Unless it never makes it past the pilot, every show eventually does a Christmas episode. Small Wonder even had one and that show was so bad, every episode was the shows own suicide note. Christmas episodes are the easiest way to hit nostalgia and emotion at the same time because the only thing American families love more than spending time with their loved ones on the holiday, is spending it with their favorite television characters. Watching their beloved screen friends reenact the same traditions as they do, becomes, itself, a tradition. Some shows embrace the wholesome aspects of the holiday, with characters unwrapping presents and baking gingerbread cookies, while others take a darker approach. Whether they’re lighter in tone or more mean spirited, nothing beats spending Christmas with your TV buddies. Except Small Wonder. She’s creepy and weird.
This is the Ten Greatest Christmas Episodes of All Time.
10. The X-Files 6.06 “How the Ghost Stole Christmas”
The X-Files was at its best when it focused on stand alone episodes instead of trying to tell some grandiose story about alien conspiracies. Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigate a house that is haunted by a couple (Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin) every Christmas Eve. Asner and Tomlin shine as a pair of mischievous ghosts that are using auditory and visual hallucinations in order to get the agents to try and kill each other. It’s a fun, lighthearted episode in a show that took itself far too seriously.
09. Community 2.11 “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”
I’m not a fan of Community. It always felt like it was trying too hard to be a hipster Arrested Development. Having said, the shows Christmas episodes were always on point. The first one– “Comparative Religion,” was about the school having to conform to non-denominational storytelling. It’s fine but the next two– “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” and “Regional Holiday Music” are far better in every way. One is told in the style of a Rankin/Bass special, while the other is a full blown musical, respectively. They’re both fantastic with the stop motion one being slightly better.
08. Friends 7.10 “The One With The Holiday Armadillo”
Due to the costume shop being out of Santa costumes, Ross (David Schwimmer) decides to improvise and creates the holiday armadillo to teach his son about the meaning of Hanukkah. While most shows focus on either Halloween or Christmas episodes, Friends was unique in that it was most well known for its Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve specials; and while the episode “The One With The Routine,” is an all timer, “The One With the Holiday Armadillo,” is arguably the shows best holiday themed episode. It has an actual message without feeling overly saccharine and it might involve Ross at his most likable.
07. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia 6.13 “A Very Sunny Christmas”
Due to his never-ending abuse on and around the holiday, Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) are determined to show Frank (Danny DeVito) the true meaning of Christmas. Meanwhile, Mac (Rob McElhenney) and Charlie (Charlie Day) reminisce over past Christmases. Much like South Park, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia prides itself on its ability to push buttons and while this episode isn’t as outrageous as others, it still gets pretty fucking crazy.
06. South Park 8.14 “Woodland Critter Christmas”
From its inception, South Park has always courted controversy. They’ve crossed so many lines over the years, that it’s almost impossible for them to shock anyone anymore. For some reason the creators are allowed to do pretty much whatever they want, with the only exceptions being: showing the image of Muhammad and making another Christmas episode. One was due to death threats, while the other was apparently too outrageous for the FCC to handle. While the ban was eventually lifted ten years later, it’s crazy to think that their Christmas episode was as controversial as breaking Islamic law but it is an episode that ends in a blood orgy after all.
05. The Simpsons 1.01 “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”
The Christmas episode is usually released somewhere towards the end of a show’s fall season, but The Simpsons decided to buck convention in a big way by having their premiere episode be about Christmas. It was a hell of gamble considering the only other time we saw these characters was in the Tracy Ullman Show and they certainly weren’t beloved enough for people to care whether Homer got his Christmas bonus or whether his punk son got a tattoo but not only did the gamble payoff, it proved, without a shadow of a doubt, that the Simpsons offered far more than just filling time on a sketch show.
04. Inside No. 9 3.01 “The Devil of Christmas”
If there was an award for the “best show you’re not watching,” Inside No. 9 would win every year. A darkly comedic anthology show that skates right up to the line of horror, Inside No. 9 is the less famous but equally great brother to Black Mirror and “The Devil of Christmas” is the shows crowning achievement. Set in the 70’s, the episode centers around an English family who are told the story of the Krampus by their guide on the way to their chalet. Revealing anymore would be criminal but suffice it to say, the episode is about way more than a child stealing goat man. It’s wickedly funny and legitimately spooky. Stop sleeping on this show, world.
03. Black Mirror 2.04 “White Christmas”
For those of you that have put off Black Mirror because you think it’s nothing but 90 minutes of “technology is crazy”, you’ve been missing out on one of the best scripted shows of the last decade. I mean, each episode does essentially boil down to “the future is fucked and technology is crazy” but it’s still great, you hyper critical scrubs. White Christmas is about two men (Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall) living in a virtual cabin cum prison, reflecting on the mistakes they’ve made that led them there. One is a prisoner, while the other is the interrogator but soon both will realize that not every prison is four walls and a ceiling. If you’re at all interested in the show, this the perfect jumping in point.
Read Lee McCutcheon’s thoughts on the episode in our 25 Days of Christmas list.
02. Tales from the Crypt 1.02 “And All Through the House”
Directed Robert Zemeckis and written by Fred Dekker, “And All Through the House” is a delightfully morbid tale involving a wife (Mary Ellen Trainor) who, after murdering her second husband for the insurance money, is unexpectedly attacked by a hideous escaped mental patient dressed as Santa (Larry Drake.) Deciding to use her attacker as a scape goat, the wife decides to try and murder the insane Santa in order to pin the murder of her husband on him but she’ll soon realize greed ain’t got shit on crazy. Widely regarded as one of the series best, this episode is non-stop fun.
01. Seinfeld 9.10 “The Strike”
Seinfeld has added many things to pop culture including but not limited to: “yada yada yada”, “no soup for you”, “shrinkage”, and “sponge worthy” but their greatest contribution is their creation of the fake holiday Festivus. Created by George Constanza’s father (Jerry Stiller), the rules of Festivus aren’t clearly defined but it definitely includes: a Festivus dinner, an unadorned aluminum Festivus pole, practices such as the “Airing of Grievances”, “Feats of Strength” (wresting the first born), and the labeling of easily explainable events as “Festivus miracles”. None of it makes any sense but any holiday that involves wrestling and telling people they suck to their face is my kind of holiday.
Festivus … for the rest of us!
What are some of your favorite Christmas themed episodes of television?