Our Favorite Christmas Episodes of All Time
Capturing the feeling of Christmas is no small feat. A delicate balance of heartwarming sentiment, beloved family traditions, memory-making mishaps, and touches of seasonal magic builds the unmistakable, enchanting character of our favorite holiday. Now, capturing that in a half hour? That’s a doozy. But, somehow, our favorite shows hit us with that Christmas-themed magic in a way that leaves us feeling contently bittersweet. Cozy and warm, filled with holiday joy; yet nostalgic and mushy, nursing a seasonal melancholia. Their definition of the sweet spot, we're sure. The best holiday episodes celebrate families we’re given and ones we choose (Golden Girls, we’re looking at you), traditions old and new (Merry Festivus!), and the true meaning of Christmas (thanks, Charlie Brown). Now, we’ve seen our fair share of holiday entertainment, truth be told; but these are our favorite Christmas episodes of all time, from our favorite shows of all time.
Friends, “The One With the Holiday Armadillo”
Our favorite group of friends celebrates the holidays in mayhem, as always. Ross decides his son doesn’t know enough about his Jewish heritage, but has to settle on an alter ego, the “Holiday Armadillo,” to get the job done. Chandler shows up dressed as Santa (which Monica loves maybe too much), adding to the confusion.
The Andy Griffith Show, “The Christmas Story”
In the only Christmas special of the series, a moonshiner and his family get locked up in jail as per request of a department store owner. Feeling like Scrooge, Andy Griffith brings Christmas to the jail complete with a Christmas tree and a festive party. Feeling left out, the department store owner tries his best to get arrested to join the celebration. This episode is heartwarming and goofy in classic Andy Griffith style.
The Golden Girls, “'Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas”
Our sassy lady friends learn that sometimes the best family is the one that you choose in this Christmas episode. With everyone heading separate ways for the holidays, it’s all business as the ladies head to pick up Rose from work on the way to the airport. A lonely Santa with a toy gun surprises the bunch and almost makes them late for their flights. With all flights later delayed, the girls head to an airport diner and spend the holiday together. On another note: Blanche gives all the girls a risqué calendar titled “The Men of Blanche’s Boudoir” for Christmas, so there’s that.
Seinfeld, “The Strike”
This is one of the most entertaining holiday episodes of all time, making it a forever classic. We discover the made-up holiday, Festivus, from George’s dad and are treated to the accompanying dysfunctional traditions, such as the ‘Airing of Grievances’ at dinner and using a bare pole in place of a Christmas tree. Kramer’s long-held so-called strike from the bagel shop ends and then restarts again, and Elaine is on an Odyssey-esque quest to get a free submarine sandwich at all costs.
Gilmore Girls, “Santa’s Secret Stuff”
The Gilmore ladies always get us with their holiday extravaganzas, running from occasion to occasion, stuffing extra rolls in their purses for the ride. This Christmas special is a little different from those before. Lorelei and Christopher are married; Rory spends the holiday in London with dreamboat Logan; and all Christmas activities are held off until Rory’s return post-holiday. Decorating the tree, shopping for gifts, and baking cookies are packed into a full-fledge Gilmore tirade that we can’t get enough of.
Full House, “Our Very First Christmas Show”
The Tanner family had its fair share of sentimental holiday moments throughout the seasons, but we can’t get past this classic. The family is stuck at the airport with flights canceled as they’re heading to Colorado for the holidays, all thanks to a pesky blizzard (quintessential Christmas disaster). In the mess of family drama and craziness, they realize the true meaning of Christmas is spending time together. Favorite moment: when Uncle Jesse comes in with the sweetest quote of the day, “Christmas doesn't have to happen in one certain place, it happens in our hearts.”
I Love Lucy, “I Love Lucy Christmas Special”
What we find particularly special about this holiday episode is that it was almost never seen again after its first and only airing in 1956. It wasn’t included in the lineup of episodes up for syndication and was forgotten about until the late 1980s when a CBS executive went digging, finally airing the episode for the second time ever in 1989. The sweet special focuses on amusing, memorable past moments of the characters as they explain what Christmas is to Little Ricky and face decorating obstacles with their tree. The episode ends with a whopping five Santas showing up Christmas morning for Little Ricky, one of which is the real deal himself.
This Is Us, “Last Christmas”
This mid-season finale had us blubbering like babies in our Christmas pajamas. The episode juggles time, life and death, and the meaning of family. We practically dove into an anticipatory despair when Kate says early on that “nothing bad ever happens on Christmas Eve.” Because we just knew: Oh buddy, something bad is about to go down. Grab your tissues for this one, folks. This show never fails to keep us coming back for more, though.
The West Wing, “In Excelsis Deo”
It’s Christmas at the White House. President Bartlet sneaks out for some holiday shopping, while Toby struggles with the knowledge that a Korean War hero died on the cold D.C. streets in a coat he once donated to charity. He throws together a heartfelt, emotional funeral on the vet’s behalf, showing how the holidays beckon selflessness and good deeds amongst even the most closed off of us.
Reba, “Cookies for Santa”
Reba is feeling down as she realizes she’ll be spending Christmas Eve alone (Van and Chelsea are heading out of town, while Kyra is attending a party), but she doesn’t lose her signature feisty spirit when arguing with Brock over who will give Jake his first bike for Christmas. Deciding to volunteer at a homeless shelter that night instead, Reba meets a very familiar, though grouchy homeless man that favors Santa a little too much. At the end of the night, everyone is brought back together to celebrate the holiday as a family, even the over-zealous Barbra Jean.
Hart of Dixie, “Blue Christmas”
The small town of Bluebell is decorated to the most charming degree for Christmas, and Zoe is freaking out about her mother coming into town. In her quest to avoid spending time with her intimidating mother (come on, Zoe!), she accidentally almost ruins the festivities by ordering the only Santa in town to go home sick. Lemon is still secretly pining for Lavon’s love even as she helps him make his girlfriend, Ruby (who is the worst, we can all agree), feel at home in Bluebell. Safe to say, that whole situation doesn’t end too well. The rest of the crew celebrates Christmas together in a tear-tugging, adorable way.
The Dick Van Dyke Show, “The Alan Brady Show Presents”
This iconic show-within-a-show always kept us laughing, and the Christmas episode has to be an all-time favorite episode from the award-winning 1960s sitcom. The staff is stuck making a Christmas special for The Alan Brady Show instead of spending the time enjoying the holiday, but the day takes a turn when the whole crew cuts loose and make memories in a series of in-show comedic skits and musical numbers. Rob and Laura put on a show as two street-corner Santas who lose their beards and fall in love, while Sally sings "Santa Send a Fella," which is all too fitting for her. The special is full of fun and laughs, and we loved every minute.
When Calls the Heart, "When Calls the Heart Christmas"
It’s Christmas time in Hope Valley, the coal-mining town where our beloved teacher, Elizabeth Thatcher, and her doting beau, Jack Thornton, make sweet memories season after season. The townsfolk is getting ready for the Christmas play, performing generous deeds, and having the most romantic and heartwarming Christmas ever.
Will & Grace, “Jingle Balls”
The crew is up to no good in this holiday episode. Jack miserably fails at pulling off a Barneys window display for his boss (Parker Posey, we love you!), Grace sneakily saves the day and fixes the window (Jack thinks it was Santa), Karen perfects a sexy Santa look, and Will rocks a questionable sage green turtleneck that makes us smile now, but cringe at the time.
The Nanny, “Christmas Episode”
Our favorite loud-talking, big-haired nanny makes it a Christmas to remember in a way only Fran Fine can. Needing to travel for work, Mr. Sheffield is heading to D.C. during the holidays and leaves Fran with the children to stir up some Christmas spirit (and trouble too). Fran gets a little too generous and has to pawn her late grandmother’s watch to pay it off; Niles is being just as Scrooge-y as ever; Mr. Sheffield ends up staying home for Christmas and has an unexpected trip to the ER; and, of course, a mysterious Santa is thrown in the mix to teach everyone a meaningful lesson.
Gilmore Girls, “The Bracebridge Dinner”
We really tried not to repeat any shows, but we just had to highlight one more heartfelt holiday special from our all-time favorite mother-daughter duo. This episode was a winter wonderland full of joy. Remember the snowman building contest? And the jolly Bracebridge dinner-turned-sleepover at the Independence Inn? And, let’s not forget, the magical, love-brewing sleigh ride between Jess and Rory? We love this episode for the romantic, fun, (mostly) drama-free holiday time spent together by our Stars Hollow friends. It ends just perfectly with Lorelei and Rory riding home in a sleigh, too.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, “Christmas Show”
Will finds out that his mom is seeing a new man while on a holiday skiing trip to Utah. When the adults head to the lodge for a Christmas party, a knock on the door welcomes trouble for the kids. Later, the Banks have to scramble to come up with gifts from the heart after their actual Christmas gifts are taken. Our personal highlight of the episode: we get to see the iconic Carlton Dance for the first time.
The Brady Bunch, “Voice of Christmas”
The Bradys are spending their very first Christmas together as a big family, but tragedy strikes when Carol (who’s supposed to sing a solo in the Christmas pageant) comes down with laryngitis. The whole family tries to get Christmas back on track, and little Cindy asks Santa to give a voice back to Cindy. And, of course, Santa comes through in the end, and the Bradys have a heartwarming family holiday. Ah, the magic of Christmastime.
The Dukes of Hazzard, “The Great Santa Clause Chase”
It’s Christmastime, and Boss Hogg is up to nothing good. The Duke boys pick up a truckload of Christmas trees for the town, but get hijacked and thrown in jail due to some scheming by Hogg. The boys make it their mission to restore their family name and get those trees back from Boss Hogg, leading to a Santa Clause mix-around with a high-speed car chase. All ends well, with the townsfolk finally receiving Christmas trees and Boss Hogg having a few moments of benevolence and generosity for the holiday (but he can’t fool us!).
A Charlie Brown Christmas
While this is technically not an episode, per se, it’s perhaps the most popular Christmas-themed special ever, making it a non-negotiable to include. (It won a Peabody Award, for crying out loud). Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang celebrate Christmas together and remind us again just how all friendships should be. We look forward to this special every single year and can’t wait to hear the words:"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."