from the rehearsal to throw him off.
Stefon knew how to get weird and you can imagine he’d save some fun things for the a “classic New York holiday.” Make sure to check out the Lower, Lower East Side dump hosted by Tranderson Cooper or find a club with the right amount of Puerto Rican Screeches or Gay Aladdins. Just don’t run over the Human Parking Cones.
Stefon would return with more Christmastime insight three years later, where he’d discuss a club called [loud Tauntaun noises], founded by Jewish cartoon character Menorah the Explorer.
Under-Underground Crunkmas Karnival (2010)
Good God, I wish there were more Under-Underground Records sketches. As a parody of the Gathering of the Juggalos, we’d regularly see DJ Supersoak (Jason Sudeikis) and Lil Blaster (Nasim Pedrad) excitedly talk up huge concert events that are needlessly violent and inexplicable in their randomness. For instance, there’s the Crunkmas Karnival, which features such musical acts as Dump, Boys II Dicks, Scrotum Fire, and…Third Eye Blind for some reason.
It’s just a bunch of loud humor that goes back and forth between being stupidly hardcore and being meekly out of left field. Yes, you can go check out a “dong tug-of-war,” but you can also see a special 2D screening of the Owls of Ga’hoole or meet Spaceballs star Pizza the Hut. Not to mention the return of their most fondly remembered running gag, the endless undying and dying of Ass Dan.
This Christmas-based event will take place in February. Sounds about right.
Every now and then, SNL will do a sketch towards the end of the show where the guest will talk about whichever holiday is coming up and awkwardly go into one of the aspects of it, such as Easter eggs or Halloween candy. In this instance, it’s Steve Buscemi unloading a box of Christmas ornaments and commenting on each one. All the while, Kristen Wiig plays Sheila, his girlfriend who appears to be more than a little off and doesn’t quite grasp tree decorating.
Buscemi’s descriptions range from delightful non-humor to outlandish and disturbing. He might make an intentionally lame joke about one ornament before holding up another and matter-of-factly letting you know that, “I put this one up my butt.”
And somehow he’s still the straight man in this bit.
You’re a Rat Bastard Charlie Brown (2012)
This sketch is centered on Bill Hader playing Al Pacino, playing Charlie Brown. The rest of the cast turns out bang-up impressions as well: Jason Sudeikis playing Philip Seymour Hoffman playing Pigpen, Kate McKinnon as Edie Falco playing Lucy (as Charlie Brown’s drug peddling therapist, causing a holiday-blues Charlie to say, “Oh yeah…I want something to take me sky high!”), Martin Short playing Larry David playing Linus, Taran Killam doing Michael Keaton as Schroeder, and Cecily Strong as Fran Drescher as Charlie Brown’s mother, all performed in front of a baffled childhood audience.
For anyone who grew up watching Charlie Brown and Co., watching Bill Hader/Al Pacino/Charlie Brown unleash the expletive-laden “You’re gonna hold that f***ing football?!” towards Kate McKinnion/Edie Falco/Lucy, and saying, “Ow, you bitch!” after she pulls it away is absolutely to die for.
Jebidiah Atkinson on Holiday Movies (2013)
For a time, Taran Killam played Jebidiah Atkinson, a Weekend Update character based on how an old newspaper editorial was discovered that panned Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Atkinson, somehow still alive, would appear and read review snippets about other big speeches he hated.
One of his return appearances had him discuss holiday specials and movies. Every single one of them he hates. Every single one of them gets roasted. His vicious energy is so over-the-top that the good jokes land and the bad jokes still get a laugh from the misplaced confidence. Over these several minutes, he screams about how much of a depressing bore A Charlie Brown Christmas is, how the Grinch stole a half hour of his life, and how every time they play It’s a Wonderful Life, an angel blows its brains out.
This one is admittedly a bit dated with its biggest joke, where his distaste for Snoopy is so great that he wishes Family Guy killed him off instead of Brian. The horror from the audience still makes it worth it.
St. Joseph’s Christmas Mass Spectacular (2014)
Ah, Christmas Mass. The drum solo for every childhood during Christmas time. It’s uncomfortable and especially boring. Ergo, liven it up by framing it as a big, in-your-face event via what amounts to a monster truck rally commercial!
It’s a brilliant use of contrast. Take an event that is so mundane with so many familiar and shared experiences and treat it like it’s some extreme thing. The familiarity of the pastor making corny jokes that get the most minor of laughs is treated like a once-in-a-lifetime event. It shines a light on the weird tics of the prominent people you see at church and feels amazingly universal.
The SNL cast is fantastic here, but the MVP is Cecily Strong as the middle-age woman who is way into doing a reading in the loudest, most overly articulate speaking voice possible.
Sump’N Claus (2014)
Getting gifts from Santa Claus is great and all, but when you grow up, you realize how hard it truly is to be nice all year round. Luckily, there’s an alternative. Introduced via an extremely catchy song, we meet Sump’n Claus (Keenan Thompson), a pimp-like offshoot of Santa who not only used to work for St. Nick, but also appears to have some dirt on him.
Sump’n Claus sings several verses about people who have had breakdowns and would be thrown onto the naughty list. Sump’n Claus doesn’t care about that. You be you. Every December, he’ll still be there to hand you an envelope full of twenties and fifties. He’s the holiday mascot for adults, basically.
One of the highlights is how he mentions that Santa is not your friend as friends don’t watch you while you’re sleeping.
The Christmas Candle (2016)
Christmas has been saved by many different things: ghosts who see through time, an angel trying to earn his wings, a reindeer’s glowing nose, New Yorkers singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and so on. Then again, sometimes you need a savior for something with lower stakes.
In the form of a mid-1990s all ladies group that gives me kind of a Celine Dion vibe, we’re given a wonderful song that starts with the tale of a woman who had to get a coworker a gift for Secret Santa. She found an old peach candle in her closet and just gave her that. The second verse is a similar situation where not only is a peach candle given as a throwaway gift to an acquaintance, but it’s THE SAME candle. Yes, somehow this one peach candle is re-gifted across the globe through latter December by women and gay men who couldn’t be bothered to put thought into their presents.
Truly a miracle.
First Impression (2018)
Beck Bennett plays a guy about to finally meet his girlfriend’s (Melissa Villaseñor) parents and he’s nervous as hell. She assures him that he’ll be fine, but he really wants to impress them. Sure enough, he tries to impress them in the weirdest way by hiding somewhere in the house and speaking in a high-pitched voice in order to dare them to find him. Her parents (Jason Momoa and Heidi Gardner) are notably confused, as is she.
It’s already a strange and silly bit, but Jason Momoa shifts it into gear by suddenly being COMPLETELY into it. Removing his jacket with purpose, Momoa excitedly starts searching the house for this guy. The fact that Momoa is playing an overweight 60-year-old man is enough of a novelty, but he brings this oddball zest to the role as he starts to literally tear the home to pieces in order to get a look at his daughter’s elusive boyfriend.
The boyfriend’s plans here are both overly complicated and half-baked, culminating in an ending that’s as happy as it’s inexplicable and off-putting.
North Pole News Report (2019)
When Eddie Murphy returned to SNL, there was much fanfare. A completely solid episode, it admittedly spent too much of its runtime revisiting his old recurring classics like Mr. Robinson, Gumby, and Velvet Jones. The final sketch of the night goes full blast with his manic energy as he plays an elf eyewitness on the elf news, screaming bloody murder about a horrible tragedy. Mikey Day is reporter Donny Chestnut, looking at the destruction of a toy factory. As he tries to make heads or tails of what’s going on, Murphy bursts onto the scene, screaming about a polar bear attacking the elves and eating them like Skittles. And just screaming in general.
The best line comes from the elf (who keeps declaring, “IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT MY NAME IS!”) bringing over one of the survivors, and noting that, “This white, teenage elf girl ran out here, straight up to me – a black elf in sweatpants – and asked me to keep her safe. That’s how bad it is!” Despite this elf being right about the situation, Donny Chestnut keeps trying to sideline him for being increasingly erratic about Santa’s potential role in the slaughter and what it means for Christmas. Even as he trips over some of his lines, Eddie Murphy is so damn precious here.
December to Remember Car Commercial (2020)
It might be in bad form to include a sketch from this very year, but man, this joke is not only long overdue, but the acting is top notch. Heidi Gardner’s barely repressed rage is something special.
You’ve seen the commercial a million times. It’s Christmas morning and someone reveals a brand new car to a loved one. As part of Lexus’ December to Remember, Beck Bennett reveals a brand new Lexus with a giant bow to his wife (Gardner) and their son (Timothée Chalamet). What initially appears as shock turns out to be fury and confusion over what is a selfish and short-sighted decision. Buying a car is a huge deal and isn’t something you don’t tell your significant other. More than that, Bennett’s character hasn’t been employed for about a year and a half and has no way of affording such a thing. The thread is pulled away, unraveling both how much of an idiot he is and how doomed their family life happens to be.
Then neighbor Mikey Day shows up and it hits another level. Beck Bennett is the expert at playing guys with misplaced confidence who haven’t come close to thinking things through.