The following year, the guys dressed as Christmas toys as they performed. Then, after Fallon, Kattan, and Morgan all left the show, Jim Henson’s Muppets filled in for the departed alumni, with Animal nailing Kattan’s rhythmic head-turns (just with a toothier, dopier smile) and The Great Gonzo poking fun at how popular the song had become: “You’ve sung it like three times a year for the last four years,” he quipped to Sanz.


“Yeah, even Hans and Franz changed a few lines once in a while,” added Fozzie Bear. To be fair, Sanz had already altered a few lyrics from year to year, all while sticking to the theme of loving Christmas without paying mind to any naysaying parents, teachers, newsmen, and other humbugs of the world. (Even the song’s message is stubbornly adolescent.) The title has changed several times as well, being labeled as everything from “Horatio’s Christmas Treat” to “Season’s Greetings” and “Christmas Is Number One.”

But a holiday song doesn’t become a true standard from change alone; it also needs to be covered by someone else—someone not made of felt. That very thing happened to “I Wish It Was Christmas Today” when Julian Casablancas recorded it as an iTunes/Amazon bonus track for his solo debut, Phrazes For The Young. Although the childlike lyrics remain intact, they don’t sound quite as whimsical when filtered through new wave keyboards and The Strokes frontman’s chilled-over baritone, which escalates to an enthusiastic bark by the end. Likewise, the galloping drums and handbells add celestial maturity, the same way Frank Sinatra transformed the toy parade of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” into something positively swinging and regal.

Things came full circle in 2009 when, as host of Late Night, Jimmy Fallon merged the original version of the song with the most recent one. It begins like it did in the old days, with him on keyboard and Sanz on miniature guitar. When that first elephant call rings through the air, however, actual drums shake the stage and the camera pans over to Casablancas bending into the mic as The Roots thunder forth with the more muscular arrangement from his album, now lifted higher than ever by horns and stacks of synths. But even as the ditty becomes a bona fide rock hit and Questlove does a much cooler take on Kattan’s head-swing, Sanz’s juvenile guitar lick shines through it all, a testament to “I Wish It Was Christmas Today” functioning as both novelty song and holiday powerhouse. Aside from a handful of terrible karaoke tracks on Spotify, it sadly hasn’t been recorded in earnest since 2011, when the original foursome reunited on SNL with Fallon as host.

The lack of superstars who have tackled the material is understandable, given how hard an act Casablancas and The Roots are to follow. But maybe there’s a future rock star out there in some suburban basement, tinkering with their parents’ old Casio and experimenting with those animal noises. Maybe they’ll fall in love with “I Wish It Was Christmas Today” as a comedy song before eventually recording it with a straight face. But like Casablancas, hopefully they’ll always play it with a slight (and childish) grin underneath.