When I was little, one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season was all the Christmas TV episodes and specials that would pop up in the weeks leading up to December 25th. Here’s my list of all-time favorite Christmas TV special episodes.
Hey Arnold – “Arnold’s Christmas” (Season 1, Episode 20)
The holiday special was one of my favorite episodes of an already terrific show. Arnold decides to help Mr. Hyunh, a tenant in the boarding house who he knows almost nothing about. In learning about Mr. Hyunh’s tragic past and the pain he’s lived with, a side character is given depth. The Boarding House is home to a diverse group of people, and this episode shed light on one of those members and his immigrant journey. Not only does Arnold sacrifice his Christmas season to help reunite a family, but Helga gives up something she wants to help Arnold accomplish this. I’m not crying. You’re crying.
Community – “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (Season 2, Episode 11)
Community is one of the few shows that could have pulled off taking an entire episode of a live-action show and then presenting a story in claymation. What could have ended up being a silly, gimmick, ended up as a touching episode that unraveled a lot of layers in Abed’s character.
South Park – “Woodland Critter Christmas” (Season 8, Episode 14)
Cute critters, blood orgies, lion murder, shotgun Santa, a sacrifice, and a porcupine abortion; only on South Park will you ever see any of these pop up on a Christmas Special. The sheer absurdity of the all of this happening to the backdrop of Christmas story narration is hilarious. Seeing cute creatures turning out to be the bringer of evil was an unexpected twist. All of this ends up being part of Cartman’s ridiculous class story time, though we have a happy ending at the end; except for Kyle of course, who dies.
Doctor Who – “A Christmas Carol”
Nothing has been more overdone than A Christmas Carol-inspired story. However, Doctor Who gives it an interesting twist with a timey whimey plot that ends up being one of the most touching, short-stories told in the Whoniverse. Michael Gambon was the guest star for the episode and perfect in this role. I also can’t watch this episode without missing Matt Smith as The Doctor.
Arrested Development – “Afternoon Delight” (Season 2, Episode 6)
Office Christmas parties have a reputation for going off-the-rails. At the Bluth Company Christmas party, we see Michael singing an inappropriate song with his niece Maeby and G.O.B. getting roasted by his employees. Meanwhile, Buster ditches “Army” for a crane game. This episode didn’t have any “Christmas feels,” but it did give us the running joke about G.O.B.’s expensive suits. “Yeah, the guy wearing the $4,000 suit is holding the elevator for the guy who doesn’t make that in four months. COME ON!”
The Office – “Christmas Party” (Season 2, Episode 10)
If we’re talking about office Christmas parties, then we obviously need to include one from The Office. The company does an office Secret Santa before Michael ends up ruining it. Feelings get hurt when Michael buys above the budget, then belittles his employee’s gifts. Thankfully, things get better with some booze, and Jim gets his personalized gift to Pam.
Seinfeld – “The Strike” (Season 9, Episode 10)
This is the episode that gave us Festivus. Any television episode that can take a premise and make it a part of our broader culture for 20 years deserves to be on this list.