I absolutely love Christmas episodes of most shows, whether they are funny, touching, dramatic, sweet, sentimental or even cheesy. Here is a collection of my favorite dozen. Keep in mind that they are all from regular series (no specials) and there are no episodes spun off from Scrooge, George Bailey or other holiday crutches.
1. “Happy Days” – “Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas” (1974)
Long before Fonzie (Henry Winkler) was a regular visitor at the Cunningham house, he became a last-minute Christmas guest the first year of the series. When Richie (Ron Howard) realizes that Fonzie is pretending to have plans to go visit family for Christmas, he invites him to spend it with his own family. Howard (Tom Bosley) is initially reluctant, but eventually comes around, making the entire episode one of the most touching in the history of TV.
2. “Seinfeld” – “The Strike” (1997)
One of the classic episodes of this series introduces “Festivus”, the holiday for the rest of us, created by Frank Costanza (Jerry Stiller) and supported by his son George (Jason Alexander) with undecorated aluminum poles, the airing of the grievances and the feats of strength.
3. “Late Night with David Letterman” – “Christmas with the Lettermans” (1984)
Easily one of the most unusual Christmas episodes ever, this Emmy winner for variety writing was a fake heartwarming show with David Letterman’s fake wife, fake children (searching the streets of New York for a tree), fake drunken brother, plus visits from Pat Boone and Brother Theodore. Watch it right now if you can find it.
4. “The Brady Bunch” – “The Voice of Christmas” (1969)
The only thing Cindy (Susan Olsen) wants for Christmas from Santa is her mother’s (Florence Henderson) voice back so she can sing her solo at church.
5. “M*A*S*H” – “Death Takes a Holiday” (1980)
While there are several good Christmas sub-plots in this episode involving parties, chocolates and orphans, the most touching portion is when Hawkeye (Alan Alda), B.J. (Mike Farrell) and Margaret (Loretta Swit) try to prolong a dying soldier’s life long enough that he will not die on Christmas Day.
6. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” – “Christmas and the Hard-Luck Kid” (1970)
Mary (Mary Tyler Moore) is forced to work on Christmas Eve night at WJM instead of going home to visit her family. It is a lonely night with several sweet moments then brightened by the arrival of Lou (Edward Asner), Ted (Ted Knight) and Murray (Gavin MacLeod) who come to cheer up Mary.
7. “The Simpsons” – “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” (1989)
The very first episode of this long-running animated series features Homer Simpson (Dan Castellaneta) working as a mall Santa, betting the money at the dog track and coming home with the new family dog, “Santa’s Little Helper.”
8. “30 Rock” – “LudaChristmas” (2007)
Liz Lemon’s (Tina Fey) family visits for Christmas, as does Jack’s (Alec Baldwin) sour mother (Elaine Stritch) who wants to find the bad side of the Lemons. Back at the office, the writers and staff want their raunchy annual party, but Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) intervenes.
9. “The West Wing” – “Noel” (2000)
Not feeling in the Holiday spirit, Josh (Bradley Whitford in an Emmy-winning submission) must spend his time with a doctor (Adam Arkin) specializing in trauma victims. Meanwhile, the President (Martin Sheen) decides he will sign all 100,000 Christmas cards by hand. Yo-Yo Ma is also on hand to perform.
10. “The Dick Van Dyke Show” – “The Alan Brady Show Presents” (1963)
When Alan (Carl Reiner) turns down the writing staff’s Christmas episode for his variety show, he gets the whole team to perform on his show. The episode has lots of funny moments and lets the full cast shine with singing, dancing and sketches.
11. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” – “Mary, Joseph and Larry” (2002)
Larry (Larry David) can’t fully understand Christmas tipping and not only offends his housekeeper but his wife’s entire family when he ruins their nativity scene.
12. “The Waltons” – “The Homecoming” (1972)
This TV movie was not technically the first episode of the series, but it aired on CBS many, many years and was an annual viewing tradition in our house. John-Boy (Richard Thomas) and the family are worried that something has happened to their father and he will not be home for Christmas.