There's a sleepy, sweet song by British pop duo Slow Club called "Christmas TV," in which the protagonist prays that her significant other misses his flight so they can stay together one more night and watch Christmas TV curled up on the couch. This is important because (1) it really is one of the most charming songs you'll come across this time of the year, and (2) it illustrates the importance of holiday-related programming on the small screen. Watching a series' token Christmas episode not only helps get in the festive spirit, but script writers seem to up the ante in December, offering some of the most memorable moments of a series' history—moments like dancing fecal matter wearing a jolly Santa hat. 'Tis the season for television!
We therefore present you the 100 percent objective, inarguable guide to the best seasonal episodes of the last 25 years (aka, a few of our personal favorites).
Every single year, without fail, my family gathers 'round for our annual screening of Christmas in the Playhouse, arguably the apex of Pee Wee's entire TV career. There's plenty of Christmas magic to go around (as well as some helpful notes on Hanukkah), but mainly, the list of guest stars includes Grace Jones, Frankie and Annette, Magic Johnson, Cher, Oprah, Laurence Fishburne, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Charro, among many, many others. The whole thing is a Christmas tour de force like no other. - Virginia
For Felicity and her pals at Fictional NYU—as for many nonfictional college coeds across the country—the real source of stress around the holidays isn't family relations or baking; it's the daunting, five-day stretch known as Finals Week. And so here we have Felicity being subjected to savage shushing in the library (notice the brilliant use of subtitles in the above clip), a reappearing clock in the corner of the screen counting down the minutes until her first exam, and one of the greatest coffee-fueled love triangles in the history of television. I was always on Team Noel, myself. - Lauren
Obviously not a Christmas episode, per se, but Rugrats was always one of those shows that was at its best with special holiday episodes, and as a young, culturally unaware child, this actually served as a surprisingly thorough explanation of the Chanukah backstory. Also, the rivalry between Grandpa Boris and his frenemy Sholomo is a delight, and sort of an eerie pre-cursor to Festivus if you think about it. - Virginia
For the rest of us! The Festivus episode doesn't really require any introduction, other than to note how well it still holds up in spite of being endlessly quoted by everyone you know from the months of November through January every single year. Truly, it's impressive. And besides, what family gathering doesn't end up as an unofficial "airing of grievances," anyway? Holiday genius. - Virginia
At first glance this Christmas episode of real-life high school documentary Saved by the Bell is notable for its setting: It's a rare snapshot of life outside Bayside High and The Max, taking place almost entirely inside the mall. But, oh man, there is so much more to note in its 23 minutes: the brick-sized cell phone seen in this clip, Screech's Tony Award-winning performance as Scrooge in the gang's rendition of A Christmas Carol which inexplicably takes place in said mall, and then there's the fact that lover boy Zack starts dating a girl he meets in this mall and—surprise!—she's homeless. Get yourself to the mall, and you might be able to help those in need. Life lesson: learned! - Lauren
Santa's Little Helper joining the family and an opportunity to revisit vintage, weirdly mumbly Homer? Pure Simpsons nostalgia if ever there was. - Virginia
Before the show went precipitously downhill, there was this festive gem, in which Jack's mother takes it upon herself to tear Liz's family apart (it works), and Kenneth interrupts the staff's annual "Ludachristmas" rager in order to teach everyone the true meaning of Christmas, which leads to a violent mob scene. As should any attempt to get in the way of a holiday party. - Virginia
The O.C.'s inaugural holiday episode revealed Seth Cohen's moment of glory, his life achievement, his Nobel Prize: Chrismukkah was introduced to the world, ushering in a tradition Santa-hat yarmulkes and bi-holiday sweaters. With both Jesus and Moses on his side, there was nothing Seth couldn't do, even simultaneously date Summer and Anna. Except it turns out that wasn't entirely the case. There was something he couldn't do, even during Chrismukkah, and that was simultaneously date Summer and Anna. Spoiler: He chooses Summer. :( - Lauren
Always one to tug at the heartstrings, this particular episode of The Wonder Years becomes especially poignant with age. Here, the Arnolds' annual (and last) Christmas party loses its merriment as Kevin notices significant shifts in the lives of his neighbors and parents' friends, forcing him to acknowledge change, fading traditions and the bittersweet consequences of growing up. Safe to say it didn't sting as much watching it as a 9-year-old in 1991 as it does watching it as a nearing 30-year-old in 2012. The clip above kills me. - Lauren
In retrospect, watching this collection of original holiday songs hosted by a cheery piece of poop in a Santa hat, it totally makes sense that Trey Parker and Matt Stone went on to produce a wildly successful Broadway musical. Santa and Jesus' competitive sing-off is only one of the many highlights. -Virginia
Everyone loves a bittersweet "Pam and Jim" episode (and the sight of Dwight in an elf costume), but also, Michael demonstrates some classic Christmas party faux pas, first by grossly overspending on his Secret Santa gift (a $400 iPod to impress Ryan), then by buying a totally inappropriate amount of booze for his staff to make amends. The whole episode is a teachable moment. - Virginia
Is anything more festive than a mass firing or a family "Afternoon Delight" sing-along? If there is, I have yet to see it. - Virginia
Truth be told, I never cared much for Ross. I mean, what's the deal with his hair? Nonetheless, the sight of him dressed as a giant armadillo in hopes of getting his son excited about the Festival of Lights is one of the iconic images of millennial holiday television. It's difficult not to root for him in this episode. - Lauren
As Doug's family prepares for the arrival of a new baby, Doug longs for a traditional Christmas but must settle for a private party in his bedroom with Porkchop. Gifts are exchanged. Porkchop gives Doug a journal, Doug gives Porkchop a "World's Greatest Dog" mug. Realizing no one else is home, sadness starts to set in. Imagine Doug's surprise, then, when his Dad calls from the hospital with news that his baby sister, WHOSE NAME IS CLEOPATRA DIRTBIKE, has been born. The whole thing is a meeting point between Home Alone and the Christmas nativity. There's also a scene in which Doug prepares the perfect gift for Patti—a pair of earrings shaped like ears—DIY artisan style. That kid is so Brooklyn. He has a sister named Cleopatra Dirtbike. - Lauren