We welcome TV characters into our homes every week. They become like family, and who better to spend the holidays with than your actual family.
Traditionally, television loves to celebrate the season with special episodes. They’re usually not the best episodes of the series, but we look forward to sharing in the spirit. Our beloved TV families help us learn the true meaning of Christmas, or give us belly laughs that make us regret that last cookie. Sometimes both.
We are truly blessed to live in a time where we can watch new and old TV shows at any given time. So before you settle into another airing of It’s A Wonderful Life or How the Grinch Stole Christmas, consider queuing up a Christmas episode from your favorite TV show. There are lots out there, but these we keep coming back to year after year for all the holiday feels.
The Office, "Christmas Party"
The Office Christmas party episode has all the trappings that make themed episodes great: dead pan humor, workplace antics and a little budding romance. Michael (Steve Carrell) organizes a Secret Santa for the holidays, but when he goes over the $20 limit to get Ryan an iPod, Michael turns the party into a White Elephant exchange. So instead of personalized gifts, people keep stealing away the iPod from their colleagues. The best parts: Jim’s cheesetastic but incredibly adorable teapot gift for Pam, and when everyone gets so drunk that Meredith exposes herself to Michael. (Season 2, Episode 10, Netflix)
The Simpsons, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire": The very first episode of the long-running animated comedy sees Homer taking a job as a mall Santa and taking his son, Bart, to the dog track in the hopes of getting some extra cash for Christmas presents. (Season 1, Episode 1, streaming on FXNow or SimpsonsWorld.com with a cable login)
Roseanne, "White Trash Christmas": After the neighbors complain that the Conners have "the tackiest house in the whole neighborhood," they go all in with their Christmas decorations. Just what were those shepherds doing to that flock? (Season 6, Episode 12, Amazon)
Frasier, "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz": Frasier had many, many great Christmas episodes, and it’s debatable which is best. Perhaps the most memorable is this one where Frasier pretends to be Jewish for his girlfriend and her mother. Niles and Martin hilariously join in on the charade, which doesn’t last long, thanks to a hay allergy. (Season 6, Episode 10, Hulu)
Community, "Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas": This jolly musical episode takes us on an absurd journey with Abed, whose sanity is questioned when he insists the world is in stop-motion animated. The gang helps their friend by indulging his fantasy to explore the meaning of Christmas. (Season 2, Episode 11, Hulu)
Friends, "The One With The Holiday Armadillo": After taking Santa away, Ross dons an giant armadillo costume to teach his son about his Jewish heritage. (Season 7, Episode 10, Netflix)
South Park, "Woodland Critter Christmas": Stan gets tricked into helping a group of adorable forest critters fend off a mountain lion enemy so their lord and savior, the anti-Christ, can be born. (Season 8, Episode 14, Hulu)
The Mary Tyler Moore Show, "Christmas and the Hard Luck Kid": Mary learns the lesson everyone in the news business understands: Someone has to work on Christmas. Luckily the team saves Mary from her sad, single holiday. (Season 1, Episode 14, Hulu)
My So-Called Life, "So-Called Angels"
In what might be the show’s hokiest episode, a teenage angel helps Angela Chase (Claire Danes) and her family grapple with the holiday spirit. Patty, feeling like her kids are missing out on the true meaning of Christmas, wants them to go church. Meanwhile, Angela discovers her gay friend Rickie needs her help after he’s thrown out of his house with a black eye. It’s especially heartbreaking to watch now when Angela’s parents don’t immediately help. Remember, this was more than 20 years ago. LGBT TV characters barely existed, so for a network drama to showcase a gay storyline over a religious holiday is remarkable. Rickie ends up staying at a warehouse filled with other homeless teenagers, and when Angela goes to find him, she meets Rickie’s guardian angel. Patty, after a fight with Angela, meets the same girl, who shows her how every child, yours or not, needs love. Even though the series only had one season, My So-Called Life is regarded as one of the most influential shows of all time, and this sentimental episode is one of the reasons why. (Season 1, Episode 15, Hulu)
The Wonder Years, "Christmas": Kevin tries to find the perfect present for Winnie, who’s having her worst Christmas — the first without her brother who died in Vietnam. (Season 2, Episode 3, Netflix)
Downton Abbey, "Christmas at Downton Abbey": The Crawley estate turns into a mystical snow globe as Matthew finally melts Mary’s ice-cold heart and proposes. (Season 2, Episode 9, Amazon)
The O.C., "The Best Chrismukkah Ever": In true millennial spirit, the ever-lovable Seth introduces us to the "greatest super-holiday known to man:" Chrismukkah, a mashup of two gift-giving holidays. (Season 1, Episode 13, Hulu)
The West Wing, "In Excelsis Deo": Christmas is just another chore for the White House staff, but Toby makes us sob as he honors a Korean War veteran who died while wearing the coat Toby donated to Goodwill. (Season 1, Episode 10, Netflix)
Mad Men, "Christmas Comes But Once a Year": A more casual Christmas party at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce turns into a big shebang after an exec from client Lucky Strike invites himself to the party. Then Don continues to watch his life unravel as he drunkenly attempts to hook up with two women — one of whom is his secretary. (Season 4, Episode 2, Netflix)
Lost, "The Constant"
Lost had a Christmas episode? Well, kind of. It’s almost impossible to explain a single episode of the sci-fi series without a lengthy refresher, but here it goes. This episode stands apart as the greatest episode of Lost, and one of the best television episodes of all time. In another attempt to get off the island and try to solve some of its mysteries, Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick), Sayid (Naveen Andrews) and Frank Lapidus (Jeff Fahey) hit a bit of turbulence when flying a helicopter to Lapidus’ team’s freighter. Desmond loses consciousness and wakes up in 1996, where he was serving in the British Army’s Royal Scots Regiment. This flashing back and forth between 1996 and 2004 keeps happening, until the help of past Daniel Faraday (Jeremy Davies) prompts him to find something he cares about that exists in both times — his "constant." That constant is his estranged girlfriend Penny (Sonya Walger), who he finally finds on Christmas Eve. There are so many unanswered questions in this episode, especially for someone who never watched Lost. But it mixes that mind-boggling mystery with a short story about the lengths someone will go to connect with the one they love. Because Christmas is for sobbing on the couch over long lost loves reuniting. (Season 4, Episode 5, Netflix)
X-Files, "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas": Agents Mulder and Scully accidentally get trapped Christmas Eve in a house haunted by a ghost couple committed suicide so they could be together forever. It’s a delightful "monster of the week" episode that’s great for both Christmas and Halloween. (Season 6, Episode 6, Hulu)
The Twilight Zone, "The Night of the Meek": A down-and-out, rugged mall Santa finds a magical, wish-granting gift bag after he’s fired on Christmas Eve for being drunk. His one wish: for the meek to inherit the Earth. (Season 2, Episode 11, Netflix)
Mystery Science Theater 3000, "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians": The rulers of Mars are worried their children are becoming too influenced by Earth’s popular culture, so they make plans to abduct Santa Claus and bring him to Mars. Nothing about this movie makes sense, but MST3K riffers Joel, Tom Servo and Crow roast the 1964 sci-fi bomb like chestnuts over an open fire. Fun fact: This film marked the first documented appearance of Mrs. Claus in a movie. (Episode 13, Netflix)
Black Mirror, "White Christmas": In the acclaimed series about technology and existential dread, two men prepare Christmas dinner and swap stories about their pasts in a remote, snowy cabin. Things, of course, are not what they seem. By the end of the episode you’ll be wondering if technology will someday destroy the concept of mercy. Merry Christmas! (Season 2, Episode 4, Netflix)