It’s time once again, boys and girls, for another edition of A Sacred Wall Christmas (The Greatest Gift of All)! And this week, we’re moving away from music and into television as we count down the Top Ten Christmas Episodes of All Time! You know what I’m talking about: that final episode before the winter break, where the characters celebrate the holiday season with their family, friends, and coworkers, and often either introduce or wrap up major arcs in the season up to that point. And at the end of the day, there’s a nice story about the season of love. It’s all quite charming and fun, and it makes for great TV, so let’s dive right in!
Now, when it comes to Honorable Mentions, I learned something kinda surprising: the idea of the Christmas special is a fairly recent one. Sure, a few shows of old had holiday episodes, like The Honeymooners, Mr. Ed, and All In The Family, but for the most part, the phenomenon didn’t start until the late 80s. I’m not sure what this says about pop culture, but I’m sure there’s something there. But I digress. To make this list, I looked at every major channel, from ABC to CBS. From ABC, we have most of the Christmas specials from The Middle (Season 1’s “Christmas” and Season 8’s “A Very Marry Christmas” standing out most of all), Modern Family’s “Express Christmas,” and any episode of Home Improvement where Tim Taylor tries to have the best Christmas lights display (I’m a man of simple tastes, and those tastes involve Tim Allen electrocuting himself). NBC has enjoyed the season most of all, giving us 30 Rock’s “Ludachristmas” and “Christmas Special,” the GOAT ALF’s “Oh, Tannenbaum” and “ALF’s Christmas Special,” Charles In Charge’s “Home for the Hokdays,” Cheers’ “The Spy Who Came In For A Cold One” and “Christmas Cheers,” spinoff Frasier’s “Merry Christmas Mrs. Moskowitz” and “The Fight Before Christmas,” and holiday wunderkind Scrubs’ “My Own Personal Jesus,” “My Monster,” and “My Best Moment.” CBS not only gave us The Honeymooners and Mr. Ed, and All In The Family (“The Draft Dodger” is a stand-out), but it also gave us modern classics, like Everybody Loves Raymond’s “The Toatser,” “The Christmas Picture,” and “Jazz Records,” not to mention the fairly melancholic How I Met Your Mother episodes “How Lily Stole Christmas,” “Little Minnesota,” and especially the tragic “Symphony of Illumination.” FOX has been fairly underwhelming in the Christmas department, but they did give us Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s “The Pontiac Bandit Returns,” Family Guy’s “Road to the North Pole,” and two Simpsons classics: “Kill Gil, Volumes I & II” (featuring my favorite Christmas character, the Grumble) and original series finale “Holidays of Future Passed.” Cable has given us everything from Monk (“Mr. Monk Meets His Dad”) and Psych (“Christmas Joy”) to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (“A Very Sunny Christmas,” featuring Danny DeVito reenacting a water buffalo’s birth) to Mystery Science Theater 3000’s presentation of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Meanwhile, The West Wing effectively cornered the Christmas drama market with the incredible two-fer of “In Excelsis Deo” and “Noël.” And then there’s the children’s holiday classics, fro Lizzie McGuire and Kim Possible to The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy and the incredible “Merry Christmas, Drake and Josh” (listening to Santa Drake introduce Josh as his “Sack…of toys” is one of the funniest line deliveries in all of children’s television). And for those of you who are truly twisted, there’s even the Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Chrimbus Special, which is probably the most disturbing television episode I’ve ever seen. It should be noted that both Hallmark movies and Pee Wee’s Christmas Special are ineligible, as one is a one-off and the other is an insane series of quickly made cookie-cutter plots that are kind of addicting. And finally, in my Biggest Honorable Mention of All, we have the British entry: The Office Christmas Special. Technically, this episode should be on the list, considering it is considered by many to be the best episode of the best show of all time. However, there are two things keeping it from gaining entry to this list: first, it seems a little unfair to include a one-off reunion/series finale designed specifically to give fans what they wanted. It’s like it’s trying to gain entry to this list. And second (and more honest), I just haven’t seen it. There. Now that that’s settled, let’s take a look at the Top Ten Christmas Episodes of All Time!
10. The Best Chrismukkah Ever – The O.C.
I had never seen The O.C. before “The Best Chrismukkah Ever.” I had heard about it, and I knew plenty of people who were fans (my brother lives and dies with it), but I had little interest in the self-aware teen soap opera/comedy. However, I knew this list would be incomplete if I didn’t at least give “Chrismukkah” a chance, just like Ryan Atwood. And the result was a whole wave of emotions – shock, confusion, and, eventually, love. Because The O.C. is one of the strangest shows on television. The dialogue is terrible, but sounds like Shakespeare in the mouths of the cast – mainly because it knows it’s terrible; the scenarios are forced, but possesses a satiric eye that comments on its very own genre. Centered on the Cohen family’s tradition of combining father Sandy’s Jewish heritage with mother Kirsten’s “WASP-y upbringing”, Chrismukkah is both a way for the family to celebrate both holidays, as well as allows Seth Cohen a chance to revel in his sarcastic optimism. As for the special itself, part of its genius is the way it plays on the tropes of Christmas specials past and present, while substituting in Chrismukkah as if it were a known entity (characters declaring Chrismukkah “ruined,” dubbing extraordinary events “Chrismukkah miracles” and so forth). And then there’s the plot, which wrapped up key plotlines and introduced others. Seth has to deal with the classic “two dates to the party” scenario, but tries to handle the whole Summer vs. Anna fiasco with his own nerdy know-how (and a little Chrismukkah magic). This allowed for the iconic moment where Summer performed a striptease in a Wonder Woman costume set to “Santa Baby” (again, this show should not be good, but somehow is). Ryan tries to establish his relationship with Marisa, but struggles with her heavy drinking and the fact she got caught shoplifting gifts. And Sandy Cohen has to pull off a Chrismukkah miracle by defeating his greedy father-in-law in a business deal (which he accomplishes, thanks to Kirsten’s interference). However, while these plots are all highly entertaining, the episode also has a great deal of heart: the moment when Seth reaches out to get Ryan his own family stocking is incredibly poignant, as is the moment where Ryan gets to appear in the family Christmas card, showing that he has officially become a part of the family. “Chrismukkah” may be more spoof than real Christmas special, but that doesn’t mean it has any less heart.
9. A Krampus Carol – The League
For a four-year period in most of our lives, the holiday season becomes synonymous with the exam season. This is unfortunate, because a festive time of year filled with love, cheer, and goodwill toward men is tainted by stress, anxiety, seething hatred, and sleep exhaustion. I say all this to preface my intro to “A Krampus Carol,” one of The League’s many Christmas episodes (“Kegel the Elf” was also considered for this list). I first watched this episode while sleep deprived in the room of two of my best friends after a tough week of exams, and I’m not sure if it was the fatigue talking, the camaraderie of friends, or the actual skill of the episode, but this may be one of the funniest episodes of television I have ever seen. For those of you unaware, The League was a plotted-and-improvised show featuring the funniest comedians of a generation, including Nick Kroll, Mark Duplass, Paul Scheer, and Jon Lajoie. A cross between It’s Always Sunny, Seinfeld (which will be appearing later on this list), and Curb Your Enthusiasm, the show follows six terrible childhood friends who keep close through their highly-competitive Fantasy Football League. Each episode balances their attempts to sabotage each other with their attempts to balance adult life. In “Krampus,” we watch as the group is stressed both with the pending playoffs and their own personal issues – specifically, Ruxin’s (Kroll) issues with potential infertility. He takes his anger out on the local mall, which insists on playing Christmas music for two months straight (a legitimate complaint), and the fact that the manager (played brilliantly by Bob Odenkirk) brushes these concerns off due to Ruxin’s Jewish heritage. Meanwhile, League stoner idiot Taco (Lajoie) is disappointed that the mall lacks a Krampus to accompany Santa – aka the devil Santa who takes naughty children and devours them (as his brother Kevin notes, “Who would have thought a lovely tradition like that would have come out of a country like Germany?”). All seems lost until the duo decides to team up, and Ruxin helps Taco dress as Krampus and assault children in the mall. It’s one of the weirdest, funniest moments on television this decade, and it stands tall as a testament t those who grow frustrated with Christmas starting on November 1st (or anyone hating the season due to exams). Sure, there’s a B-plot involving characters trying to appease their Fantasy deity Shiva, and the episode is something of an anti-Christmas episode, but who cares? It’s still a Christmas episode that features a grown man accosting children, and Jeff Goldblum shows up as Ruxin’s insulting father. That’s enough to land any show on this list.
8. Sabrina’s Christmas Wish – BoJack Horseman
BoJack Horseman has spent its past five seasons serving as both a testament and a deconstruction of the 80s sitcom. Taking on Full House, Family Ties, Sister, Sister, and more TGIF classics, the show has show the creepy falseness of the staged families while also praising their ability to fill people with a hope they desperately need to escape their depressing realities. And in a special one-off Christmas episode, that’s exactly what the show did for the entire holiday of Christmas. Centered on the premise that BoJack and roommate Todd are watching a Christmas episode of the horse’s old sitcom “Horsin’ Around,” the majority of the special is a straightforward pastiche of Christmas clichés while BoJack and Todd comment on the show, Mystery Science Theater style. You see, BoJack has sworn off Christmas specials, both because the stories of togetherness remind him of his own isolation, and because they are “cynical cash grabs made to earn extra Nielsen points from people who’d rather watch a fake family than have a conversation with their real ones.” Meanwhile, Todd likes it when people on TV hug each other. These conflicting ideologies go head to head as they watch “Horsin’ Around,” which is chock-full of insider baseball jokes and jabs. In the special, the Horse wants to provide a first Christmas to his adoptive children, who had such a terrible time in the orphanage that they aren’t even familiar with Christmas as a concept – an exaggeration of the clichéd “teach someone the spirit of Christmas plotline” from many sitcoms. Meanwhile, the Horse is also expected to work on Christmas in order to get that big promotion. And little Sabrina (played in-universe by troubled child star Sarah Lynn, and in real life by the incredibly talented Kristen Schaal). There’s also a wacky neighbor who tries to use mistletoe on older DJ Tanner-esque daughter Olivia, the attempted catchphrases of reviled middle child/Alex P. Keaton type Ethan (he consistently tries to declare “Yowza Yowza Bow-Bowza,” only to be booed by the studio audience), and more. And all throughout the episode, the studio audience cheers and laughs, especially an overly-enthusiastic audience member who wants every cast member to kiss and somehow doesn’t realize the truth about Santa. However, as dark and as biting as the episode is about Christmas specials, there is a glimpse of hope. In a surprisingly deep speech at the end of the episode, BoJack (in character as the horse), delivers a deeply symbolic soliloquy about using the season as a reminder of the importance of being good. And in the end, even the nihilistic BoJack manages to find camaraderie with Todd, and the two of them lift each other’s spirits by watching Christmas specials throughout the night. Yes, they’re fake. Yes, they’re cheesy. And yes, they are cynical attempts to take advantage of audiences. But maybe, just maybe, there’s something about the earnest honesty of it all that can bring us all together (Hallmark has made a hedgemony on this very idea). And perhaps that’s what Christmas is all about.
7. The One With the Holiday Armadillo – Friends
You know, for a show that proudly centered itself as a warm portrayal of twenty-something friendships that enjoyed showing these (mostly) likeable people together, you’d think there’d be more Christmas specials than the one. But thankfully, they chose to enter the game and go out in the Top Ten, thanks to the cute little wonder that is “The One With The Holiday Armadillo.” There’s not much depth to “Holiday Armadillo,” nor is there much in the way of plot progression, but there is an important, sweet lesson for Ross, who wants nothing more than to share his Jewish heritage with his son alongside Christmas. After learning that Ben has only been exposed to Christmas, Ross decides to use his time with his son to educate him on the importance of Hannukah. Unfortunately, if you give a kid infinite presents from a jolly fat man, he’s not going to want to give it all up (see: Chrismukkah). So Ross decides to compromise by dressing up as Santa to entertain his beloved son. Unfortunately, there aren’t many Santa costumes if you wait until the last minute. So instead, Ross tries a last-second substation: an armadillo costume that he dubs “The Holiday Armadillo.” And in that six minute sequence, the episode becomes an all-time great. The bit works because David Schwimmer is completely earnest about his choice of costume – he’s not upset at the turn of events, he’s not his usual mopey Ross who sadly declares “Hi,” he’s completely invested in the character. Even when he’s incapable of bending down to pick up the presents, or knocking Monica over with his obnoxious tail, Schwimmer is completely game for the ridiculous, making Ross’ gesture all the more adorable. And things seem like they’ll work out until Chandler shows up in a Santa suit – an apt metaphor for Christmas inadvertently stealing Hannukah’s glory. And if you think Ross as the armadillo is great, wait until you see Matthew Perry as a swearing, sarcastic Santa. It’s as wonderful as it sounds, from his threats that if Ben doesn’t let him leave, “the universe will implode” to his whining to Ross that he hadn’t had a chance to “shake my belly like a bowl full of jelly!” (we don’t give Perry enough credit for his line deliveries on the show). But in a sweet turn of events, everyone has a happy ending – Chandler convinces Ben to listen to the story of Hannukah with him, which Ben intently does, Monica convinces Chandler to keep the Santa costume for an extra night for “other reasons,” and in the end, they all light the menorah together as family and friends as “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof plays. And even if Joey tried to save the day by dressing as Superman, or Phoebe and Rachel assumed that the costumes were an attempt to hold “the Easter Bunny’s funeral,” the moment remains unruinable, and “The Holiday Armadillo” remains one of the most earnest and touching Christmas/Hannukah episodes in television history.
6. Forgiveness and Stuff – Gilmore Girls
If you’ve followed this list for long enough, you could probably assume that Gilmore Girls will appear on any and every list it is eligible for. I mean, it’s the perfect show: it’s a testament to family, to small-town life, and to the spirit of the 1940s screwball comedy. And few shows lend themselves to the spirit of Christmas as well as the Girls: it has snowy Connecticut (it’s practically a Hallmark movie), it’s got cheesy romance and family stuff, and most important of all, it’s about families who don’t always see eye-to-eye coming together through the power of love and the spirit of giving. And no episode drives closer to the spirit of the season, as well as the main thesis of the show, as “Forgiveness and Stuff.” As the episode begins, the family Gilmore is fractured in the wake of Rory’s having been caught sleeping (quite literally and innocently) with her boyfriend Dean at the Winter Dance. Lorelai and Rory aren’t speaking, Lorelai’s in a fight with her mother who has criticized her parenting abilities, and so on. In fact, tensions are so fraught that Lorelai finds herself uninvited from the family Christmas party. Things seem irreparable entering the holiday season. However, things change when patriarch Richard suffers a bout of angina and collapses. As frightening as the moment is, it is incredibly powerful watching Lorelai rush to her father’s side, scared of losing a parent she’s begun reconnecting with. The three Gilmore women make amends as things are put into perspective – Lorelai understanding that her daughter is in safe hands with boyfriend Dean (who is still the worse, may the record show), and Emily and Lorelai staying all night by Richard’s side, allowing Lorelai to see her mother as a person and for Emily to understand that her daughter does love her parents. It’s a touching, sweet episode that uses the drama and threat of grief to put the spirit of Christmas into perspective. And I haven’t even mentioned the straight-up Hallmark-iness of the Lorelai-Luke subplot. Portrayed up until this point as simply friends teasing each other (mostly perky Lorelai teasing grumpy Luke), things take a turn when Luke immediately shuts down his diner in order to drive her to the hospital to be with her father. Not only does this moment introduce a love story that would span the course of the entire show. And it culminates in Lorelai giving Luke the blue baseball cap that would become his trademark for the next six seasons. No matter how you slice it, “Forgiveness and Stuff” is one of the best Christmas episodes of all time.
5. Will’s Christmas Show – The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Will Smith’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is one of the most underrated shows of all time. Due to its memorable characters, solid writing, and strong family dynamic (and obviously one of the best theme songs of all time), it not only created a series of strong sitcom episodes, but also possessed several of the best holiday episodes of all time (particularly Thanksgiving). However, there are few episodes in its holiday repertoire as funny or as sentimental as “Will’s Christmas Show.” The episode follows the gathering of Vivian Banks and the Smith sisters’ families for Christmas, which Will decides to video tape for posterity’s sake. Tensions at the ski lodge run high as different dramas unfold: the cousins bicker, Will’s upset that his mother is dating, the Banks family has to sleep in the living room as spoiled child Bobby gets the last bedroom to play video games in, and Aunt Janice fears that she may be pregnant. Things come to a head when the family elects to let a stranger in from the cold to use their phone, over Will’s objections (“Unless he is on a mule with a pregnant virgin he ain’t getting in here”), in order to properly honor the spirit of Christmas. Unfortunately for them, the stranger then proceeds to rob them, leaving the Banks kids tied up in Christmas lights and robbed of all their possessions, including beds, gifts, and strangely enough, Janice’s pregnancy test. However, the theft allows them a chance to become closer as a family – without gifts for each other, they end up having to work from scratch and give from the heart (as the girls poignantly note, it isn’t unlike their childhood, when their mother would get laid off at the factory). They offer to be more understanding, more kind, and more loving – and as a reward for their generosity, the man who robbed them is brought to justice (the tire blew out on his car and he crashed into the courthouse Nativity, where Baby Jesus knocked him out flat). And the family finds joy in the news that the first item found was Janice’s pregnancy test – which came back positive! To celebrate the news, Carlton attempts to perform “O Holy Night,” inspiring the family to sing along – and drown Carlton out. Outside the plot, there are several little moments that make the episode a real treat: Geoffrey stealing the sing-along with his booming bass, the moment where Carlton annoys Will into admitting that he loves him too, the great Jenifer Lewis’ performance as Aunt Helen, and above all, the first incarnation of “The Carlton Dance.” That’s right: The Carlton Dance is originally from a Christmas episode. From the perfect representation of families to the laugh-out-loud Christmas moments, there are few episodes as truly delightful as “Will’s Christmas Show.”
4. Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas – Community
It may surprise you to learn that Community, one of the most cynical and sarcastic shows on television (albeit with an admittedly huge heart), also happened to be the King of Christmas episodes for a period of time. However, thanks to the brilliantly insane minds of Dan Harmon and Dino Stamatopoulos, that’s exactly what the show became. One of my favorite episodes they ever made was their satiric takedown of both Glee and Christmas music, “Regional Holiday Music,” but after conversing with a Community-obsessed friend, I remembered that, in terms of artistic achievement, sentimental value, and all-around craftsmanship, there was no choice for this list – least of all the #4 spot – than “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.” The basic setup to the special isn’t all that exciting in theory: the group’s moral center and pop culture encyclopedia, Abed, has been suffering due to some unknown affliction, and it’s up to the Study Group to figure out what’s bothering him this holiday season. However, like most episodes of Community, it’s how the episode is executed that makes it special. For Abed, due to his love of pop culture, has his problems manifested in the form of an animated Christmas special. You heard that right: the entire episode, from beginning to end, is filmed in stop-motion animation. There’s musical numbers, Easter Eggs, and references to The Polar Express, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Santa Claus is Coming To Town. What makes the episode fun is that the group, determined to help their friend, decides to play along with the delusion, transforming themselves into their very own Island of Misfit Toys – Annie (Alison Brie) becomes a ballerina, Jeff (Joel McHale) becomes Charlie-In-The-Box, and Pierce (an older, irritable Chevy Chase) becomes a teddy bear. The journey itself is funny enough – Abed takes them on a trip to the North Pole to find the meaning of Christmas, the group falls away along the way as their lack of Christmas Spirit sabotages them (for example, Jeff is eaten alive by “humbugs” due to his inability to stop being sarcastic), and Abed sings them out Oompa-Loompa style, and they are chased by John Oliver’s evil Christmas Warlock, a manifestation of Oliver’s dfdfH rich (as Donald Glover’s Troy notes, “Who taught you therapy? Michael Jackson’s dad?”). However, as funny as the episode is, Community knows how to bring the philosophy and melancholia when it needs to. As it turns out, the reason for Abed’s delusions is the fact that this is the first Christmas where he can’t watch Rudolph with his mom, as he does every year. But he needn’t worry for long – the Study Group comes to his aid. In a stirring final monologue, the group reveals that Abed’s “delusions” are just Christmas spirit, because the meaning of Christmas is that even in the darkest, saddest part of the year, there can still be hope, and by believing in hope, hope will exist, whether you’re Christian like Shirley, Jewish like Annie, Hindu like Abed or agnostic like Jeff. And through the power of Christmas (and their magic Christmas weapons) the group manages to defeat the Christmas Warlock and join Abed in his traditional viewing of the beloved Red-Nosed Reindeer – with their real-life reflections shown inside the animated TV. This isn’t just a story about the meaning of Christmas. This is a story about how this group became a family. And being together with the people you love is what makes Christmas such a special holiday.
3. Woodland Critter Christmas – South Park
After the darkness of last week’s list, I did my best to make this list as joyful and as spiritual as possible. However, it is impossible to make a truly honest list of the best Christmas episodes without referring to the masterful, shocking accomplishments in the Christmas Episode Canon made by South Park. South Park has made some real doozies in the Christmas department, including “Red Sleigh Down” and “Mr. Hankey, The Christmas Poo,” and while those episodes managed to wrap a warm-hearted message inside an irreverent sense of humor, no South Park episode – Christmas or otherwise – has managed to match the nihilistic glee that they took in their epic takedown of Christmas specials of old, “Woodland Critter Christmas.” I will do my best to leave the twist unspoiled for you all, both because it must be seen to be believed and because it is so shocking I don’t know if I can properly describe it on this site without losing readers, but the gist is this: Stan Marsh is forced by an ever-present narrator to visit a group of cheerful Woodland Critters in the days leading up to Christmas. The animals adore the holiday, but are plagued by the presence of a ferocious mountain lion. Stan is forced to confront the lion and save the animals, but the result of his actions is far grimmer than he ever could have imagined. The special is particularly brilliant because of the way it weaves into its narrative different references to Christmas specials of old (quite similarly to “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” for that matter). There’s the cute animals and random songs about Christmas, as seen in Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, the variety show-based joy of John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together (every commercial is announced with the “Woodland Critter Christmas” jingle and a sign-off by a different critter), and the rhyming narrator of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Each detail is specifically designed to spoof the earnestness of the shows of childhood, right down to the entirely sincere-but-not-too-deep original song “Christmas time is once a year/It’s once a year, Christmas time!” And in between these little tributes, there’s a story that is so hilarious dark, and so unnecessarily so, that it will leave your jaw on the floor – from shock or from humor, it’s hard to tell. Some of my favorite details include the forceful narrator who uses his omniscient powers to transport and control Stan against his will, as well as the way Santa delivers the immortal line, “I’m sorry, but Santa’s going to have to kill you” (it doesn’t make much more sense in context, either). And the eventual reveal that the entire special is part of a children’s story written by show sociopath Cartman, things go from good to great. “Woodland Critter Christmas” is a classic episode of South Park, a classic episode of television, and a cornerstone to the Christmas episode tradition.
2. The Strike – Seinfeld
Say it with me now: A FESTIVUS FOR THE REST OF US! Yes, it was incredibly tempting to put the anti-sitcom’s “The Red Dot” in this slot instead, especially considering the fact that I could write about regifting and George’s “Was that wrong?” speech ad naseum. But, being honest with myself, it was impossible to pick anything for this list OTHER than “The Strike,” the anti-Christmas sitcom episode that gave us everything, from The Human Fund to Festivus. The episode sets itself up simply enough: George is frustrated with the idea of “donations in his name” that his coworkers are engaging in (“I gave him Yankee tickets and he gave my gift to someone else!”), so he chooses to stop buying gifts by donating to a made-up charity – “The Human Fund: Money for People.” Meanwhile, he finds himself haunted by his father’s revival of Festivus. What’s Festivus, you may ask if you weren’t alive in the 90s? Well, as Frank Costanza tells an enamored Kramer about the history of Festivus – while shopping for young George’s Christmas present, he found himself reaching for the same doll as another man. “As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way,” he declares. And from the ashes, Festivus – a holiday designed for those who had grown tired and frustrated by the commercialization of Christmas, like a nihilistic Charlie Brown. Festivus is the opposite of Christmas in every way – instead of a tree, there is a singular aluminum pole (“I find tinsel distracting”); instead of festive moments with loved ones, there’s the Airing of Grievances, where you tell your loved ones every single way they disappointed you throughout the year. And after dinner, there’s the Feats of Strength – a battle that determines when Festivus ends, and normally involves Frank beating George senseless. The rest of the episode plays out like a bizzare-o straightforward Christmas special. Kramer goes on strike at his job because his confused boss doesn’t understand what Festivus is. George, caught in his Human Fund scam, takes his boss to the Festivus party to prove that it isn’t a made up holiday, despite George’s hatred of the event (“Festivus is a part of who you are, George!” “I know, that’s why I hate it”). And in a series of “Festivus miracles,” the group finds their lives torn apart – Jerry loses his girlfriend because Kramer tells her that she’s “too attractive to be the girl Jerry’s actually dating” (she looks different in bad lighting); Elaine finds herself cornered by two men she gave fake numbers to; and George finds his scheme to get out of Christmas gifts backfiring when his boss recommends him for the Feats of Strength. The episode ends to the peaceful tones of “Stop crying and fight your father!” This is a perfect Christmas episode because it accomplishes so many things – it demonstrates the characters’ greed during a supposedly cheery and loving season; it spoofs the traditions of the classic holiday plotline; and it brings the characters together for a major event. This episode is not only one of the great Christmas episodes; it is, hands down, the Greatest Festivus episode in the history of television. Happy Festivus to all!
1. A Benihana Christmas – The Office
The Office was the master of almost every holiday, thanks to its mastery of workplace dynamics around the different seasons. Obviously, thanks to the costumes involved, Halloween is a big one for the show. However, it is hard to top the Christmas episodes, if only for the Christmas parties hosted by the Party Planning Committee (get Phyllis, Angela, and Pam together in a room, and I’m sold). Honestly, I could pick any Christmas episode of The Office and it would most likely top this list. However, I honestly don’t think you can pick a better episode than “A Benihana Christmas,” which is arguably one of the best episodes from arguably the show’s best season (Season Three, which gave us a dream team of characters and scenarios). Directed by Harold Ramis (the genius behind Ghostbusters and Vacation), “A Benihana Christmas” follows most of the show’s most important themes – the Jim and Pam relationship, Michael’s quest for love, and the familial bonds between the Dunder Mifflin employees. It humanizes its most unlikeable characters and gives everyone the merry Christmas of their dreams. What’s brilliant about this episode is the way it manages to tie its major plots together into a humorous, but happy final act. Simple boss Michael Scott finds himself broken-hearted after his girlfriend is put off by his neediness and extravagant displays of affection (he Photoshops his face over her ex-husband’s on a family portrait). Devestated, Michael tells the office that “Christmas is cancelled!” (and when Stanley challenge this, he notes, “Keep it up, and you will lose New Year’s as well) While this exchange, and the plots to follow, are humorous, they do drive to the heart of Michael Scott as a character – despite his inability to connect or self-center, and despite his own naiveté, Michael does want to do good, and most importantly he wants to find love. His horrid behaviors stem not as much from racism or sexism (although Michael does fall prey to such mentalities), but from an inability to understand what constitutes horrid behaviors and what doesn’t. So when his coworkers, the aggressive Andy and the loyal Dwight, offer to take him out for lunch at Benihana’s (and straight man Jim gets dragged along), it offers Michael a chance to feel love and support from the people he considers his closest friends – a sentiment he expresses in the now-iconic “Bros Before Hos” monologue. Meanwhile, in the B-plot, we see the increasing tension between Jim and Pam, with both claiming to have moved on from their respective crushes on each other by dating again (Pam’s reconnecting with her ex Roy, while Jim is now dating the equally great Karen). We see the different, shifting relationships between the group, all set to the backdrop of a battle between two party planning groups. Having had her present spurned by Jim (an opportunity to prank the obnoxious Dwight) and maltreated by the dictatorial Angela, Pam and Karen (respectively) decide to team up to throw a better party than the Ice Queen herself. Watching Angela unravel and attempt to sabotage the duo while poor Phyllis looks on longingly is comedic gold. However, what makes the episode great is when the arcs converge: the duo decides to reach out and combine forces with Angela for one Christmas extravaganza, while Michael and Andy decide to bring their attractive waitresses to the party (made better by a smash-cut to the reveal that they failed with the waitresses and had to find different women). From there, things come together to find the reason of the season: there’s the karaoke scene when each character reveals their inner thoughts with their song choice – Kevin sings “You Oughta Know,” Kelly sings “We Belong” to an embarrassed Ryan, Michael and Andy sing “Your Body Is A Wonderland” to their waitresses, only for Michael to realize he can’t tell them apart, and faithful Angela sings “Little Drummer Boy;” Oscar walks in from his vacation with boyfriend Gill, sees the party, and declares “Too soon” before walking out; and Michael, not wanting to appear non-politically correct, tries marking his Asian-American waitress with a permanent marker so he can figure out which one is which. And the two couples end up exchanging gifts, although Jim and Pam look longingly at each other as they do so. However, as melancholic as these details are, there’s still a sense of joy and wonder: Michael hits it off with boss Jan, Jim finds the joy of pranking Dwight with Pam again, and everyone manages to come together as a “family” to remember the joys of Christmas. No Christmas episode has done it better, and I don’t think one ever will again.
What about you? Do you have a favorite Christmas episode? Any I’m forgetting? Let me know in the comments! I’ll be back again before Christmas Day with our final list of A Sacred Wall Christmas, so until then, may you all have a very Disco Christmas!