Built partly on a sample of the 1968 Blues track “Back Door Santa,” Run-DMC’s 1987 hit “Christmas in Hollis” tells the story of an encounter with St. Nick in Hollis, Queens, where the members of Run-DMC grew up.
The song served as the centerpiece of a pivotal album in popular holiday music, 1987’s hit A Very Special Christmas.
Conceptualized and realized by Jimmy Iovine, A Very Special Christmas is considered by some a “before-after moment” for pop and holiday music, opening the door for mainstream artists to embrace holiday recordings. Featuring major acts from the MTV era — U2, the Eurythmics, Bob Seger, John Mellencamp, Stevie Nicks, and more — the idea for album arose after Iovine’s father died in 1985, inspiring the famous producer to do something creative in his Dad’s honor.
However, since the idea was a Christmas album, Iovine didn’t want to make a dime from it, so he cast about for a charity to support. Through connections, he was introduced to Bobby Shriver, son of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. They invited Iovine to a Special Olympics wrestling event in New Jersey. He saw how inspirational yet underfunded the Special Olympics were, and dedicated any funds from the recordings to the charity.
In a great story in the Washington Post, the role of these revenues in the success of the Special Olympics becomes clear:
. . . the program has raised $145 million and helped more than 110 local Special Olympics programs, primarily in Africa and Asia.
Andrii Pidvarko, president of Special Olympics Ukraine, says the program has been a reliable source of funding for more than two decades. With the Russian invasion of the country in February, it’s never been more important.
Almost all charitable organizations and foundations, private companies focused all their help on supporting the Ukrainian army now. Our organization was able to receive stable financial help only from ‘A Very Special Christmas,’” Pidvarko says. “For now, we can’t train and compete due to constant rocket fire, but our athletes work as volunteers in hospitals, weave protective masking nets for the army, pack humanitarian aid in warehouses and sing along to the albums.”
The Pointer Sisters — whose contribution kicks off the album — participated precisely because the proceeds would go to the Special Olympics, as they have a special needs family member.
The song chosen for today, “Christmas in Hollis,” almost didn’t happen, as Run-DMC felt that hip-hop already has a holiday song in Kurtis Blow’s 1979 festive feat of lyrical dexterity, “Christmas Rappin’.” But once DJ Jam Master Jay incorporated a sample from Clarence Carter’s 1968 “Back Door Santa” (a song covered by Bon Jovi on the album), the group was on-board, and the lyrics flowed. The song also includes samples of “Frosty the Snowman,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Joy to the World.”
The song is the centerpiece of A Very Special Christmas, the first album of the series — there have been 10 released in total since 1987 — and has become a mainstay in malls, TV shows, and movies, featured most famously in the 1988 Christmas classic, Die Hard.
Run-DMC performed the song for the first time in nearly 20 years on The Wonderful World Of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration. It was a pre-recorded segment that aired on November 27, 2022.
The video below starts with a humorous skit, and then we’re off to Hollis for an encounter with Santa.