The Legend Of Run-DMC’s Immortal “Christmas In Hollis,” As Remembered By The People Who Made It
9:31 AM EST on December 23, 2022
‘Twas the festive season of 2015, and my 5-year-old daughter Molly was trying to explain to me the holiday ditty all the kindergarteners were going to sing in unison at the annual concert. If memory serves, she said the song had a dog and Santa Claus and mac-and-cheese, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My kid and her Brooklyn classmates were going to cover “Christmas in Hollis.”
Run-DMC sits atop a very short list of musicians who defined my Montana adolescence. I wouldn’t set foot in New York City until after graduating college in 1993, but I knew and revered it as Run-DMC’s home. I wore out a 1987 “My Adidas” sweatshirt sent to Billings from an aunt in Philadelphia; years later, I brought that very tattered and torn item to leave as a peace offering at a murdered hero’s makeshift memorial, but I couldn’t go through with it. I love it too much. It reminds me of youth, even if it was made for a more youthful midsection. Seven years later, I still haven’t wrapped my head around PS20 kids not just trying but nailing their own take on it:
What takes the admittedly screechy performance to another level is how it opens; sadly, you can’t see this on the video. Children are lullabying “Silent Night” when a boy comes out with a fake boombox, cuts off the holiest of Christmas anthems and drops a metaphorical needle scratch while proclaiming “Let’s have some fun!” The kids, dressed all in black, whip out sunglasses and gold tinsel ropes and launch into the Undisputed King of Christmas Rap. It is a vibrant, multicultural, proudly secular banger.
It was hilarious. It was touching. It was the holiday lights bouncing off the snow-covered streets of Billings. And, I can report, it was a revelation to one of its creators.
“Damnnnnnnn, they did it like that? Mind-blowing,” Darryl “DMC” McDaniels says. “I feel like this is a huge, huge, huge achievement, because I still remember getting bullied in elementary school for wearing glasses, ashamed to be called four-eyes, spectacles, binoculars, and all that. I even wrote a kid’s book about it, so to see these enthusiastic kids being themselves to our song? It’s the coolest thing ever. What a gift ‘Christmas in Hollis’ has been to my life.”
It has been 35 years since Run-DMC released what’s become the most unique perennial in the yuletide canon. “Christmas in Hollis” is a genre all its own, the ubiquitous hip-hop holiday song. From its humble assembled-on-the-fly origins, the only original track recorded for a 1987 Special Olympics charity album is beloved enough and current enough to kick off the Christmas episode of cultural juggernaut Ted Lasso. What was once the quirkiest of musical oddities, an album cut alongside more traditional entries by U2, the Eurythmics, the Pointer Sisters, and John Cougar Mellencamp, is now in holiday rotation with the likes of Burl Ives, Brenda Lee and Jose Feliciano. Seasonal tidings is why Run and DMC—but not Run-DMC, as McDaniels points out, because “[like] there is no Nirvana without Kurt, we don’t exist without Jam Master Jay”—got together and performed “Christmas in Hollis” for the first time in nearly two decades on a Disney special earlier this December.
To celebrate that anniversary, here’s the story of the song from some of the folks behind it, the duo in front of it, some longtime devotees of it, and the early adopter at Nakatomi Plaza who declared it.
PART I: THE CREW THAT CAN NEVER BE BEAT
To understand how Run-DMC found themselves on an album with some of the biggest music icons in history, it helps to understand their standing at the time. By 1987, they were hip-hop’s first true blue superstars.
Bill Adler (OG Def Jam publicist, hip-hop historian, holiday mixtape maker): By the mid-80s, rap was reintegrating American pop music. Before MTV launched, there were rock-and-roll radio stations and black music stations and never the twain shall meet. It took MTV a while to get there, but the power of hip-hop was undeniable. The key group in the revolution was Run-DMC. Their self-titled debut was the first hip-hop album to go gold, Raising Hell the first to go platinum. The first video by a true rap artist was “Rock Box” in 1984, followed the next year by “King of Rock” then “Walk This Way,” which leads directly to the 1988 debut of Yo! MTV Raps. Five years later, the show was canceled because they didn’t need it anymore. Hip-hop was no longer niche, it was the mainstream music culture. Run-DMC was the spearhead.
Mark Anthony Neal (James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of African and African American Studies, author, hip-hop oracle): There is no question Run-DMC were the first breakout stars of hip-hop. It started low-key, but they exploded with Raising Hell and were the most visible rap act that had existed to that point in time. The look was perfect. They dressed like young black men in the hood dressed in the ‘80s, but they also had a hard rock aesthetic to tap into and I think that’s why the Aerosmith collaboration wasn’t seen as gimmicky, even by their core black audience. “Walk This Way” had been sampled by DJs for years, black audiences recognized that break beat, so it made sense. It seemed more than anything an absolute get for a rap group outside of mainstream rock-and-roll to make a record with Aerosmith. It actually doesn’t matter if it’s calculated or not, if you’re the first to do something, you’re the trailblazer. It certainly opened doors for Run-DMC, they’re the only rappers on that Christmas album.
Mark Sasso (Elliott Brood guitarist/banjoist/vocalist, Canadian): Elliott Brood came into being twenty years ago in Toronto. Our name somehow evolved from the movie The Natural, the femme fatale Harriet Bird character who tried to kill Robert Redford. We’re a three-piece folk rock band in the vein of Neil Young or The Band, but I didn’t start listening to the kind of music we play until I was a little older in high school. I’m 49 and as a kid, I sort of skipped all the '80s music except for rap. Before I ever got into writing my own music, it was all “Funky Cold Medina” or whatever. Run-DMC was on a constant loop in my Walkman. It paid off years later.
Michael Holman (Filmmaker, friend of Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Hip-Hop” progenitor): In 1981, I founded and managed the New York City Breakers, a dance crew that performed on a number of TV shows, including Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration where we were introduced by Jimmy Stewart, if you can believe it. I knew Russell Simmons from the clubs, talking business, and just hanging out, so I approached him about having Run-DMC on Graffiti Rock. In ‘84, they performed on what was the first nationally syndicated hip-hop show. It only lasted one episode, but it led to me directing their “My Adidas” commercial in ‘86 and then “Christmas in Hollis” when they were in the stratosphere.
Adler: At some point in ‘87, Def Jam received a call from the people at the Special Olympics asking if Run-DMC wanted to contribute a song. Basically, because it was for charity, it ended up in my lap, I was always tasked to handle those kinds of opportunities.
PART II: ALL YOU SUCKER MC'S, YOU GOTTA SAY PLEASE
The journey to making “Christmas in Hollis” begins with a pickup football game in Southern California. It ends with a neophyte record producer convincing the trio to be part of a major philanthropic effort before knowing who they were.
Bobby Shriver (Philanthropist, record producer, Kennedy scion) : After graduating law school in ‘81, I moved to Southern California to clerk for a federal appeals judge. I wanted to get away from the buttoned-down constraint of New York City, I thought Los Angeles would be a different kind of place, where crazy things could happen. They did. To meet people, I started a football game and a lawyer named Vicki McCarty insisted on playing with the boys, so I knew we were going to be good friends. In ‘85, Vicki married a record producer named Jimmy Iovine. His father, a longshoreman, died during the holiday season that year. Vicki wanted to do something fun to lessen Jimmy’s sadness around Christmas, so they concocted the idea to make a record. They recognized it would be best if it was for charity, so Vicki reached out, knowing my mother Eunice founded the Special Olympics. I didn’t know Jimmy before meeting up at the old Charlie Chaplin lot on Sunset where he had an office. I knew less than nothing about the music business, but he wanted me to join the party so to speak because–and it sounds absurd to say today–he thought the Kennedy connection would give him the credibility he needed to make the record.
Darryl “DMC” McDaniels: (Legendary MC, memoirist, comic book guy): When Run and I were first approached, we didn’t want to do it. “Walk This Way” was a top five hit and people still asked, “So Run-DMC, where do you think you’ll be in five years when this fad ends?” We thought they wanted to make a joke of this hip-hop thing with a Christmas song. We didn’t want to do anything corny. Hell no, we aren’t doing a fuckin’ Rudolph rhyme. We were about beats and rhymes, not Saran Rap.
Besides, the hip-hop community already had its official holiday anthem with Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin’.” It wasn’t a mainstream breakthrough record but our world knew all about it. That song features one of the most utilized beat breaks in hip-hop. Run and I freaked out over that record during the summertime, that’s how good it was. We weren’t sure the world needed another hip-hop Christmas record.
Adler: I thought immediately it should be a Christmas song about their community because it was so central to the identity of Run-DMC. In ‘83, when they started recording, every rapper was from the Bronx or Harlem. These guys stuck their chests out and said we’re from Hollis, Queens. I understood it was a big part of their appeal and success. When I told them about the Special Olympics opportunity, I said, unlike everyone else on the album, you should record a new song. It just came to me. Why not “Christmas in Hollis”? It was all I had to say.
Shriver: By the mid-80s, I’m back in New York City working in investment banking, an entrepreneurial venture capital firm where you have to have a business plan. Vicki and I wrote one up for the album production, but Jimmy kept saying, "You don’t need one, they’ll give you the money." He didn’t even want to discuss our pitch before we sit down with Jerry Moss, who co-founded A&M Records with Herb Alpert. Twenty minutes into the meeting, Moss says he’s late for lunch, but “it’s going to be great.” Just like that, we had $200,000 to make the record. Jimmy looks at me and says, “See, I told you. Didn’t even show him the business plan, did you? OK, now that we have the money, we’ll divide up the workload. You’ll handle the East Coast artists, Springsteen, Whitney Houston, Madonna’s out there …” I was already working 80 hours a week and I’m supposed to get in touch with Bruce Springsteen? Jimmy was undeterred. “You’ll figure it out. ... We have a year to pull the record together. And since you’re in New York City, you’re in charge of rap.”
I don’t think I can overstate how insane it was that I’d been tasked with helping produce this record. I was an Exeter-Yale-Yale Law guy, wore a suit every day, was in meetings with the CFO of Daimler-Chrysler, and here I am in Whitney Houston’s living room? I know what was on the radio, I guess, but I didn’t pay that much attention to music, didn’t buy records, or go to concerts. Fortunately, Whitney’s father John had worked in Newark on Office of Economic Opportunity anti-poverty projects, which my father Sargent Shriver ran during the Johnson administration. So John and I were discussing something we had in common, but then Whitney interrupts and says, “What song do you think I should sing?” I was completely out of my element. It was surreal, but I am relentless, so we kept pushing forward to make it happen.
Adler: I was really excited to be asked because I was already immersed in Christmas music. I’m Jewish and prior to marrying a Gentile woman, I never celebrated Christmas, but in ‘84 I believe, I made a seasonal cassette to get me through the holiday. I thought I could add to the annual Christmas celebration by improving on the soundtrack. For such an iconic holiday, it was the same dozen songs over-and-over year-after-year. I did it to energize myself and cut through the Christmas bullshit. Almost 40 years later, I’m still at it.
Shriver: I had no idea who Run-DMC was, but I was able to meet Russell Simmons and figured I could use his influence to get them on board. Russell and I made an interesting pair. He called me “the whitest white man alive.” One time he was in my apartment and I had something on display from a family boat my mother had given me, and he said, “This proves it.”
PART III: JAY, WHERE’S THE BEAT?
Even after Run-DMC signed on for A Very Special Christmas, the two MCs remained dubious. That is, until Jam Master Jay found the perfect sample, the one where Santa comes more than once a year.
Adler: I brought a cantaloupe crate of Christmas records to Chung King Studios for Jay to pick through to find inspiration. So Run and D went into another room to smoke a joint and while they were gone, Jason pulled out the Atlantic Records Soul Christmas album. He put the needle down on a few tracks and within 10 seconds he could tell if it wasn’t going to work. When he dropped onto Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa,” his expression didn’t change. He was deadpan, but the second time he played it for 15 seconds, and the third time he got even deeper into it. ... And here Run and D come floating into the room, wafting in like cartoon birds.
DMC: I never heard it. I thought for sure it was an Otis Redding record.
Joseph “RUN” Simmons (Legendary MC, all quotes taken from the 2013 documentary Jingle Bell Rocks!): We all started jumping up and down, dancing around Bill and saying, "This is crazy."
Adler: Right away, they knew “Back Door Santa” was the one. It’s a perfect soul track because it wasn’t totally underground, but also wasn’t one you’d hear in the department stores every December.
DMC: It doesn’t hurt that “Back Door Santa” is definitely on the naughty list. Gave “Christmas in Hollis” some sex appeal and tapped into the rawness of hip-hop.
Neal: “Back Door Santa” is a classic rhythm-and-blues Christmas song, so the sample does a lot of intergenerational work. My parents listened to “Christmas in Hollis” because they recognized Clarence Carter from the 1968 Stax Soul Christmas album.
DMC: They told us Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, U2, Madonna, all these huge stars were going to be on it. We knew it was good company so we decided to go along with it. Truth is, Run and I still weren’t feeling it—until Jam Master Jay played that beat. We laid down the track, all in one day. I think we got there around 3:30 and left at 6. The sun was still up.
PART IV: RHYMES CONNECT
The beat drove the lyrics, which break down into three parts. Run’s is like a Rankin/Bass animated holiday special, a morality play with a childlike twist of imagination at the end. DMC’s is more of a tender holiday song on the radio, bringing you into his actual home for family time. And part three unites them in delivering a call to arms, a “God bless us, everyone!” for the burgeoning hip-hop generation.
RUN: I got a call from Bill and whenever he called, you know something had to be done. I’m smoking my weed, eating breakfast, doing what I do and he says, “Joe, there’s this holiday record you have to make. It’s for the Special Olympics.” He’s trying to explain this to a high guy, and I’m like, “What do I gotta do?” Bill said, “Write a Christmas record. Talk about what happens in Hollis.” So I’m like, “Cool.” I hang up with him, push my eggs to the side, take a piece of paper, and the pen just takes off.
DMC: We typically wrote our rhymes separately, which worked so well on “Christmas in Hollis” because we went in totally different directions. Run told this crazy story about Santa Claus in our neighborhood park and I told the story of what the holidays were actually all about growing up in my house. Christmas had a magical mystical quality to it but more of a Jimmy Stewart It’s A Wonderful Life way than "Ho, Ho, Ho." Ever since kindergarten, my mother and father made it clear they were Santa Claus. They worked hard all year to provide us with presents and no way some fat white man was getting the credit. Run’s is fantasy, mine is reality.
RUN: The idea is I’m supposed to be thinking I’ll keep the money I found in Santa Claus’s wallet I found in the park, I have to make a decision, I’m not gonna’ steal from Santa Claus … So I came up with “I was going home to mail it back to him that night”—because my soul won’t rest if I don’t figure out how to get all this money back to this imaginary thing I saw in Hollis—”When I got home, I bugged ‘cuz under the tree, was a letter from Santa and the dough was for me.”
DMC: It may not have been the first line I came up with, but one that just hit me was watching the Frosty cartoon all those years. I knew I had to say, “My name's D.M.C. with the mic in my hand, And I'm chilling and coolin' just like a snowman.” Hip-hop and rock-and-roll made me cooler than Frosty ... One funny thing New Yorkers would’ve known back then is the Yule Log I rhyme about is the one on WPIX, Channel 11.
Neal: Folks talk about "the Hawk" in the Chicago context [the wind] being part of that city’s lingo. That might be because Lou Rawls, who is from Chicago, does his chanting thing all about the Hawk on his song “Dead End Street.” But my parents were born in Georgia and North Carolina and raised in New York, and they used it when it was cold out so wherever it started, “The Almighty Hawk” has gotten around.
DMC: We never wanted to just be inside sitting around the apartment, so we’d be standing on a Hollis corner freezing our asses off in 10-degree weather, and it would be “Yo man, the Hawk is out, he’s out real hard. Jack Frost, we knew Jack Frost, but yo the Hawk is coming for you.”
RUN: [The lyrics] came quick. Fifteen … ten … make it seven minutes later, there was egg on the paper, when I called Bill back, sweating, “I just wrote the best rhyme of my life.”
DMC: I always overwrote, so the last third where we come together was my rhyme. I ended on “We want to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” Everything about the song was untraditional and it takes people places they’d never been, so I thought we should go out on the very basic idea of the holidays. Honestly, we thought the song would get buried for eternity. Like in the future it would be hip-hop trivia: “Did you know Run-DMC is on A Very Special Christmas?” We had no idea what was coming.
PART V: YOU GOT THE MUSIC IN YOUR BODY AND YOU CAN’T COMPREHEND
“Christmas in Hollis” was fortified by heavy MTV rotation. It would go on to earn its director honors against some notably stiff competition.
Holman: I’m sure some people involved thought it was going to be corny, but Run-DMC had been impressed with Graffiti Rock, so they thought if it’s a Michael Holman thing it’ll be big time. It was flattering. They trusted me and were down for whatever, malleable and easy to work with. We had a great time shooting it.
Shriver: We went to the video in Russell’s white Rolls-Royce and I think Joe was still writing or rewriting rhymes? Russell was talking a mile-a-minute into one of those big Motorola phones and it seemed like there were nine cassette tapes being played simultaneously.
Holman: The video was all my concept, a pop art storybook sensibility for when Santa Claus shows up in a Queens park. I was in this band called The Tubes and one of the other guys in the group, Michael Cotten, was a visual artist. He did the production design, the big canvas mural backdrop, the fake snow, the sleigh. The ill reindeer was a pit bull named Misty owned by one of the Breakers. We slapped fake antlers on the dog to get that Whoville vibe going, the artwork was clock tower and all was meant to have a Dr. Seuss aesthetic.
Shriver: I didn’t understand why we needed a video. I gave them a literal budget of $700.
Holman: The budget wasn’t that low, I think it was like $10,000, no?
DMC: That is my mom in the video, Bannah McDaniels, and yes, that is her cooking. We were on the Raising Hell tour and had to fly back to New York City for the shoot. Michael Holman reached out to her. I walked in and “Mom? What are you doing here?” She was all excited but I got worried. I was like “Don’t be bringing my mom into fucking show business.” I didn’t want to share her with the world, but I also didn’t know Mom could act. She wasn’t even nervous. And she was hilarious chasing that elf around. I was wrong, she could have been in show business. She became a Queens celebrity. At her job at Haven Manor Health Care in Far Rockaway, other nurses and co-workers were bringing in their kids and families to meet her.
Holman: I don’t remember the guy’s name, but I knew I wanted a black Santa. He was really charming but at one point, you could see the string on his beard and I got kind of upset about it. But then I thought that makes it even more of an artistic statement.
Less artistic was Santa smoking between takes. If you freeze the video when he leaves his seat, a pack of cigarettes clearly falls out of his belt.
DMC: Cigarettes fall out of Santa’s pocket? I didn’t know that. Wild. Keeping it real. Were they Newports?
Neal: The video is an ‘80s time capsule now, but back then, I liked that Run and DMC’s house looked like mine. ... One other thing I love about the video is it’s probably Jam Master Jay’s most memorable performance. I think for anyone who remembers when Run-DMC was thriving and what eventually happened, there is a moment to pause and remember what’s been lost.
DMC: One thing that really works in the video is we didn’t dress up in funny costumes. The surroundings are silly and colorful, but our clothes are real B-boy shit. It’s strategically placed hip-hop imagery that doesn’t disrespect holiday traditions. Holman was so clever and innovative. “Christmas in Hollis” doesn’t overkill or underkill.
Holman: The Wikipedia entry says “Christmas in Hollis” won Rolling Stone’s Best Video of the Year in 1987, beating out Michael Jackson’s “Bad,” directed by Martin Scorsese. I’m shocked. I mean, I beat Martin Scorsese? I was still in NYU film school in 1987. Holy shit.
DMC: At 35, I found out I was adopted. My birth mother gave me up as a baby. When I went public with my story, 99 percent of the feedback I got from emails, letters, and other correspondence, were people asking, “What does that mean for Bannah?” I had to reassure the fans. “Don’t worry, Bannah is my mother.” Everybody breathed a sigh of relief. People felt like they knew her, mainly because of “Christmas in Hollis.”
PART VI: THERE’S NO ONE CHILLER
“Christmas in Hollis” hit bigger than anyone’s wildest imagination. Against all 1987 odds, it’s now even covered far beyond the local Brooklyn public school district. It’s been classic Christmas music since the beginning, or at least since a Los Angeles limo driver declared it so.
De'voreaux Sefas White (Actor, “Argyle” from Die Hard, car battery spokesman): At that time, Lee Daniels was managing me and I had previously worked on the film Places In The Heart, which won two Oscars earlier that year, so I had some leverage at that time. Lee, with his magic, expressed to one of the head casting directors that I would be perfect to play the role of Argyle, the limo driver. I was sent directly to Joel Silver and Bruce Willis to read, and by 5 p.m. that day, I was booked for the role. I’m a fan of anything authentic, so I loved Run-DMC. I thought it was so cool the writers specifically featured the track in the original screenplay.
DMC: When I was growing up, it was always all about two guys and two songs. Bing Crosby “dreeeeeaammming of a White Christmas” and Nat King Cole’s “chestnuts roasting on an open fiiiirrreee…” No disrespect to Elvis or Johnny Mathis or whoever, but those two songs are the ones I’ve always identified as part of our tradition. It’s amazing we’re now part of that same tradition.
Sasso: We are working on our eighth full album, but as something fun to do scattered away from one another during COVID, we recorded an EP, The Christmas Life. It was released in early December, but we’d been playing “Christmas in Hollis” live starting at a 2016 holiday show in Hamilton. I remember trying to memorize it while walking my young daughter to school. She picked up on it and then we would sing it together, and that’s how I got the lyrics down.
Shriver: To me, the song isn’t nostalgic. It’s still fresh, young and energetic. It’s not Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin, but maybe I’m just fooling myself about my actual age.
White: Director John McTiernan encouraged Bruce and I to have fun and go for it. “Christmas in Hollis” really added flavor to the scene and helped our terrific chemistry go with the flow.
Sasso: Casey Laforet and I are co-lead singers, so we split the parts up and then decided we should mess it up a little bit by adding the Beastie Boys vocal style into the “Christmas in Hollis” mix. On stage, we put on Adidas jackets and black hats and rock it out. People didn’t expect it. It was awesome. We did it live every holiday season up until the pandemic. Even recreating it for the EP without being in the studio together and using samples instead of horns was a good time.
DMC: Getting together with family and enjoying a meal, that to me, is what Christmas is all about. Something in the song relates to everybody. It’s why every year, Jewish people, Muslim people, Asian people, Greek people, Jamaican people, people representing every race, creed, religion, and color, and people who would never eat mac-and-cheese on Christmas, holler my rhyme at me. I quit going to the mall during the holiday season years ago. It was too much, man.
Shriver: Jimmy and I never asked the artists, "Do you want to help the Special Olympics?" Jimmy would suggest to them, You should do this holiday classic because it matches your voice and energy and won’t that be fun? So if they recorded a song and that was the extent of their involvement, that was totally fine. Run-DMC was a different story. They performed at multiple Special Olympics events and took their responsibility and success seriously. Run-DMC wanted to do right by the community they grew up in, so they’re out there doing “Christmas in Hollis” at a sweltering July event in Queens. It wasn’t exactly the Met Gala, it’s kids running around a track, but the Special Olympians absolutely loved them for it. It says a lot about who these guys are.
DMC: We performed at a Special Olympics event in Connecticut. It was a big deal, in a real stadium, felt like playing the Super Bowl. I met Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger, that was dope.
PART VII: RUN-DMC ROCKIN’ WITHOUT A BAND
The duo haven't retired to the old rapper’s home. Just this month, Run was the narrator of Disney’s new Hip Hop Nutcracker and DMC dropped the new single “Me and My Microphone,” produced by Bumpy Knuckles and featuring fellow rap legends Chuck D, Ice-T, and DJ Jazzy Jeff.
DMC: Did Jay’s murder affect the way I see “Christmas in Hollis?” No, it’s the opposite. After he died, “Christmas in Hollis” was the only thing we did together to feel totally rejoiceful about. With the backbeat and his performance in the video, you can feel Jay’s happiness throughout. The song is otherworldly, it exists separate from all our other records, and to have it come around during this special time of year, every year, is pure joy. “Christmas in Hollis” is the best way to remember him.
Shriver: Our relationship with Run-DMC didn’t end after the first album. They have a song called “Christmas Is” on the second one, and the Rev Run All Stars with his wife Justine, Snoop, Puffy, Salt-n-Pepa, and Sticky Fingaz put their spin on “Santa Baby.” In ‘98, we recorded A Very Special Christmas Live at the White House. Run-DMC did “Christmas in Hollis” and joined a star-studded stage for “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” It’s been a real brotherhood of discovery with these guys.
White: None of us were prepared or had any idea what a miraculous impact Die Hard would have at the box office, not to mention the magnitude of its longevity. It’s amazing! People still quote lines to me in public and someone always texts me the Run-DMC clip during the holiday season. So yes, let me set the record straight: Die Hard is not just a Christmas movie. It’s a Christmas classic.
Neal: I think “Christmas in Hollis” is Run-DMC’s most soulful song. Not long after Raising Hell, musically, hip-hop moved away from the hard-driving rock sound that was a big part of their success. So if you listen to a lot of their records now, they can sound like a frozen historical moment in hip-hop. “Christmas in Hollis” has a timeliness to it.
Sasso: It’s a brilliant piece of songwriting by Run-DMC, it really pulls you into their world. Everything about it holds up. As I get older, I get overly nostalgic for things that had a big impact on me growing up. “Christmas in Hollis” is certainly one of those things. It has such great homey energy, it’s why Eliott Brood covered it. Glad we did. It kills every time.
Holman: I don’t think about the “Christmas in Hollis” video that often, but maybe I should. I’m proud of it. I directed a lot of videos, and that one is easily the most influential. The costumes were bright, I wanted eye-candy sensory overload, because that’s what it’s like walking down New York City streets during Christmastime. We’re still talking about it, so I guess we got it right.
Neal: Their next album, Tougher Than Leather, mostly fell on deaf ears. In ‘93, Run-DMC came out with “Down With the King,” their last great song, but hip-hop had gone to new places. Culturally, commercially, creatively, what have you, “Christmas in Hollis” came at their peak. It’s an interesting dynamic that this song will outlive us all.
Shriver: Before the record, the Special Olympics was almost entirely funded by the family. The first year, I told Mom that Jimmy thought we could make a million dollars from the album. We both thought that sounded ridiculous. We made $16 million, which I invested, and has been a key source of funding ever since. Twelve albums and 2.5-million sales later, we have disbursed some $100 million to state and international Special Olympics, and have substantially more resources than we ever imagined back in those days. The enduring popularity of “Christmas in Hollis” has played a major part in A Very Special Christmas exploding. It changed the course of the Special Olympics, allowing us to expand to countries like Namibia and Thailand. Thousands more kids and their families are seeing their dreams of competing in sports come true.
Adler: Being a staple played every year hasn’t erased the song’s original charm one bit. It remains fresh and fun, one of a kind. It makes Run-DMC, and all of us from those days, feel forever young, for the holidays at least. I’m not a spiritual person, but having the opportunity to make this record fall into my lap makes me wonder if there was a divine hand involved. Appropriate for Christmastime, right?
DMC: The Big Run-DMC Three are “Walk This Way,” “It’s Tricky,” and “Christmas in Hollis.” I am only sure that the last one will live on generation after generation. It’s like having a new hit record every year—you said 17 million views on YouTube? I’m speechless. Write that down. DMC, speechless.
RUN: Do I believe in Santa Claus? What type of question is that? That’s not even a question. Of course there’s a Santa Claus. I wouldn’t be here in this house, we wouldn’t have no heat on if there wasn’t a Santa Claus… Everything is Santa Claus.
DMC: My mother passed away six Thanksgivings ago, so the last few years, we had different Christmas meals. One year we did seafood, another we went to a steakhouse, trying to change it up. But man, it ain’t the same. Every year I’m reminded, because I wrote the rhyme, Mom would’ve had us eating chicken and collard greens, rice and stuffing, macaroni and cheese… It’s what she would want so I’m stuck with that meal. We’ll probably have it again. It’s our tradition, but it's yours too now.
A few years ago, somebody said something to me I’d never considered. He said, "D, do you realize the least likely song to have been recorded in the first place is now a permanent part of the holidays?" For the rest of eternity, Christmas is going to be Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, and Run-DMC.
A founding member of the Billings, Montana-to-Brooklyn sportswriting pipeline, Patrick Sauer has written for may large digital publications you’ve heard of and even more smaller ones that no longer exist. He’s on Twitter at @pjsauer.