‘Ottawa’ A Return Trip with the Original SNL Gang to a Forgotten Wonderland
The Show: Saturday Night Live Christmas Special
The Moment: Winter Wonderland
Toward the end of this compilation of skits from SNL’s 50-odd Christmas shows, this gem rose up from the very first season.
Dec. 20, 1975. Candice Bergen is hosting. Garrett Morris, in a red sweater and green-and-white striped scarf, begins singing Winter Wonderland into a hand mike. He sings really well. Backing him is the long-haired, bearded SNL house band, dressed as scruffy angels.
After a few bars, Bergen, Gilda Radner, Laraine Newman and Jane Curtin dash onstage and join in around one standing mike. They’re wearing red caps, red T-shirts that read “Merry Christmas,” and grey sweatpants tucked into very ’70s boots. A few bars later, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi stroll in wearing pea coats and scarves; they add a basso doo-wop. As the song builds to its final verse, low-rent snow begins to fall.
This number was a time machine for me — suddenly I was 13 years old, watching it for the first time on the red Panasonic in my childhood bedroom, in love with the cast and itching for New York. Its no-budget shabbiness was part of the glamour; its thrown-together feel radiated joy.
Everyone looks impossibly young, especially Radner and Belushi, whom we lost too soon. But I didn’t feel nostalgia. I was there: in the ache of Christmas, yearning for a big life. It’s not that I don’t remember who I was or what things were like then. It’s the opposite. I still feel like that person. It’s the years in between that blur.
Saturday Night Live returns Jan. 14 to NBC and Global.
Johanna Schneller is a media connoisseur who zeroes in on pop-culture moments. She appears Monday through Thursday.