Society’s Grinches love to debate about the exact apex of Saturday Night Live’s heyday and/or if the show is even funny anymore. But, those of us with the proper Christmas spirit know the one thing SNL consistently does well is its holiday sketches. So we’re leaving those arguments behind and spreading a little Christmas cheer by gifting you with the ultimate list of SNL’s best holiday sketches in its 46-year history. Be warned: These sketches are so funny and so full of Christmas spirit, your heart is bound to grow three sizes. [Editor’s note: Vulture is not responsible for any benign and/or malignant heart growth that may or may not come as a result of watching these recommended sketch-comedy videos.]
15. “Debbie Downer: Christmas Eve With Santa Claus” (Season 31, 2005)
Rachel Dratch reprises her role as everyone’s favorite bummer in this flashback sketch where she meets Santa (host Jack Black) as a precocious and terrifying child. As with every Debbie Downer installment, Rachel Dratch’s face-making and fourth wall–breaking steals the show, but Black keeps pace as an increasingly suicidal Santa. It’s exactly what you would expect out of a Debbie Downer Christmas and it delivers — no more, no less.
14. “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood: Christmas” (Season 10, 1984)
The Christmas edition of Eddie Murphy’s “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood,” a series in which Eddie Murphy plays his own version of Mr. Rogers, doesn’t shine as brightly as other installments. Still, Murphy gets some good laughs with lines like “Christmas is a special time in Mr. Robinson’s neighborhood; it’s a time for giving, and look what Mr. Landlord gave me — it’s an eviction notice!” Plus, there’s a very funny and very ’80s reference to Cabbage Patch dolls that culminates in a doll with a cabbage head. So, while not highly ranked, this sketch still has the honor of being the only entry from the early ’80s era to make it on the list. It’s worth a yearly watch if only to remind us how Eddie Murphy saved both Christmas and SNL that year.
13. “The Christmas Candle” (Season 42, 2016)
Some sketches rely more on vibes than jokes to move them along — “The Christmas Candle” is one of those sketches. Set vaguely in either the early 1990s or the present-day Midwest, this sketch explores the concept of the unifying candle that women “and most gays,” give when they have no idea what to get one another for the holidays. The idea is funny, but it’s really the aesthetics of the sketch — and how hard Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, and host Emma Stone commit to it — that will keep you coming back year after year.
12. “Santa’s My Boyfriend” (Season 32, 2006)
Three classy ladies (Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, and Kristen Wiig) lament about the highs and lows of dating and doing Santa Claus. It’s a catchy tune, full of raunchy and festive innuendo, sung by three SNL powerhouses — what more could you want in your stocking?
11. “Best Christmas Ever” (Season 44, 2018)
Anyone struggling to reconcile their love for Christmas with the horror-show reality of celebrating Christmas will find comfort in this sketch starring Cecily Strong and host Matt Damon as a couple reflecting on the “magical” Christmas Day they just survived. While the two of them wax sentimentally, flashbacks reveal the truth: waking up at ungodly hours to screaming children, kvetching in-laws, and flying accusations of reverse racism. It’s a sketch that attests to the absurdity of Christmas more than anything else, but you’ll watch every year if just to reassure yourself you’re not the only one experiencing said reality.
10. “I Wish It Was Christmas Today” (Season 26, 2000)
Horatio Sanz, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Kattan, and Tracy Morgan sing a little ditty about Christmas. There’s no concept beyond that and Chris Kattan’s inexplicable neck dance. Still, there’s something charming about these four boys that will make you want to rewatch every Christmas — a fact that is confirmed by the quartet performing it on the show several times over: three more times in 2001, twice in 2002 and 2004, and once in 2011.
9. “Glengarry Glen Christmas: Elf Motivation” (Season 31, 2005)
This is one of those sketches that really relies on the audience’s monkey brain to scream, Hey, I’ve seen that before, THEREFORE IT IS HILARIOUS, to work, but in this case it works spectacularly well. Alec Baldwin plays Winter’s Breath, an “elf from the home office” sent to whip the underling elves (Rachel Dratch, Seth Meyers, and Amy Poehler) into shape before Christmas. From there, Alec Baldwin basically just gives his Glengarry Glen Ross speech but replaces it with Christmas stuff. It’s funny, it’s soothing, and it features a giant gumdrop that will tickle you more than you’d expect.
8. “Sump’n Claus” (Season 40, 2014)
Santa brings presents to good boys and girls, but Sump’n Claus (Kenan Thompson) brings envelopes of cash to anyone crossed off Santa’s list because, as Kenan sings while dressed in a red velvet suit and fedora, “everybody getting sump’n.” Like with a lot of sketches, you’ll just have to trust that Kenan carries it on his back and right into the annals of SNL history.
7. “Santa Baby” (Season 41, 2015)
This is one of those sketches that has such a simple and obvious concept you’re surprised it took until 2015 to make a sketch about it. At a neighborhood Christmas party, it is revealed that two of the adults (Vanessa Bayer and Ryan Gosling) believe in Santa with all their hearts. While the other adults tiptoe around this bizarre discovery, Bayer and Gosling turn more violent and erotic as their demand to meet “the real Santa” goes unmet. Bayer and Gosling’s commitment and chemistry are what give this sketch its classic status; you’ll want to tune in every year just to see them slow dance on a coffee table as foreplay for “Santa’s” arrival.
6. “(Do It on My) Twin Bed” (Season 39, 2013)
After years of the boys dominating the Digital Short musical sketches, the ladies of SNL came out swinging in 2014 with “(Do It on My) Twin Bed” (not to mention doing the Lord’s work of establishing the canon of Lil’ Baby Aidy). This sketch explores the very simple and very gross reality of bumping uglies at your parents’ house over the holidays. The catchy music, timeless concept, and IRL adolescent pictures of the ladies make this sketch an enjoyable repeat watch every Christmas — if you can stomach Jimmy Fallon’s rapping interlude.
5. “Christmastime for the Jews” (Season 31, 2005)
Written by a gaggle of comedic geniuses, Julie Klausner (Difficult People), Eric Drysdale (Full Frontal With Samantha Bee), Scott Jacobson (Bob’s Burgers), and headed up by Robert Smigel, “Christmastime for the Jews” is a love letter to all things Jewish and Jew-ish. Fashioned after Christmas stop-motion movies and utilizing the musical stylings of Darlene Love, this sketch imagines what Jews do when they have the world all to themselves on Christmas Day. Not content with simply eating Chinese food and going to the movies, the Jews in this sketch roam the streets turning Nativity scenes into Seinfeld shrines, circumcising squirrels, and getting into bar fights (“knowing they can’t lose”). All in all, this sketch manages to be just as Christmassy as it is Jewishy, making it an enjoyable watch for everyone during the holidays.
4. “Schweddy Balls” (Season 24, 1998)
I’m going to be real with you guys: I personally do not care for “Schweddy Balls.” But after speaking to my sources, i.e., everyone I told about this article who then immediately screamed “SCHWEDDY BALLS,” I have accepted that I have no choice but to rank it high among the quintessential SNL Christmas sketches. The basic gist of the sketch is this: Dull-voiced NPR hosts Margaret Jo McCullin and Terry Rialto (Molly Shannon and Ana Gasteyer) invite baker Pete Schweddy (Alec Baldwin) onto their show “The Delicious Dish” to discuss his family’s famous holiday recipe: Schweddy balls. From there they make 1,000 innuendos using the term Schweddy balls (which sounds like sweaty balls!!!!) and a good time is had by all.
If you’re as prudish and Scroogeish as I am, you’ll still enjoy peeking into the bleak background of Margaret and Terry as they describe their Christmas lists at the top of the sketch (“I really got greedy this year, I’m asking Kris Kringle this year for a wooden bowl, some oversize index cards, and a funnel.”) And yet I still find myself watching the sketch every year, if only to feel superior about securing my spot on Santa’s “Nice List” for my refusal to give in to sin.
3. “A Holiday Wish” (Season 12, 1986)
I’m not a pronunciation teacher, but if I were, I’d have my students watch this sketch every December before we went on winter break from our weird pronunciation school. That’s because, if you were to just read the transcript of “A Holiday Wish” you’d probably find it semi-to-moderately humorous — but ultimately it’s Steve Martin’s hilarious delivery that makes this sketch a classic.
The game of the sketch is Steve Martin first declaring his selfless holiday wish to be “for all the children of the world to join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace,” but then quickly rethinking the wishes and/or order of the wishes to be about getting revenge on his enemies and banging models instead. Funny enough, but the real laughs come from Steve Martin’s velvety delivery of the lines accompanied by the lull of vague Christmas music in the background. The first big laugh doesn’t even come after the first joke (“If I had two wishes that I could wish for this holiday season, the first would be for all the children of the world to join hands and sing in the spirit of harmony and peace, and the second would be for $30 million a month …”) but instead right after with Martin’s hilarious delivery right at the end of the joke (“… $30 million a month given to me”). It’s a small detail, but it’s moments like that throughout the sketch that have made it not just an SNL Christmas classic but one of SNL’s most recognizable sketches over the years.
2. “The Hanukkah Song” Part 1 (Season 20, 1994) and Part 3 (Season 28, 2002)
It’s hard to explain just how much your shit gets rocked as a 10-year-old Jewish kid hearing “The Hanukkah Song” for the first time. The song features Adam Sandler, the funniest person to 10-year-olds since 1990, literally just listing other Jews — most of whom you don’t know anything about because you are a child and the song is probably at least ten years old the first time you hear it. But that doesn’t matter. Sandler manages to create a hilarious balm for all Jewish kids as they slog through yet another holiday season of pretending potatoes and candles are just as good as sugar cookies and Rudolph. The song was so popular when Sandler premiered it on “Weekend Update” in 1994 that he ended up creating a total of four installments, with the third one premiering on SNL in 2002. The first installment is a classic with favorite lines such as “O.J. Simpson: not a Jew. / But guess who is? Hall-of-famer Rod Carew (he converted),” and “Paul Newman’s half Jewish, Goldie Hawn’s half, too / put them together, what a fine looking Jew!” While the third packs zingers like, “We’ve got Jerry Lewis, Ben Stiller, and Jack Black / Tom Arnold converted to Judaism but you guys can have him back,” and the very 2002 line, “Osama Bin Laden … not a big fan of the Jews / well maybe that’s because he lost a figure-skating match to gold medalist Sarah Hughes.”
Perhaps for some this SNL holiday installment is take it or leave it, but for many others, it’s as Christmassy as a Chinese-food buffet.
1. “Dick in a Box” (Season 32, 2006)
Forget all that puritanical crap I said about “Schweddy Balls,” the ultimate SNL holiday sketch is the one about gifting peen to your girlfriend on the day of Christ’s birth. To borrow a phrase, this sketch has everything: R&B music, tiny circular glasses, a former Mouseketeer singing about his junk live on television. Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg’s chemistry ensures there is not a dull moment the entire three minutes, while the lyrics somehow manage to get increasingly funnier and weirder throughout. (“Every single holiday: a dick in a box / Over at your parent’s house: a dick in a box / Midday at the grocery store: a dick in a box / Backstage at the CMAs: a dick in a box”). The cherry on top of this Christmas sundae is the FCC insisting they bleep out the word dick, making the entire thing ten times funnier. Talk about a Christmas miracle!