Christmas episodes are among the best ways to build anticipation for the holidays. Many, many TV shows have done at least one Christmas episode in their run. Some of those episodes are objectively good television. There are stone-cold classics from shows like The Office and Community, and plenty of others that just fell flat. In the middle, there are Christmas episodes that don't often get attention for how great they really are.
Because they don't get tons of hype, these episodes often aren't as well remembered. Some are explicit Christmas specials. They're the kinds of episodes that sitcoms have perfected where Christmas is the subject. For other episodes, Christmas is more incidental. Whatever the case may be, each is well worth rewatching or discovering for the very first time.
This episode is only really about Christmas incidentally. It's widely regarded as one of Lost's best hours, and rightly so. Taking viewers on a journey through time and space with one of the show's most compelling characters, "The Constant" is an emotional wallop. The events of the episode take place on Christmas Eve, and its themes are also appropriate for the holiday.
"The Constant"'s story is, above all else, a love story. Christmas is a time when love and other feelings that we often bury are pushed to the surface. Lost could often be a tear-provoking show, but "The Constant" was operating at the height of its powers. The episode's final scene is beautiful, moving, and a reminder of what Christmas is really all about.
That's So Raven was one of the best Disney Channel shows ever. Following a teenage girl who can also see the future, the show found plenty of ways to play with its premise. In this Christmas episode, Raven opens one of her Christmas presents early because of a vision.
As a result, she skips school with her friends to go to the mall and buy a replacement necklace. Things go a bit haywire when she runs into one of her teachers there, dressed as the mall Santa. The episode is perfect because it weaves in its Christmas-specific ideas seamlessly with the regular shenanigans of the show.
Tony Shalhoub won lots of Emmy awards for his work on Monk, but the show was never hugely popular. Over the course of its run, Monk had a few Christmas episodes, but "Mr. Monk Meets His Dad" was definitely the best. During this episode, Monk is reunited with his long-lost father. The two of them go on something of a road trip because it turns out that Monk's dad drives tractor trailers.
As with most episodes, there's a murder to be solved here, and various hijinks ensue. This episode is most notable, though, for the way it treats the relationship between Monk and his father, which is always subtle and smart.
Glee always strove for sincerity. It could be glib and cynical at times, but the show was always really about misfits who made music together. It was an optimistic series that was often a tad too proud of its worldview. Christmas turned out to be a perfect holiday for the show. In its first Christmas special, "A Very Glee Christmas," Glee provided a moving, thoughtful hour about the meaning of the holiday.
Through its focus on Brittney, the one Glee character who still believes in Santa Claus, the show chooses to admire Brittney's faith. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the episode also features a truly delightful rendition of "Baby It's Cold Outside." Glee was not a consistently great show, but when it was great, it was something special. On "A Very Glee Christmas," we see all that the show is capable of.
Hey Arnold may have aired on Nickelodeon, but it didn't always feel like a kid's show. On episodes like "Arnold's Christmas," it actually felt quite adult. In this episode, Arnold is struggling to buy gifts for all the tenants who live in his grandparents' boarding house.
One tenant in particular, Mr. Hyunh, is proving particularly challenging. That's when Arnold discovers that he was separated from his daughter years ago, in a war that looks a lot like Vietnam. Arnold makes it his mission to reunite them. When they finally do see one another, it leads to one of the most moving moments in any Christmas episode, kids' show or not.
There are few series that are more underrated in general than Chuck. Unlike many shows that are more widely regarded, Chuck was always fun to watch. In this season two Christmas episode, the electronics store where Chuck makes his living is held hostage. Chuck, who is secretly a spy, has to keep all of his non-spy friends and family from discovering his secret.
Along the way, a few people get injured, and a large portion of the holiday set gets smashed. Chuck was always best when Chuck's non-spy life collides with his work as a spy. This episode is a great example of that and manages to thrill as well.
The Leftovers’ first season is hit or miss. It's actually on the show's later seasons that it becomes something truly transcendent. Even so, "B.J. and the A.C." from the show's first season, is remarkable for how unfailingly bleak it is. If you're looking for holiday spirit, you will find none in this Christmas episode.
The major plot developments in the episode are minimal. The show's main character spends most of his time looking for the baby Jesus that has disappeared from the town's nativity. On most shows, that would be a fun way to center an episode. The Leftovers leaves little room for cheer, but its sorrow is part of what makes it so compelling.
There are several shows from the 1990s that were canceled well before their time. My So-Called Life is one such show. Before it disappeared forever, though, it gave us "So-Called Angels." The show's Christmas episode follows its central character as she looks for one of her friends, who is without a home on Christmas Eve.
As she searches, she meets some other homeless people. She's aided in her search by a mysterious girl, and the episode winds its way from there. My So-Called Life always worked because it was able to be so specific. Each character felt like a real person, and this Christmas episode gave us great examples of that.
Most shows never even tried to mix tones and moods like Veronica Mars. A detective story that's also about a teenage girl growing up, the show mixed all of its ingredients perfectly in this episode. This Christmas episode's main mystery comes from a poker game where the winnings have vanished.
It's a great example of the show at its sleuthing best, complete with plenty of banter. Everything seems to have resolved itself as the episode reaches its end, but there's one more shoe left to drop. In typical Veronica Mars fashion, everything is just a little bit darker and worse than it seems.
In its own way, Scrubs was also capable of wild variations in tone. This episode, for example, contains a genuine crisis of faith from one of its characters and a fantasy involving one of the show's doctors becoming a minister. That combination of elements probably shouldn't work, but it does.
One of the great things about Scrubs is the way it draws laughs from real-world situations. An episode about a doctor's struggles on Christmas Eve feels particularly potent. The suffering in the world doesn't stop for Christmas, but that doesn't mean we can't celebrate. That's part of what Christmas is all about.
The Twilight Zone was often a dark, cynical show. It's odd for a show like that to focus on Christmas, but "The Night of the Meek" makes the topic feel natural. Following a drunken department store Santa who finds a magical bag that produces whatever is asked for, the episode is all about goodwill.
This department store Santa spends the episode handing out presents. By the end, he's become the real Santa and learns that he will get to do this every year. It's rare for The Twilight Zone to focus on someone so pure and joyful, but this episode proves that even the most cynical shows are not immune to the Christmas spirit.
"Amends" is one of the quieter hours of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but that doesn't make it less impactful. When Angel, the vampire with a soul, is troubled by visions of his past sins, Buffy is forced to talk him down from the ledge.
During this episode, Christmas is all about making amends, as the title suggests. Angel is forced to reckon with who he was and evaluate his own moral worth. This is heavy stuff for a Christmas episode, but it plays out spectacularly. When snow falls in beautiful Sunnydale, California and allowed a vampire and a slayer to spend a day together at the end of the episode, it feels like a true Christmas miracle.
The Wonder Years’ Christmas episode is one of the best the show ever produced. When Kevin, the show's young male lead, is unexpectedly given a gift from his crush, he's forced to find one for her. The episode works because Kevin feels the weight of the gift.
It has to mean everything to her. It has to be perfect. Hanging over all of this is the death of his crush's brother in Vietnam. It's subtle touches like this that made The Wonder Years great. It's a sensitive show about complex issues that filters those issues through young children who can't quite process them.
Christmas at the White House has to be an interesting affair. It certainly is on The West Wing. On this Christmas episode, the president does a little holiday shopping. The episode's emotional weight comes from one of the president's advisers, Toby. Toby discovers that a war hero has died alone, and he decides to attend the man's funeral.
The West Wing could be a little too patriotic at times, it's true. The scene where Toby attends this hero's funeral is beautiful and moving, though. It's a reminder that, hero or not, the connections we make while we're alive are what outlast us.
Nickelodeon's run of shows in the 1990s was legendary. Kenan and Kel's Christmas episode was great because it was hilarious and moving in way the show rarely got to be. In the episode, Kenan impersonates a department store Santa.
As the story evolves, Kenan actually gets a chance to do some good. He meets a poor, single mom who can't provide much for her children on Christmas. Kenan steps up to the plate and decides to be Santa for her kids. It's a moving, sweet gesture. Nickelodeon's kids' shows worked really hard to instill the idea of giving in their Christmas specials, and this episode was one of the best examples.
There were few shows more unsparingly cynical than House. The character of House is an angry, dark curmudgeon who is nonetheless capable of saving lives. This episode follows a typically difficult case for House, but it's also sprinkled with moments of joy. There's the development of a relationship between two of House's employees, and the moment when House's supervisor finally gets the chance to be a mom.
In spite of the show's frequent cynicism, this Christmas episode manages to be rather wholesome. Through it all, though, House remains a dour, angry man. Even Christmas spirit can't keep him from being himself.
Moonlighting was one of the most wildly inventive shows ever made. Every episode had some sort of conceit, and most were executed brilliantly. This Christmas episode was no different. It's a take on the story of Jesus told in the bible.
The show's private detective main characters are tasked with caring for a baby that three men named King are after. As they care for the baby, they learn a little bit about the meaning of Christmas. Moonlighting was often incredibly clever. On this Christmas episode, the on-the-nose premise gives rise to plenty of great one-liners, and a little bit of heart too.
This episode can be summarized in a single romantic gesture. The show's central town has received its first major snow of the season. Lorelai, who usually loves the snow, finds that it brings her more misfortune than usual. Meanwhile, Lorelai's boyfriend Luke has always hated the snow, and he becomes concerned that his hatred for it has rubbed off on Lorelai.
In order to recapture some winter magic, Luke builds Lorelai an ice skating rink in her yard. It's a beautiful and ludicrous gesture. It's also a reminder that these two were built for one another, and they're lucky to have found one another.