The 23 Greatest Holiday-Themed TV Episodes of All Time

Aubry D'Arminio

Clockwise from left: Mike Yaris/AMC/Everett Collection;Adam Rose/ABC/Getty Images

Season's TV Tidings

It doesn’t matter if the weather outside is frightful—television is so delightful during the holiday season. The characters on our favorite shows gather for big dinners, put up decorations and get way too drunk at office Christmas parties. If it’s a comedy, there’s probably a fight. If it’s a drama, there’s usually a death. If it’s American Horror Story, there’s going to be a killer Santa. Now that the networks are on hiatus, why not snuggle up next to the Roku with one of these superb holiday episodes...

Seinfeld

NBC

Seinfeld, "The Strike" (1997)

Kramer helps Frank Costanza resurrect his original, pioneering holiday Festivus (it’s for the rest of us!). All you need to party is an aluminum pole, a list of grievances and the strength to wrestle your host to the floor. Most families are two-thirds of the way there already.

My So-Called Life

My So-Called Life, "So-Called Angels" (1994)

After Angela’s friend Rickie bolts from his abusive uncle, her search for him leads to the island of runaway kids (OK, it’s a burned-out building filled with squatters), where she meets a homeless angel (that one's true) played by indie songstress Juliana Hatfield.

MARRIED...WITH CHILDREN

Columbia Pictures Television/Everett Collection.

Married…With Children, "You Better Watch Out" (1987)

For those who like their holiday tales dark: The Bundys’ usual low-rent Christmas is interrupted when a promotional stunt goes awry and a parachuting mall Santa takes a death dive onto their yard. Hey, free decorations!

The Simpsons

20th Century Fox/Everett Collection

The Simpsons, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" (1989)

The Simpsons’ first episode was also its first holiday special. Homer takes a job playing Santa to hide the fact that he didn’t get his Christmas bonus but he still can’t earn enough scratch to buy presents. Still, don’t cry for Bart, Lisa and Maggie—he finds something at the racetrack (four legs, furry, not a reindeer) that’s even more special.

X-Files Mulder and Scully

Fox

The X-Files, “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” (1998)

Forced to work on Christmas Eve, Mulder and Scully investigate a Maryland house rumored to be haunted by a married couple that died in 1917. And guess what? It is! The ghosts (played by Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner) trap the pair in the house and slowly turn them against each other. Talk about not being in the Christmas spirit.

TWILIGHT ZONE

Everett Collection

The Twilight Zone, "The Night of the Meek" (1960)

The Honeymooners’ Art Carney plays a drunk department-store Santa who finds a burlap bag that can produce anything a person asks for. He uses it to give his poor neighborhood a very happy holiday.

The Goldbergs - A Christmas Story

Eric McCandless/ABC

The Goldbergs, “A Christmas Story” (2015)

Beverly Goldberg wants to make Hanukkah as cool as Christmas: So she hangs “Hanukkah socks” by the chimney, covers the house with blue and white lights, and tries to anoint Saturday Night Live’s “Hanukkah Harry” the Jewish Santa. But Pops thinks it’s a shanda, and they begin the cross-religion holiday tradition of arguing. While Beverly is distracted, Adam and Barry end up stuck to a pole, A Christmas Story-style.

Big Bang Theory Christmas Episode

Cliff Lipson/CBS/Getty Images

The Big Bang Theory, "The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis" (2008)

Before Christmas—sorry, Saturnalia—Sheldon anguishes over giving Penny a basket of bath products that will be of commensurate value, both monetarily and sentimentally, to the gift she got him. But turns out, there’s not a bottle of soap in the world that equals Leonard Nimoy’s signature (and DNA!) on a Cheesecake Factory napkin.

Difficult People Christmas episode

Linda Kallerus/Netflix

Difficult People, “Difficult Christmas” (2015)

Billy and Julie get into the spirit of the holidays, he by forcing his niece to pretend she’s his daughter and take ballet classes so that he can join the “gay dad mafia”; she by getting a holiday job wrapping presents and telling her customers the plot of Capturing the Friedmans. The episode even has an original holiday anthem: “Bitter on Christmas,” co-written and sung by creator/star Julie Klausner.

The Lucy Show Christmas Episode

The Lucy Show, “Together For Christmas” (1962)

Lucy wants a green tree. Vivian wants a white one. So they compromise and get both. But when the ladies decorate their individual tannenbaums, Vivian steps on Lucy’s Santa. And Lucy cuts Vivian’s lights. Soon enough, they are in an all out tinsel-tossing war. No candy cane or silver ball is safe!

MAD MEN,

Mike Yaris/AMC/Everett Collection

Mad Men, "Christmas Comes But Once a Year" (2010)

Just because it's Christmas doesn't mean things get merry. Don continues his spiral downward, drinking and crossing office boundaries by sleeping with his secretary. Meanwhile, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce lands a big account, which leads Roger to throw a lavish Christmas party that's beyond the office budget. As for Sally, all she wants for Christmas is to spend time with her dad, even if she knows that won't happen.

Blackish Christmas episode

Adam Rose/ABC/Getty Images

black-ish, “Black Santa/White Christmas” (2014)

Dre thinks it’s time the office had a black Santa (i.e., him), and is disappointed when the part goes to a Mexican woman instead. And by “disappointed,” we mean angry enough to steal the role from her by any means possible.

PEE-WEE'S PLAYHOUSE CHRISTMAS SPECIAL

Pee Wee Pictures/Everett Collection

Pee-wee’s Playhouse, “Christmas Special” (1988)

Picture this: Cowntess the Cow visiting the playhouse bringing pal Zsa Zsa Gabor, Charo giving Pee-wee a fruitcake, Cher breaking in to find out the day’s “Magic Word,” and Grace Jones singing “Little Drummer Boy.” It’s like getting everything on your (circa 1988) holiday wish list.

THE MINDY PROJECT, Christmas episode

Greg Gayne/Fox/Everett Collection

The Mindy Project, "Josh and Mindy's Christmas Party" (2012)

Mindy throws the office holiday celebration at her apartment in order to show off her boyfriend, Josh. But the gingerbread flies (literally) when his other girlfriend crashes the party. Plus: This the first time Danny's secret talent of making elaborate gingerbread houses is revealed.

30 ROCK

Nicole Rivelli/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

30 Rock, "Ludachristmas" (2007)

Kenneth torpedoes the TGS cast and crew’s boozy holiday shindig, “Ludachristmas,” in order to teach them the true meaning of Christmas. Tracy is forced to wear an ankle monitor that goes off when he drinks. And Jack’s snarky mother helps Liz’s wholesome family expel their repressed anger (in the middle of a restaurant). Good times.

FRIENDS

NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Friends, “The One With The Holiday Armadillo” (2000)

Ross promises his son, Ben, a visit from jolly old St. Nick—but there are no Santa suits left in the city. So he creates “The Holiday Armadillo,” Santa’s half-Jewish friend from Texas, who teaches Ben (who’s half-Jewish himself) the joys of Hanukkah.

Curb Your Enthusiasim

HBO

Curb Your Enthusiasm, "Mary, Joseph and Larry" (2002)

Larry unknowingly eats the baby Jesus from Cheryl’s family’s cookie manger. He tries to make it up to them by hiring the members of a living nativity to stand in front of the house. And then foils his own plan by praising Mother Mary’s knockers.

MASH

M*A*S*H, "Death Takes a Holiday" (1980)

It’s okay to wipe your tears on a stocking: B.J. fights to keep a critically injured soldier alive at least until 12 a.m. on December 26—so his family won’t remember Christmas as the day dad died.

The Office

The Office, "Christmas Special" (U.K., 2003)

After a year in America, Dawn returns for the office Christmas party. But has everyone changed? Nope, they’re still just as funny to watch. And Tim still melts like a Christmas candle when he sees her.

Downton Abbey

Nick Wall/PBS

Downton Abbey, “Christmas at Downton Abbey” (2011)

December, 1919. Bates is on trial for the murder of his ex-wife, Vera—which is horrible, obviously. But the Abbey just looks so bloody pretty with all those Interwar England Christmas decorations! And there’s always a chance Mary might leave her horrible rich fiancé for true love Matthew.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine - Yippie Kayak

John P Fleenor/FOX

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Yippie Kayak” (2015)

A quick trip to buy a last minute gift turns this year's Christmas Eve into Jake’s best day ever when he, Gina, and Charles are taken hostage inside a megastore. It’s real-life Die Hard! Except without Germans.

Rob McElhenney,

Patrick McElhenney/FX

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “A Very Sunny Christmas” (2010)

After finding out their childhood Christmases weren’t exactly the wholesome family gatherings they remembered, Charlie and Mac try to get back their Christmas spirit by righting old wrongs. It’s not as charitable as it sounds. But what did you expect?

South Park

South Park, "Red Sleigh Down" (2002)

Cartman, Stan, Kyle and Jesus get locked and loaded for a Black Hawk Down-style mission to save St. Nick after Santa’s Sleigh is shot to bits over Iraq on Christmas Eve.

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