With the holidays *finally* upon us, it’s time to start watching all the great Christmas specials. But for a little bit less of a time commitment, there’s nothing better to get you into the holiday spirit than those Christmas TV episodes to indulge in.
Some are sweet and joyous — celebrating family and giving. Some are a hilarious ode to the dysfunction of the holidays. No matter what their message, they’re sure to get you into the spirit. From sitcoms to peak TV dramas, Christmas-themed episodes always seem like a hit!
19. Friends, “The One With the Routine”
Ross (David Schwimmer) and Monica (Courtney Cox) are total sibling goals in this episodic ode to their love of dance. This Christmas ep fast forwards Ross and Monica to New Year’s Eve as they attend a taping for Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve and plan to do the totally insane dance routine they came up with as kids.
Elsewhere, the rest of the gang finally outsmarts Monica and finds all the Christmas gifts she hid from them. They also realize what we all had to find out the hard way: finding your gifts ahead of time kind of sucks. Don’t take that Christmas surprise feeling for granted!
18. The O.C., “The Best Chrismukkah Ever”
Chrismukkah has gone from a silly TV holiday to something a lot of people actually celebrate. Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) creates the holiday to appease his half-Jewish side and his half-Catholic side — encompassing the best of Hanukkah and the best of Christmas all in one.
This episode introduces the holiday that has permanently implanted itself in pop culture. It’s also the episode in which Seth finally has to make a choice between the two girls he’s juggling, which ultimately leads to the epic Summer (Rachel Bilson) and Seth romance. A Chrismukkah miracle!
17. South Park, “Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo”
One of South Park‘s most classic episodes (and classic characters) arrives only nine episodes into its first season. When the town of South Park tries to have a non-denominational holiday, Kyle suggests his non-religious, literal ball of poop friend Mr. Hankey be the replacement for Santa. Since Kyle is the only one who can talk to the poop, the town starts to think he’s a little cray.
Eventually, Mr. Hankey reveals himself to everyone else and saves Christmas, flying away with Santa Claus in the end. It’s typical outrageous South Park and essential for some Christmas belly laughs.
16. The Wonder Years, “Christmas”
‘Tis the season for giving and this classic holiday episode is all about perfect gifts. It’s Winnie’s (Danica McKellar) first Christmas since her brother’s death and Kevin (Fred Savage) wants to get her the perfect gift after she unexpectedly gives him something. Elsewhere Kev and his brother try to convince their dad to get them a color TV, lest we forget how old this episode is. Sure, it’s a little older but it’s still highly relatable. Making the holidays great for the ones you love should be the goal every year.
15. The Office, “Christmas Party”
The office’s Secret Santa turns into a Yankee Swap when everyone wants the iPod Michael (Steve Carell) gets for his Secret Santa, far outspending the gift price limit. It puts Jim (John Krasinski) in a panic as he worries the perfect gift he got for Pam (Jenna Fischer) may be stolen by someone else. By the end, Michael throws proper workplace procedure out the window, buys a bunch of booze, and the whole office gets completely sloshed together. The way every office Christmas party should be.
14. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, “Deck the Halls”
Will’s (Will Smith) eccentric decorating disrupts his fancy Bel-Air neighborhood in this rumination on class and holiday celebrations. The uppity people in the neighborhood (including Evander Holyfield, because why not?) are too stuffy to appreciate the decor as a celebration — they see it as trashy. So when the kids of the neighborhood find it festive and claim it’s the best-decorated house on the block, everyone comes together to celebrate the holiday. It’s a great reminder that some things are more important than your lawn looking perfect all the time and cheer can come in many different forms.
13. LOST, “The Constant”
The only true holiday episode the show ever did is also arguably Lost‘s best episode of all time. With all the strange goings-on on The Island, Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) and Sayid (Naveen Andrews) head to the freighter off the coast to find answers there. On the helicopter flight, Desmond starts to exhibit weird side effects from the turbulence, including his consciousness traveling through time. He finally realizes he and his lost love, Penny (Sonya Walger) are “constants” and a call from her could root him in the right time. The scene of them on the phone, where we learn it’s Christmas Eve in a world off the island, is emotional and heartbreaking. It’s the biggest cry-worthy scene in a show full of them and it takes a break from the mystery for a moment to extol the virtue of connection during the holidays, and always.
12. Dr. Who, “A Christmas Carol”
This intergalactic twist on Charles Dickens‘s classic A Christmas Carol finds the Doctor (Matt Smith) using time travel to make the grump Karzan (Michael Gambon) embrace his kinder side and save his friends who are on a trapped spaceship. It’s a silly twist on the classic novel, bringing it into the modern (er, crazy future) age.
11. The Simpsons, “The Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”
This is the first official full-length episode of The Simpsons and their most iconic holiday episode ever. They may be known for their “Treehouse of Horrors” Halloween eps, but they don’t do too bad when it comes to Christmas. When Homer loses his Christmas bonus, he takes a job as a mall Santa to get his kids gifts for the holiday. Elsewhere, Marge has to spend some change getting Bart’s ill-conceived tattoo removed. It marks the introduction of the Simpson’s longtime dog, Santa’s Little Helper, the jolliest TV pet of all time.
10. Parks and Recreation, “Citizen Knope”
When it’s a Parks and Rec holiday ep, you know it’s gonna be heartwarming. Leslie (Amy Poehler) is the queen of gift giving, always outshining her friends and coworkers. They decide they’re going to one-up her this year and… well, they kind of succeed? Their initial efforts fail, but then they give Leslie the ultimate sacrifice: all of their time and resources to run her campaign for city council when her campaign managers decide to quit. It’s a selfless gesture that even Leslie couldn’t top.
9. My So-Called Life, “So-Called Angels”
When Angela’s (Claire Danes) buddy Rickie (Wilson Cruz) becomes homeless during the holidays, she works to save him. She meets, and is aided by, a random new girl in school who — insanely — turns out to be an angel. At the same time, Angela’s feuding with her mother because, duh, that’s what teenage girls do. The ep is a *little* far-fetched but it definitely pulls at the heartstrings, making for the most memorable episode of the short-lived series.
8. A Charlie Brown Christmas
You can’t knock a classic. While technically a TV special and not a TV episode, it’s too iconic to not be included in a list of things you should watch on TV during the holidays. Charlie tries to get over his Christmastime blues by bringing the gang together for festivities and making the best Christmas play ever. Obviously everything doesn’t exactly work out for the poor, forlorn kid but in the end, everyone comes together to celebrate the season. It’s also the origination of the “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” i.e. a sad, bare looking tree which is now somehow iconic.
7. Mad Men, “Christmas Comes But Once a Year”
It wouldn’t be a Mad Men Christmas if things weren’t going completely off the rails. Don (Jon Hamm) is spending his first holiday alone after Betty (January Jones) finally dumps his ass. Obviously, he ends up hooking up with someone. Obviously, it may hinder things at work. His agency is also throwing a Christmas party way beyond their means for a client — but it shows us the entire office dressed to the nines so it’s definitely worth it.
6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Amends”
When Angel (David Boreanaz) is haunted by people he has murdered via the mysterious First Evil, he realizes the goal is to have him lose his soul with Buffy (which happens if they have sex), then kill her. Being the brooting heartthrob he is, he decides that killing himself is the only thing that’ll save the woman he loves.
Buffy realizes his intentions though, and works to keep him alive. It culminates in one of the most emotional scenes in Buffy history, where they stand atop a hill as Angel waits for sunrise to take him to hell. Instead, by some miracle, it starts snowing in Sunnydale, California with the weather man proclaiming the sun wouldn’t be out at all that day. True vampire-human love triumphs again.
5. Community, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”
When Abed (Danny Pudi) awakes (or so he believes) in stop-motion animation, he forces the gang to rediscover the meaning of Christmas. Everyone else fears for his mental health when he thinks this is all actually happening, which kind of puts a damper on the holiday spirit.
The episode just shows just how sentimental the holidays can be, as Abed was struggling with his mother not coming to see him and it manifesting as a need to find the true meaning of Christmas. It’s sad, silly, and a pretty on-point depiction of how the holidays can bring certain emotions to the forefront. And since it’s Community, it’s meta AF.
4. 30 Rock, “Ludachristmas”
This episode really showcases all the great things about 30 Rock. We have Jack (Alec Baldwin) dealing with his abusive mother. We have Liz (Tina Fey) dealing with her loving, but dysfunctional family. And we have the rest of the office preparing for their annual Ludachristmas celebration. But their plans are thrown into disarray when Tracy (Tracy Morgan) can’t drink due to an alcohol monitoring bracelet. Luckily, they find cheer in other ways — like trying to tear down the Rockefeller tree. Just another 30 Rock holiday.
3. Parks and Recreation, “Ron and Diane”
This Parks and Rec holiday offering shows why you should always be nice to your coworkers — and maybe not send all their emails to an automatic trash folder. When everyone is on their way to “Jerry Dinner” (their annual celebration of all the dumb stuff Jerry did during the year) they drive past his house and realize he’s having a rockin’ holiday party without them! Turns out that they were invited, but they sent his email invite right to the trash folder so nobody had a clue! Be nice to your coworkers, read their emails, and you can go to dope Christmas parties with real Santas! That’s a good life lesson, right?
2. Friends, “The One With the Holiday Armadillo”
Of all the Friends holiday episodes, this one is undeniably the best. Ross (David Schwimmer) wants to introduce his son to Hanukkah despite his preexisting love of all things Christmas. At the last minute, he attempts to get a Santa costume to fuse the holidays, but duh — you’re not scoring a Santa costume days before Christmas. Instead, he gets a super weird armadillo outfit and tries to teach his son about the Maccabees as The Holiday Armadillo. It’s one of the most hilarious Christmas/Hannukah episodes of all time and with good reason!
1. Seinfeld, “The Strike”
It’s a Festivus for the rest of us! This episode introduces the iconic holiday of Festivus, invented by George’s (Jason Alexander) father. The holiday is celebrated with a dinner on December 23rd and a unadorned aluminum Festivus pole. There’s also great traditions like the “airing of the grievances” and “feats of strength,” making this a hilariously strange faux-holiday. But it’s pretty quickly turned from fiction to IRL festivity, as many people (Seinfeld fans) have since started celebrating the holiday.