A Definitive Ranking of Rifftrax’s Holiday Shorts

Over the years Rifftrax’s holiday offerings have become a big part of my December media habits. Which led, naturally, to wanting to make them battle for supremacy in my heart. Here is a ranking of as many shorts as I could round up—let me know if I missed any. And as always this ranking is totally subjective! Completely! Feel free to disagree!

Before we dive in I have a couple of notes bene: unlike in the MST3K shorts I ranked in an earlier post, Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett, Mary Jo Pehl, and Bridget Nelson don’t often do a full counter-narrative to their specials. They’re not really playing characters aside from maybe exaggerated versions of their public personas. Instead they respond to each short in the moment, often doing running gags over the course of a short or short-centric special, or call backs to MST3K episodes past. Also! Some of these shorts are from the Live Christmas Shorts-travaganza that Kevin, Mike and Bill did with Weird Al Yankovic, so keep in mind that the live performances may have affected some placements. (Not that “Aquatic Champions” thing, though—that one just doesn’t work for me.)

The other note is that most of these shorts are from a bygone era—a bygone era that also had no excuse for its bullshit, just as we don’t now—and a lot of these shorts, particularly the cartoons, have an upsetting array of racist imagery. This is always called out by the riffers, obviously, but I wanted to warn anyone who’s hopping into these things for the first time.


31. Santa Claus Punch and Judy

Santa’s hanging out in a suburban house taking requests from a group of kids. One boy requests a Punch and Judy show, and Santa produces a full puppet theater with unseen puppeteers. The children cheer and hoot as violence ensues.

Why Is It Here? Punch and Judy shows suck. Combining them with the magic of Santa sucks even more. And just in case you thought watching married puppets beating the shit out of each other wasn’t fun enough, there’s also a puppet boxing minstrel act.

Santa Creepiness Factor: Santa cheers as Punch smacks Judy around. If I knew this Santa was coming down the chimney I’d put extra logs on the fire.

Any New Traditions? In this universe Santa—the real, magical Santa—shows up at your house and tells you stories, during the day, like a birthday clown.

Best Riffs

  • As the show begins: “And the children are thrown into a frenzy not seen since Stravinsky debuted The Rite of Spring!”
  • As a kid: “Yayyy, the terrifying Euro puppet is having a seizure, yayyyy!”
  • On Punch and Judy’s troubled marriage: “They knew they were headed for a trainwreck but the sex was so good…it was like a drug.”


30. Parade of Aquatic Champions (RiffTrax Live: Christmas Shorts-stravaganza! With Weird Al!)

A swimming short… for Christmas! This is a product of that fascinating time in Hollywood history when L.A. would basically make an ad for itself, and give the plebes in the movie theater a window into a glamorous world where the sun was always shining, the hair was always blonde, and no one had a single worry. Bill Corbett works it into Rifftrax’s Live Christmas-shortravaganza by claiming his family used to watch it for the holiday.

Why Is It Here? As much as I admire the effort to create a narrative around this swimming short being a beloved Corbett Family holiday tradition, it just doesn’t work for me. The short itself isn’t weird enough for the guys to play off of.

Santa Creepiness Factor No Santa’s here—just Hollywood’s Tarzan, Johnny Weismuller! 

Any New Traditions? Per the narrative, this is an old, extremely specific tradition.


29. The Tale of Custard the Dragon

This is a live-action adaptation of an Ogden Nash poem about a dragon named Custard—children are dressed as a cat, a dog, a mouse, and the titular fire-breather, everyone makes fun of Custard for being a coward ,but when and a pirate breaks in to steal the presents, Custard saves the day… by eating him.

Why Is It Here? It’s only tangentially about Christmas, and while Kevin, Mike and Bill do their best, it just isn’t that funny. Even the fact that a child in a dragon costume devours a child in a pirate costume isn’t enough to win this one a higher slot.

Santa Creepiness Factor No Santas here, only pirates and their half-chewed remains.

Any New Traditions? I get the sense this was meant to become a Christmas classic, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.


28. Santa and the Fairy Queen

Image: Rifftrax

This short starts strong with a fourth-wall-breaking narration from a Brownie, named Snoopy, who is the first real candidate for “more unsettling than Mr. B. Natural” status I’ve seen. Unfortunately, it bogs down in an interminable story of the Snow Fairy Queen who gives a bunch of toys sentience, tries to make that Santa’s problem, almost gets Christmas cancelled, and finally agrees to a compromise that leaves no one happy. Oh and the whole purpose of the short is to guilt children into taking better care of their toys because they come alive every night and are terrified of being broken. Merry Christmas.

Why Is It Here? The weirdness of the short is undercut by the boredom of watching the Snow Fairy Queen pirouette around teaching the toys to dance to the Sugar Plum Fairy, while much more compelling stories of forbidden toy love, the terrifying Jack-in-the-Box, Snoopy’s whole deal, and whatever the hell a “Candy Lion” is, all remain unexplored.

Santa Creepiness Factor Santa is HUGE, which is intimidating. Also he threatens to cancel Christmas at the drop of a hat.

Any New Traditions? Just the sentient toy thing, but that’s pretty common in a Christmas short.

Best Riffs

  • “Hey, Snoopy is in this! Maybe we’ll learn how many Germans he killed in World War I!”
  • As the Fairy Snow Queen tries to teach a knock-off Raggedy Ann doll to dance: “This is exactly how Tchaikovsky envisioned it!”
  • On the toy soldier: “This gets ugly when his kill programming kicks in.”
  • In general: “Cancel Christmas! It’s not worth this!”


27. A Christmas Fantasy

Image: Rifftrax

NOTHING happens in this one. A pair of kids stand in front of a tree, climb into a huge chair together, and instantly fall asleep. I think we see their dream, which is of a diorama of a winter landscape. Ten in the last minute this thing goes full Ari Aster and the most terrifying Santa I’ve ever seen comes out from behind the tree, leaves dolls for the kids, and leaves. The children, thankfully, sleep through this.

Why Is It Here? Nothing happens, and then we’re presented with SANTA CHAINSAW MASSACRE.

Santa Creepiness Factor OFF THE CHARTS

Any New Traditions? Is being scared into a state of shock a tradition?

Best Riffs

On the terror of Santa:

  • “His face is sewn together from other faces!”
  • “Even Krampus gets paralyzed in fear by this guy!”


26. Christmas Customs Near and Far

Does what is says on the tin(sel)! A very mid-century short film grits its teeth and admits that immigrants from other countries have different Christmas customs that we should all grudgingly admit are part of America now—until things get worse. After doing a speedrun of German, Swedish, English, and Mexican traditions, it seems that this short has missionary aspirations as it ends on a lengthy Christmas pageant in China, and waxes rhapsodic about how the Nativity story has meaning for everyone anywhere. Which in a very general sense of “don’t be dicks to refugees” way, sure, and as a cautionary tale of what not to bring as a gift to a baby shower, absolutely. But I don’t think that’s what the makers of the short were going for.

Why Is It Here? I’m willing to hear a sermon from Linus Van Pelt but you, “Christmas Customs Near and Far”, are no Linus Van Pelt.

Santa Creepiness Factor Santa gets little attention here—this short is much more invested in that other Christmas icon.

Any New Traditions? Nope, just a bunch of older ones! Plus, the oldest tradition of all: naked, grasping imperialism.

Best Riffs

  • “My god, it’s more tinsel now than tree…”
  • “Oh, I think we can out-gay the Germans”
  • Narrator: “As Christianity has spread throughout the world, so has the celebration of Christmas”: “I wonder if they’re connected…”


25. Santa’s Spaceship

Image: Rifftrax

Let’s start with the fact that this short stars marionettes. Then add in the fact that Santa has a furious German man named Otto making rockets and zeppelins and “mind-reading helmets” for all the good children of the world—which, well, I knew Operation Paperclip was devious, but I didn’t think the North Pole was involved. Santa seems all-too-willing to sell the reindeer off for meat if it means getting a rocket, but naturally thing go awry

Why Is It Here? The short is here because I find marionettes so upsetting that I had to watch this one through my hands. BUT I find the mid-20th-Century obsession with giving Santa rocket power fascinating.

Santa Creepiness Factor He’s a marionette who tries to sell the reindeer for meat.

Any New Traditions? If Santa had his way, the reindeer would be on a grill somewhere and he’d be zipping through space in a rocket on Christmas Eve. Fortunately for us all, this does not come to pass.


24. Christmas Cracker

Image: Rifftrax

This very brief short is a couple of animations strung together with interstitials of a deeply unsettling harlequin mime dancing around in a void. The longest animation is a charming cartoon about a man who attempts to put a real star on top of Christmas tree which is, I think, the test run for a longer musical cartoon called “George and the Christmas Star” which I quite like.

Why Is It Here? Proto-George and the Christmas Star is cute! And Kevin, Mike, and Bill’s abject horror at the harlequin is fantastic.

Santa Creepiness Factor: No Santa here!

Any New Traditions? Harvesting stars from outer space; harlequinning at Christmas.

Best Riffs

  • As proto-George rips his paper star up: “A very Nietzsche Christmas.”
  • As proto-George looks at the sky with a telescope: “Searching the depths of space to try and understand why this short is called “Cracker.”
  • As proto-George brings his star home: “That star was a planet’s sun! He just ended 7 billion lives.”


23. Toyland

Image: Rifftrax

I’ve mulled over this short for days and I still don’t understand why it exists. The other ones make at least some sense, even if it isn’t a sense I personally respond to. But this one? Two children slide down a banister into their father’s arms. The father makes a series of weak jokes about murdering Santa Claus. Then the kids see that there are no presents under their tree, and are, justifiably, shocked and upset. At which point dad sets up a movie screen a projector to show them a Castle Films production of a Terrytoons cartoon about, say it with me, SENTIENT TOYS. The cartoon teaches them nothing, and when it ends there are toys under the tree, and carolers show up outside the window.

Why Is It Here? Why would you do this to your children? They’ve already waited for 364 days to open their gifts, why are you screwing around? The guys do their best, but the whole thing is so inexplicable, and the cartoon itself is so uninteresting, that this one lands near the bottom.

Santa Creepiness Factor: No Santa here, just more sentient, warring toys.

Any New Traditions? Forcing your kids to sit through sub-Disney animation before opening presents?

 Best Riffs

  • As the dad, a character in a Castle Film, hits play on Castle Film’s presentation of the Terrytoon: “CastleFilmCeption!”
  • As a sentient toy soldier: “All right men, we’re taking that Wenceslas down in a coup!”
  • As the children continue to wait to open their presents: “Both the kids have converted to Judaism by now…”
  • On the animation styling of Terrytoons: “These things look like a police sketch of Mickey Mouse.”
  • On the cartoon as a whole: “Remember: there used to be actual cocaine in Coca-Cola.”


22. Santa Claus’ Story

It starts innocently enough. Two little children are going to sleep when Santa shows up, and they come out into the living room to see him. Rather than admonishing them for being awake, like some of the more uptight Santas on this list, this one happily agrees to tell them a story. Which is when things go terribly awry.

Santa’s story is about monkeys. Or at least, he says it’s about monkeys—half of the examples he uses are chimps. He talks about how monkeys celebrate holidays, too, but really this is just flimsy pretense to show footage of monkeys eating bananas and playing with human toys. Then, without warning, the story whiplashes into Santa reciting “Yes Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus” with utter seriousness, as the two child actors look increasingly unhappy to be stuck in the scene. 

Why Is It Here? The only thing to recommend this one is the inexplicable presence of the monkeys and chimps. Beyond that, this is just a badly-mic’d Christmas short that reaches for gravitas via proximity to Virginia O’Hanlon.

Santa Creepiness Factor: The simian obsession becomes more upsetting with each passing moment.

Any New Traditions? Forcing primates to participate in human rituals that have no meaning for them?

Best Riffs

  • On the brother’s suggestion that he doesn’t believe in Santa: “It’s called Pascal’s Wager, silly!”
  • On the suggestion that monkeys celebrate other holidays besides Christmas (which they definitely do not celebrate): “Lice-mas! And the Festival of Flinging!
  • Mike, Kevin, and Bill harmonize on the words “O Come and Watch the Monkeys” to the tune of Adeste Fidelis.


21. The Christmas Tree

Image: Rifftrax

Impoverished Ukrainian Dad (whom I’m pretty sure is a moonlighting Andrei Tarkovsky) sells the family Christmas tree to a mysterious bearded stranger. He insists that his son make the delivery, and sends him, crying, alone, across a tundra that is both bristling with free, non-sentimental, far superior trees the dude could have just chopped down himself, and crawling with wolves. The short cuts between the kid almost freezing to death, the wolves tracking him, and the mom blaming the dad for their son’s probable death. An ikon of Mary falls from the wall, little sister really obviously doesn’t care whether her brother comes back or not, and finally a miracle occurs, I think. Anyway, both son and tree are restored just in time for Christmas.

Why Is It Here? This one has a strong aesthetic, with the family wearing traditional Ukrainian garb, and the forest itself being beautiful and haunting. But just as with Zlateh this thing is way too long for the story it’s telling, and its central miracle and lesson are both extremely nebulous.

Santa Creepiness Factor: I’m assuming the bearded fellow who comes to the kid in a vision is Santa. His decision to buy the kid’s beloved tree even though he must have walked past dozens of perfectly good trees on the way to the kid’s house feels, to me, like he wanted the kid to get caught in the snow, and force the family to learn an important lesson about not selling trees. If that’s the case, he’s incredibly creepy. 

Any New Traditions? This might be an old tradition, but it seems like the family are fasting all day on Christmas Eve before their holiday meal.

Best Riffs

  • On fasting for Christmas Eve: “I’m pretty sure raisins are too gross to count as food.”
  • As dad is paid for the tree: “With this kinda money you’ll be ass-deep in raisins!”
  • As the boy heads into the forest: “This is like a gritty reboot of Calvin and Hobbes’ Yukon Ho!.”
  • As the kid collapses into the snow: “Well folks, I think this is a Rifftrax first: a Christmas short featuring the death of a child.”
  • As the kid huddles under a tree listening to howling: “OK, remember everything you learned from that Liam Neeson wolf punching movie.”


20. Zlateh the Goat

The rare Hanukkah special! This one is extremely similar to The Christmas Tree—just as depressing, and follows the same formula of “very poor father makes a terrible choice, and everyone is relived when the status quo is restored.” It’s based on a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, and boy is it, um, long, and slow, and bleak. At first! It picks up when the boy and his beloved goat nearly die in a blizzard. But the riff is hilarious throughout.

Why Is It Here? You may never want to hear the word “teat” again.

Santa Creepiness Factor: Obviously there are no Santas in a Hanukkah story.

Any New Traditions? If drinking directly from goat teats becomes a holiday tradition in any faith, I may have to tap out completely.

Best Riffs

  • On the family’s extreme poverty: “Looks like selling one goat is really gonna solve all their problems!”
  • A couple minutes in: “All right folks, we’ve got 18 minutes left, strap in for some real time goat escorting”
  • There’s an extended sketch in which Zlateh and Aaron argue about which of them should get “taun-tauned” when they’re caught in a blizzard
  • On the general vibe: “Grim peasant death, or ad for 70s soft rock hits?”


19. K. Gordon Murray Presents: Santa’s Enchanted Village

This short, produced by the man behind Experiment 521, Santa Claus, once again posits that Santa lives in a castle in a pocket dimension, and answers the question: “How does Santa deliver all those toys in one night?” with the answer: he folds spacetime and bends the universe to his whims. Plus, as in Santa Claus, he’s BFFs with Merlin.

Why Is It Here? Instead of doing anything with this super cool premise, the short focuses on Stinky the skunk, who goes to puppet shows instead of doing his job in the toy factory, leading Puss in Boots and Wolfie to chase him down and yell at him. I think we’re supposed to find this whimsical? Then the short just…ends, with the Skunk working furiously to make a quota, and Santa watching and laughing uproariously. It’s neither weird nor Christmassy enough to earn a higher spot.

Santa Creepiness Factor: Again, Santa just lets his workers harass and berate each other, and then laughs at them when they get upset.

Any New Traditions? K. Gordon Murray would not rest until he made Merlin part of Christmas.

Best Riffs

  • On the argument between Stinky and Puss-n-Boots: “Kids love it when furries have labor disputes!”
  • On the wolf, whose every step makes an accordion sound: “His theme music is an accordion being played by John Cage having a stroke”; “Soundtrack by Weird Al falling down the stairs”


18. Blessed Midnight

This is a long-ish TV movie from the good folks at DuPont (better living through chemistry!) about…well, to break it down to it’s finest points: a Catholic school boys’ choir is getting ready for Midnight Mass, and someone’s stolen a bar mitzvah cake. There’s a lot more going on, but we’ll keep this simple.

Why Is It Here? First of all, this riff is by Bridget Jones Nelson and Mary Jo Pehl, which is fun as heck. Second, and this is where the complication comes in: this is one of those old school early ‘50s teleplays that were desperately trying to mash as many cultures and faith traditions onto a set and beam them into the homes across the US in a desperate hope of togetherness. In this case, a poor, abused Irish kid steals a bar mitzvah cake (he has a good reason) and a somewhat more lace curtain Irish kid (his mom is played by Aunt Bea!) teams up with a Jewish kid to try to help him out. Kind of. In the end it’s a kindly nun, the Monsignor, and the rabbi who presided over the bar mitzvah who come to the kid’s rescue and arrange to have him move to Brooklyn, where he’ll be safe from his father. There’s also a teleplay-within-a-teleplay that starts out a story about a kid trying to make a Little League team, but turns into an ad for DuPont.

Santa Creepiness Factor: No Santa, just a kindly Monsignor and rabbi.

Any New Traditions? Religious pluralism? But just in case you think this is all going a little too well, I have to point out that a group of carolers park themselves in front of the only Jewish deli in town to sing about Jesus, so….

Best Riffs

  • As DuPont trumpets their slogan “Better Living, Through Chemistry”: “What could possibly go wrong?”
  • After a choir practice ends “OK Bridget grab your coat, let’s get out of here before the parking lot gets jammed…”
  • When the nun tells Billy he’ll be a one of the soloists for Midnight Mass: “You have to bring four paying customers, two drink minimum.”
  • When the nun reassures Billy that he’ll look very nice in his “red cassock with the Buster Brown collar”: (both women crack up) “What boy wouldn’t love looking like a little cardinal!”
  • When the nun calls Billy back in to ask him “one more thing” about his ne’er -do-well friend: “Sister Columbo!”
  • On how Billy’s friend ruined the bar mitzvah by stealing the cake: “The theme was cake!”
  • The dad in the DuPont play considers his invention, musing that he needed “something that was lightweight and needed no lubrication”: “No wait, that was dad’s other problem…”
  • As DuPont Dad continues overthinking his invention: “And that’s the story of how Jimmy got good at baseball!”
  • On the carolers, who park themselves right in front of the deli: “There were a lot of lineup changes before they became the Temptations as we know them.”
  • As Billy walks past a chestnut vendor:: “Can I interest anybody in a Christmas cliche?”
  • When Teddy admits the cake was for his aunt, saying “I love her!”: “…and so it would follow that I’d steal a bar mitzvah cake!”
  • On Bill being in trouble for not ratting Teddy out:
    “Whom exactly is the proper authority to report another sleeping in a furnace room to?”
    “I don’t know, but Bill here will be in purgatory a lonnnng time.


17. Banks! The Money Movers

Image: Rifftrax

This short is trying to convince people to use banks. It seems to have been made in the 1970s. It also flies in the face of A Christmas Carol, giving us a story where Scrooge is taught to spend even more time thinking about money, putting it in banks so he can make interest, and buy a Honda motorcycle?

Why Is It Here? As I said up top, the Rifftrax shorts tend not to have the same level of counter-narrative that the MST3K ones do, but here the guys point out the short’s terrible public domain assault on the message of A Christmas Carol by contrasting the life-or-death-or-damnation stakes of Dickens’ story with this re-telling, in which “Arthur” Scrooge, who literally says “I can withdraw money from my mattress” at one point, has to learn to love banks.

Why Is It Here? The attacks on the short’s misuse of Dickens’ story make me really happy.

Santa Creepiness Factor: This isn’t exactly a Christmas short, I’m just including it for Scrooge.

Any New Traditions? …banking?

Best Riffs

  • As Scrooge: “Why the hell do I always forget to digest my beef?”
  • On the meaning of the short: “So, this Marley is condemned to eternal Hell for not doing business with Wells Fargo? …just trying to nail down the metaphysics here…”
  • “A Honda??? Scrooge is gonna get his ass kicked at Sturgis!”
  • When the short suggest MasterCard: “Screw them, Diners Club forever!”
  • When the short tries to use a pinball machine as an analogy for a functional economy (your guess is as good as mine): “Would scrooge even know what a pinball machine is???”
  • As Scrooge, after he’s deposited back home: “1:30 am? Cratchit’s late for work!”


16. The Night Before Christmas (RiffTrax Live: Christmas Shorts-stravaganza! With Weird Al!)

Clement Clark Moore’s classic “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, told in black & white short format! The twist seems to be that Santa gives terrible presents to the children.

Why Is It Here? It’s a straightforward re-telling of Moore’s poem, and isn’t really weird enough to get any higher. Santa, however, seems pretty high.

Santa Creepiness Factor: This Santa seems jolly, and he can decorate the hell out of a tree, but he also gives the worst presents I’ve ever seen.

Any New Traditions? Shovels never really caught on as stocking stuffers.

Best Riffs

  • As the camera pans through some pine trees, we get callback in the special that will serve as a call-forward in this post: “Hey guys, where that small, no account tree?”
  • As Pa springs up to see what’s the matter: “Oh no, honey—the Joker’s on our lawn!”
  • As Santa pulls a toy from his sack and puts it into a stocking: “What’ve we got here…a shovel! Jerk’s gettin’ a shovel!”
  • As Santa puts another headshake of a toy into a stocking: “What child wouldn’t want a swan replica?”
  • As Santa uses his magic to decorate a Christmas Tree: “You! Shall not! Pass!


15. Christmas Toyshop (RiffTrax Live: Christmas Shorts-stravaganza! With Weird Al!)

As dad tries to set up the tree with near-lethal clumsiness, his son and daughter dream of Santa, who tells them a story. The story is about a horrific war between toys (sentient obviously) and a spider-dog wearing a top hat. When they wake up it’s Christmas morning, and the kids join together in a stirring rendition of that Christmas classic, “Rock-a-Bye Baby.” 

Why Is It Here? I’m a sucker for “the toys come to life an immediately go to war”—it just screams Christmas. The riffs on this one are hilarious.

Santa Creepiness Factor: Santa’s not creepy, he’s just a clumsy dream version of their father, and then their actual father dressed up. They recognize him instantly, and if this short has one totally redeeming quality it’s the little girl looking up at him and saying, “You’re Daddy.” It’s not Lupita cute, but it’s cute.

Any New Traditions? Surprisingly, the be-top-hatted spider-dog never caught on.

Best Riffs

  • As Mom, putting the kids to bed: “Try not to let your nightmare-inducing wallpaper induce nightmares.”
  • As Dad damn near dies falling over the tree while he’s holding it: “Dad’s a retired Stooge?”
  • As the toys dance in front of a box of asbestos: “Brought to you by asbestos!”
  • As the horrible spider monster stalks his prey: “Finally on the silver screen: the be-top-hatted spider-dog of my nightmares!”
  • As toy soldiers mow down various attackers: “Oh good! I don’t feel like it’s Christmas until there’s a killing spree.”


14. The Little King

Image: Rifftrax

An odd little cartoon about a King, who is short, who runs into a pair of hobos and brings them home for Christmas. For some reason I guess he can’t decorate his castle, so he asks Santa to bring him a tree and presents. He and the hobos bathe together, and sleep in the same bed, while “Ye Queen” sleeps alone downstairs. It’s unclear whether this woman is his wife or his mom. Also there’s racism!

Why Is It Here? Say what you want about “The Little King”, but it certainly creates a unique and immersive experience.

Santa Creepiness Factor: Santa seems fine, and I guess gives the Little King exactly what he wants, which apparently is strangers to bathe with.

Any New Traditions? None that I want to think about.

Best Riffs

  • When Santa asks the little king if he eats his spinach: “What? We’ll make the Popeye references around here, Big Cheeks.”
  • On the new hobo friends: “The king shall dine on hobo meat tonight!”
  • In general: “Explain your sick twisted universe, Little King!”
  • On the king and hobos going to bed together while the queen sleeps downstairs: “Have a holly poly Christmas!”
  • As the Little King flies in a toy plane: “I’m Charles Lindberg! In that I deeply support eugenics!”


13. The Snowman

Image: Rifftrax

A terrifying short that proposes that all the animals of the Arctic live in harmony… at least, until they build a snowman who gains sentience and immediately goes on a killing spree. (Also the penguins and walruses have founded a church together with an ICE ORGAN.) Everyone has to band together to defeat the snowman, but they probably wreak ecological devastation in order to end his reign of terror.

Why Is It Here? It’s super weird, the animation is great, and the riffs are hilarious. Plus: WALRUS-PENGUIN CHURCH.

Santa Creepiness Factor: No Santa here, just a bloodthirsty snowbeast.

Any New Traditions? WALRUS-PENGUIN CHURCH. How did this start? What do they worship? How do they write hymns when they all have flippers? Who built the ice organ? Is there a Walrus-Penguin messiah? If so, are they some other Arctic creature?

Best Riffs

  • There’s an extended running gag about the perverse fantasies of director Ted Eshbaugh.
  • On the Snowman: I think this guy was boss in Cuphead
  • As the Snowman eats people: “Ahh the results of our hubris!”
  • On the Penguin Church:
    “Now we’ve got penguin church? Short’s introducing a lot of big concepts…”
    “The great Walrus-Penguin Schism really complicated the faith.”

12. A Song for Santa

Image: Rifftrax

The narrator informs us that a small Texan boy is spending Christmas in Bavaria. Two German children he’s befriended take him to a cathedral, where all three children sit and listen to an orchestra rehearse, willingly, with no parental intervention. The boy falls asleep and dreams about Santa living in…I’m guessing heaven? With cherubs attending to him. They’re sick of choir music and wait for him to fall asleep so they can play “Jingle Bells”. The boy comes in, offers Santa the titular song—“Jingle Bells”, like he hasn’t heard that one before—and he takes him through different rooms to pick out a toy. The special ends with him still there, and possibly dead?

Why Is It Here? It’s incredibly weird! Inexplicable, even. And Kevin, Mike, and Bill rip it to shreds.

Santa Creepiness Factor: HIGH. Santa leers at his attendants, they don’t seem to be free to leave, and, well, I don’t think the short means to imply that the boy’s soul has been ensnared and he’s trapped in Santa Limbo forever, but that’s how it feels.

Any New Traditions? Being bored to death in a church is one of the oldest traditions of all.

Best Riffs

  • As the older German child: “Let’s get you into a tan shirt, ja?”
  • As the older boy pulls his brother’s hat off: “Take that off! It’s disrespectful to Santa.”
  • As the choir continues to sing: “Next up: Their moving rendition of ‘Hitler Got Run Over by a Reindeer’.”
  • As the boy enters Santa’s Purgatory: “You wanna see a dead elf?”
  • On the musical instrument Santa offers to the boy: “It’s clearly a flugelhorn, not a trumpet, you rube.”
  • As the short ends:
    “Did the little boy ever wake up from his dream?”
    “So… is this heaven?”


11. A Christmas Carol

Image: Rifftrax

This short proves that unless you’re Mickey Mouse, you really can’t tell the story of Ebenezer Scrooge in less than 25 minutes. Coronet attempts to give us the bullet points of Scrooge’s redemption, using (and re-using) about half a set, a spindly tree, and a fog machine turned up to 11. Basil Rathbone is Scrooge, and obviously he’s great, even if he is made up to look like “zombie Andrew Jackson”. The Ghost of Christmas Past looks exactly, but exactly, like Gandalf, Present is pretty good, and Future walks through the whole special pointing his finger ahead of him like we’ll forget which Ghost he is.

Why Is It Here? The short itself isn’t really bad enough to inspire great riffing, but where this one shines is in Mike, Kevin, and Bills responses to the story itself (e.g. when Mike, as Scrooge, asks Bob Cratchit “care to grab an underdone potato with me?”) as well as an increasingly funny commentary on the cast’s choice to scream all of their lines directly into each other’s faces.

Santa Creepiness Factor: No Santas here, just the Ghosts of Past, Present, and Future.

Any New Traditions? [shoves glasses up nose] Well technically when Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol a lot of these tradition were either fairly new, or newly-appropriated into Christmas. But this post is already going to be too long as it is.

Best Riffs

  • Coronet! Because be honest—you don’t want to see a Christmas film from ACI.
  • On the greatness of Dickens: He also wrote some Next Gen fanfic that was pretty popular
  • On Nephew Fred’s Christmas dinner: “We’re having several dozen kinds of pudding!”
  • As Scrooge, learning he has a chance to escape Marley’s fate: Booyah! Suck it, Marley!”
  • As the Ghost of Christmas Past navigates a set consisting of a single tree, a matte painting of a house, and enough fog to fill a haunted moor: “I’ve just gotta swing by this minimalist production of Macbeth—I’m playing Duncan! I’ll be dead pretty quick.”
  • As Scrooge to Past: “Thanks, weirdo Moses.”
  • As the camera pans over a shelf of leatherbound books: “Brought to you by encyclopedias! It’s like we never existed.”
  • In response to Tiny Tim’s “God bless us, everyone!”: “Except the Irish, of course.”
  • As Present: “They want me to show you Don Henley’s house for some reason… I don’t make the rules.”
  • As Scrooge, watching Present disappear: My first bear boyfriend, gone…
  • When Scrooge’s coffin is wheeled by: “Six-foot party sub, comin’ through!”
  • As the newly Christmas-loving Scrooge: “Let’s snort some mistletoe and inject eggnog into our tongues!”


10. December Holidays

This educational short posits that the dark and cold of December inspired three holidays that are all about love and light. This gets a little weirder each year, as December is nowhere near as cold as it used to be, and there’s still three months of actual cold lying in wait right after the festival of the Epiphany. Anyway: Posadas, the Mexican celebration of Joseph and Mary’s search for affordable housing, Chanuka, a celebration of sacred oil/light lasting a week longer than it was supposed to, and Christmas, which is… really just the thing about Joseph and Mary and the housing again.

Why Is It Here? Another well-meaning educational short! But as in most of these, the narrator really lights up when she starts talking about Christmas. And once again they hammer home the idea that really the holidays are the same…but they super, super aren’t. Also for some reason the American celebration of Christmas is British? Which isn’t exactly accurate either.

Santa Creepiness Factor: Santa takes a backseat to Jesus, dreidels, and piñatas.

Any New Traditions? Nope, this is all old ones!

Best Riffs

  • As the short implies that December is the coldest month of the year:
    “…so after December winter’s pretty much over, I guess?”
    “Uh, december, april, same difference.”
    “…maybe May? Minnesota!”
    (all laugh)
  • On the decimation of the piñata: “Strong “ending of Wicker Man” vibes.”
  • On the dreidel: “Backwards L, the other backwards L, …Stonehenge? And…Wu Tang.”
  • On stocking stuffers: “Fresh fruit, disappointing kids the world over”
  • On the family gathering together to fight the darkness of winter: “Calm down, it’s dinner—they’re not battling Sauron.”


9. A Christmas Dream (RiffTrax Live: Christmas Shorts-stravaganza! With Weird Al!)

A little girl gets new toys for Christmas, and promptly chucks her old favorite behind the grand piano that’s in her bedroom. In retaliation, Santa makes her dream about the toy fighting the newer toys for her affection.

Why Is It Here? This short really does feel like a nightmare you’d have as a kid. The further the riffs lean into the girl’s fragmenting mind, the funnier it gets.

Santa Creepiness Factor: He doesn’t just see you when you sleep, he can incept you and make you have terrible nightmares whenever your behavior displeases him. 

Any New Traditions? Pinning burning candles on Christmas tree branches was an old tradition that has, for the most part, died out. I can’t imagine why.

Best Riffs

  • On the live, flickering candles burning on the Christmas tree standing in a child’s nursery: “This family’s spent the past seven Christmases behind police tape watching their house burn to the ground.”
  • As Santa implants a dream in the girl’s mind: “She’s fully embraced the madness.”
  • As the older doll comes to live and gambols about: “It really put the ‘stop’ in stop-motion.”
  • As the older toy attacks the newer ones: “Yes my playthings! Fight! Show me blood!”


8. Gifts from the Air

Image: Rifftrax

A poor urchin wanders through town looking in toyshop windows. This leads to a toy soldier breaking itself as it dances for his amusement, and the shop owner throws it away in disgust. The urchin fishes the toy from the trash and takes it home to a shack that is, frankly, nicer than my apartment. The soldier calls Santa up on the radio (???) and order an airdrop of toys and food for Christmas.

Why Is It Here? I’m a sucker for old-school 1930s animation. The urchin is genuinely cute (not as cute as Lupita, though) and this one is just so weird the more I thought about it the higher it went. The toys are all really weird, and include a mechanical goat that sings like Bing Crosby, a clockwork bandleader who says “Yowza!” repeatedly, and a Santa-in-the-box (again, ???) who calls people “scramblepusses”, I think.

Image: Rifftrax

Santa Creepiness Factor: I’ll let Mike Nelson answer this one: “I travel through radios operated by toy soldier, that’s how it works now!”

Any New Traditions? Sentient toys and starving urchins we will always have with us. But calling Santa through a radio? That has the shock of the new.

Best Riffs

  • As the urchin: “Nice try frostbite, but tuberculosis is gonna kill me first!”
  • As the urchin: “I’ll never be as cute as Lupita…”
  • As the toy soldier weeps in the trashcan: “A decapitated toy is crying. I just love this time of year!”


7. Silent Night: The Story of The Christmas Carol

Image: Rifftrax

I really like this one. The short itself is actually nice? It’s just a sweet, quiet short about Reverend Moore and Franz Gruber writing a Christmas carol together. And the riff is all the funnier because Mike, Kevin, and Bill give the story room to breathe before coming in with dark, cynical jokes.

Why Is It Here? I am endlessly amused by the fact that the guy who wrote Silent Night’s name is Franz Gruber, while the villain of Christmas classic Die Hard is named Hans Gruber. When a Die Hard joke came up this one shot up the list. Plus, Mike gets an excellent Velvet Underground reference in that I shall not spoil here. This is also one where they each break up laughing a few times which is just fun to hear.

Santa Creepiness Factor: No Santa here, just silence and wolves.

Any New Traditions? We’re watching the birth of a new Christmas carol, so, technically yes.

Best Riffs

  • Bill starts us off with a song, to the tune of “Silent Night”:
    “A Coronet film,
    about Silent Night…
    Jam Handy sucks!
    ACI bites!”
  • When the narrator informs us that the story of the first Christmas never loses interest: “It’s like Batman’s origin!”
  • When the narrator tells us that “Franz Gruber discovers that the organ is broken”: “He blames John McLane.”
  • As Reverend Moore contemplates the silence and beauty of an Austrian night: “and that’s when the wolves got him.” [all three crack up]
  • As Gruber and Moore shake hands on the idea to write a song together: “They both lawyered up and prepared for a lifelong battle over publishing rights and royalties.”


6. Three Magic Words (RiffTrax Live: Christmas Shorts-stravaganza! With Weird Al!)

Image: Rifftrax

Mrs. Newlywed’s husband made a bet with a trio of strangers that his wife is the best cook of all their wives. But it’s possible Mr. Newlywed’s taste buds have been blinded by love. Er, whatever the taste equivalent would be for that. Luckily for Mrs. Newlywed, The Jesters, a jazzy singing trio playing the roles of butchers, chefs, and the three guests, come through to help her cook an ABSURD dinner, all while singing various lyrics about pork set to a tune you will never get out of your head. 

Why Is It Here? This is an ad for pork. But it’s an ad for pork that’s being sung by a trio, playing multiple roles, as they rescue Mrs. Newlywed’s dinner. And more than that, it’s being riffed, often in song format, by Weird Al Yankovic.

Santa Creepiness Factor: No Santa here, just… The Jesters.

Any New Traditions? Quality. Freshness. Flavor.

Best Riffs

  • As a member of The Jester’s audience: “Do a song about headcheese!”
  • On the promise that the pork recipe will “make your heart sing”: “And by ‘sing’ we mean ‘seize up’.”
  • On The Jesters ability to teleport across town to help Mrs. Newlywed: The Jesters: sinister masters of the dark arts.”


5. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer! (RiffTrax Live: Christmas Shorts-stravaganza! With Weird Al!)

Image: Rifftrax

A Jam Handy production of Rudolph! Max Fleischer directs! It’s a pretty straightforward adaptation of the song, and reaches a particular level of kitsch because of the willowy, weirdly sexy Fleischer animation style, and the abrupt turn into, well, there’s no other way to say it: Rudolph’s ultimate triumph at leading Santa’s sleigh feels straight-up fascist. I don’t think anyone meant it that way, but the tone is overwhelming.

Why Is It Here? There is a point when Santa, stumbling through home after home delivering toys in a fog, comes across Rudolph in bed, his nose glowing faintly in the dark. Santa’s response to this discovery is to wake the young deer, grip his shoulders, and exclaim “I need you tonight!” This scene sums up the weird sensual undertone of this Christmas cartoon for children. And even Murphy’s shocked “WHOA!” is an excellent encapsulation of how the guys highlight ever awkward moment to its fullest.

Santa Creepiness Factor: I’ll say it again: Santa sits on the edge of Rudolph’s bed, shakes him awake, and yells “I need you tonight!” right into the teenage deer’s face. If you’ve ever seen a deer actually stare into headlights? Yeah, that.

Any New Traditions? This short is a celebration of Johnny Marks’ “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” from 1939 which was itself an adaptation of a Robert L. May’s Montgomery Ward coloring book of the same year. Since the cartoon came out in 1948, Rudolph himself was still a pretty new tradition.

Best Riffs

  • On Santa having a traditional sleigh as opposed to the more futuristic modes of travel used in other shorts: Sleigh? what the hell happened to his magic helicopter?
  • On the surprisingly hotness of Rudolph’s mom: “I’m emotionally confused by Mrs. Rudolph…”
  • As Santa, for some reason, urges his reindeer on by yelling High Ho! “A yes, Santa’s beloved catchphrase: High-ho.”
  • As Santa goes from home to home, finding only baby animals: “Santa never stopped to wonder why human children no longer exist.”
  • As Rudolph is celebrated in a giant Futurism-influenced stadium and proclaimed “Commandeer in Chief”: Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Deer!”


4. Christmas Rhapsody (RiffTrax Live: Christmas Shorts-stravaganza! With Weird Al!)

Image: Rifftrax

I’m not sure if it’s a rhapsody, exactly, but this is a sweet, simple story about a stubby pine tree—small, and of no account as it repeatedly tells us—who is chosen to be the Christmas tree for the forester and his family. Which is sweet, on the one hand, but on the other, just as in “The Christmas Trees” (we’ll meet them in a moment) we’re hearing this story from the POV of a living thing that’s just been hacked down and doomed to die. But unlike “The Christmas Trees”, there’s only a metaphorical resurrection here, as the tree is thrilled to be decorated with baubles and tinsel. We don’t see the horrifying aftermath.

Why Is It Here? Of all the shorts on this list, this is the one that destroys me with laughter no matter how many times I watch it. I think it’s something in the gap between the the high seriousness of the phrase “rhapsody”, the nice, but humble, story of a family decorating a Christmas tree, the self-deprecation of the tree’s narration, which can only be described as Giamatti-esque, and Kevin, Mike, and Bill’s frustrating with the tree’s complaints.

Santa Creepiness Factor: There’s no Santa, just sentient trees. 

Any New Traditions? Just your standard tree-decorating fare here.

Best Riffs

  • On the tree being “small and of no account: “I live with my two dads and work part-time at the hobby store…”
  • On the tree wistfully saying, “I have no snow on my branches…”: “I have never seen anything literally ever as small and of no account as this tree.”
  • As the tree is being chopped down: [wordless screaming] “Look into your heart! I beg you!!!”
  • As the kids decorate the tree: “Here—just move it this way—no, this—no—you’re ruining Christmas!
  • On the short as a whole, as the camera pans over the forester’s house: “My god guys, have you ever seen such rhapsody!
  • As the Forester and his family stand singing in front of the tree: “Tomorrow belongs to us children!”


3. The Christmas Trees (RiffTrax: Christmas Circus with Whizzo the Clown!)

Image: Rifftrax

Many of the shorts on this list are disturbing to some extent. It seems the holiday season brings that out in short film makers. But I have to say, “The Christmas Trees” is WAY UP on the “disturbing Christmas Content” list. The plot is simple: three pine trees are cut down and sold as Christmas trees to homes on the same block, so they can see each other in their respective windows. After the holiday, as needles begin to drop, things take a briefly melancholy turn, before the trees are resurrected as aluminum and…ascend…to Tree Heaven.

Why Is It Here?

The thing that catapults this short up this list is that all the trees have human faces. Extremely emotive human faces. And they use those faces to express joy and sorrow and fear, and, often, to leer at human women. What more could you want in a Christmas short? Other than the scene where the mom is scrubbing one of her kid’s drawings off the wall, and the drawing is super obviously a pair of breasts with a phallus popping out of them. Not to traffic in stereotypes or anything, but did I mention that this short is French? Or had you guessed that already?


Santa Creepiness Factor: There’s no room for a creepy Santa amidst this forest of terrifying trees.

Any New Traditions? I certainly hope not.

Best Riffs

  • On the possibility that this is Hannibal Lecter’s Christmas celebration: “Ahhh dear god he’s keeping them alive!!!”
  • A Tree, on being set up in the living room: “What is going up me there?”
  • A Tree, on being decorated: “Why are the ornament hooks so sharp? Oh god, that one was serrated!”
  • As Christmas crackers pop: “It’s taking me back to ‘nam man! They’re in the trees! They’re in the me!
  • As Dad watching needles fall off the tree: “That’s it. Next year we’re putting up a menorah.”
  • As Tree, watching his own needles fall: “My ex-wife is right! I am small, and of no account!”
  • As the trees wake up in Tree Heaven: “Braaaainnnnssss” and “Aw, they’re going up to tree hell. …it’s the opposite for trees.”


2. The Christmas Deer

Image: Rifftrax

The plot is simple: an old reclusive man named Nick tries to escape his grief by hiding away in the woods, surrounded by the toys he carved for his late grandson. But The Christmas Deer—who is on a mission from Jesus—has other plans. A lost child and a carved wooden flute later, Old Nick is on the cusp of becoming Santa Claus.

Why Is It Here? Did I mention how the deer is on a mission from Jesus? That’s not even all! This short features an elderly recluse who shows a child his flute, a sociopathic deer, the phrase: “The day before Christmas, Old Nick was dejectedly pulling his wood home from the forest” and “…he sat fingering the figures of the Nativity scene.” This short is a Christmas gift to me, specifically. The narrator does a lot of work trying to convince us that this story of The Christmas Deer is a) beloved and b) known by anyone. The footage of the panicky deer doesn’t remotely succeed in making it look like he has a connection to Old Nick. The narrator hammers away at how lonely and griefstricken Nick is. And the two cruxes of the story are incandescently ridiculous. First The Christmas Deer leads a little boy into the woods, gets him lost on purpose, and then leaves him there, all so he can also lead Nick into the woods and force a meet-cute between the two of them. This is a terrible plan! Then, after the kid is inspired to make a flute by Nick, he gives it to the Baby Jesus in the town’s Nativity scene (because the Little Drummer Boy needs accompaniment, I guess?) but then Jesus tells the kid to give the flute to a poor kids instead, and that, eventually, leads to Nick giving toys away to poor children. Which leads me to ask: WHY DIDN’T JESUS JUST TELL NICK TO DO THAT IN THE FIRST PLACE. WHAT IS THE DEER EVEN FOR? WHO PUT A BABY AND A RUMINANT IN CHARGE OF THIS? WHAT REGIONS OF EUROPE ACCEPT THIS VERSION OF THIS STORY AND IS IT ONLY BECAUSE THEY’VE NEVER HEARD A BETTER VERSION? And it leads me to put this special near the top because this shit is GOLD.

Santa Creepiness Factor: I think “creepy” is a little harsh, but Old Nick is a hermit who is literally dying of grief when we meet him. He is not the most obvious choice for Santa, but I guess it worked out? Maybe that Deer’s all right.

Any New Traditions? Is “The Christmas Deer” actually a thing? I’ve researched many, many holiday traditions and I’ve never heard of this one.

Best Riffs

  • “This sure is giving me seasonal depression!”
  • On the Deer’s mission: “The Baby Jesus got a team together for one last job.”
  • “So “Old Nick” is Santa Claus, got it.”
  • On Old Nick’s flute-playing: “He was the Lizzo of his day.”
  • On the Deer, who was totally at the Nativity you guys: “The ox and ass were like, “Beat it, deer! You’re not part of this story!””
  • “The blurry, not-quite-in-focus Christmas Deer.”
  • As Nicholas follows the Deer into the woods: “Nicolas killed the deer and lived in the carcass for warmth.”
  • When Nick realizes he’s lost his talent for woodcarving: “Blackout; gunshot.”
  • As “Old Nick”: “First taste is free you dumb kids!”
  • As the Deer poses for a the camera: “Milwaukee Bucks mascot, Bango!”
  • On Baby Jesus: “That is clearly Marilyn Monroe!”


1. Clem Williams Presents: A Visit to Santa (RiffTrax Live: Christmas Shorts-stravaganza! With Weird Al!)

Image: Rifftrax

As a tired mom tries to put her two children to bed, they say they want to visit Santa. Santa hears them, and sends an elf to pack them into Santa’s helicopter and bring them up to the North Pole. Once there, he takes them on a tour of his workshop, which is staffed by clockwork toys, and forces them to gaze in wonder at his room-sized model train.

Why Is It Here? This is honestly one of the best shorts in all of Rifftrax/MST3K history. It has it all: children speaking unintelligibly and visibly fighting being in scenes, the most frightening Santa on the list, an attempt to drag said Santa into the future via technology, overt sexism, an over-enthusiastic narrator, stock footage of small-town Christmas parades that have no connection to the main plot, flickering grindhouse-ass film stock, an extended sequence that was clearly an excuse for somebody to film their model train set, all capped off with a half-assed lecture about Jesus in the last moments.

Image: Rifftrax

Santa Creepiness Factor: In all seriousness, the sight of this Santa in his recliner, in front of Mid-Century Modern fireplace, bellowing “Merry Christmas!” directly into the camera like he’s having a seizure, is one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen. It genuinely looks like the opening shots of a snuff film. WHAT IS UP THOSE STAIRS BEHIND HIM? WHAT IS THAT LIGHT? DON’T GO UPSTAIRS, CHILDREN.

Any New Traditions? Where to begin. Santa once again has a rocketship, and the children are taken to his horrifying factory town via, ahem, magic helicopter. The workshop is staffed by toys building other toys, with only a few “elves” (at least one of whom is made to prance around in a minidress), and there is not sign of a responsible adult or a union rep or even an HR office anywhere.

Best Riffs

  • On the daughter’s utterly incomprehensible dialogue: “Is that a Carpathian dialect???”
  • On Santa being part of a stock footage motorcade: “Here he is in Dallas in 1963!”
  • On Santa’s rocket and the young man helping him into it: “He’s also proud of his new sidekick, Prince of Space.”
  • On this whole terrifying ordeal: “I didn’t know David Lynch made a Christmas film…”


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