A Charlie Brown Christmas
The crème de la crème of Christmas specials, 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first prime-time Peanuts special. Its influence on popular culture is undeniable, from the “Charlie Brown Christmas tree” entering the American lexicon, to the “Linus and Lucy” instrumental track that has become the hallmark of the series, to the string of popular sequels, including A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, that followed. We, of course, will always be partial to Linus’ sweet recounting of the Christmas story.
If you don’t like any of the established holidays, you can always create your own. Or you can just celebrate Festivus, the holiday created by George Costanza’s father in this classic Seinfeld episode from 1997. If you do celebrate Festivus, you won’t be alone—it’s garnered quite a following in the decade-plus since its introduction, with some enterprising individuals even peddling Festivus poles, for those of you too lazy to head over to Home Depot to grab one yourself. Alas, you’re on your own for the Feats of Strength….
It’s not surprising that musical powerhouse Glee put out a Christmas album—the producers know a cash cow when they see one. What is surprising is that one of the best numbers from the episode “A Very Glee Christmas” failed to make the album cut. After all, the outcast-tastic New Directions kids were perfectly suited for a sweet cover of “The Island of Misfit Toys.”
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” has never sounded less festive—and more hilarious—than in this rendition from a 1974 episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, when the cranky crew finds themselves snowed in and stuck on the Happy Homemaker set for the holidays. Ho, ho, oh boy…
Talk about a bad Santa! Al Bundy, perhaps the Grinchiest television father ever, regaled a group of terrified children with his own tale of holiday woe in this hilarious classic moment.
Finding a Christmas-themed television episode is a little like shooting fish in a barrel. Finding a Hanukkah special, however? Let’s just say the gefilte ain’t jumping quite so high. Enter The O.C., which in 2003 introduced a fantastic new word for something most people of mixed faiths were already celebrating…Chrismukkah. We’ll let Seth Cohen explain the überholiday in his own very special way.
Community is a quirky gem of a show, thanks in part to wonderfully imaginative episodes like “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” which saw the whole gang get stop-motion animated in order to help Abed work through his issues. This episode finally sheds some light on what was missing from those Rankin/Bass specials all this time: firearms. Lots and lots of firearms. Not to mention the Christmas Pterodactyl.
The Chanukah Song
Adam Sandler performed his now-classic “The Chanukah Song” on Saturday Night Live in 1996, becoming—we assume—the first person to rhyme “menorah” with “Dinah Shore-ah.”
Red and green are the traditional Christmas colors, but may we propose the addition of yellow? America’s favorite nuclear family made their full-length animated television episode debut with “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” which aired December 17, 1989. The episode introduced the dys-fun-ctional family with an episode featuring Bart getting a tattoo, Bart getting a tattoo removed, some petty larceny in the form of Christmas tree heisting, and the introduction of sadsack pup Santa’s Little Helper. It’s hard to argue with the quality of a Christmas episode that’s strong enough to keep a show on the air for 20 years—and counting!
All in the Family
The Vietnam War might have ended the year before this episode aired in 1976, but tempers were still flaring across the country, with none burning hotter than that of perpetual hothead Archie Bunker. Let’s just say Christmas dinner takes a turn for the worse when Archie realizes Michael’s friend didn’t exactly step up to serve his country when his draft number got picked for war. It doesn’t make for fuzzy holiday feelings, but it does make for compelling television.
Oh, if only Ross Geller had thought of Chrismukkah before Seth Cohen did, he might have been spared the humiliation of dressing up as the Holiday Armadillo in order to teach his son about the miracle of Hanukkah in this 2000 episode of Friends.
When Tina Fey picked her favorite 30 Rock moments, she left off one of our favorites—“Ludachristmas,” the hilarious 2007 holiday episode, where the gang learns the true meaning of holiday spirit and grow as people. Nah, just kidding, they actually go nuts and try to chop down the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey
It’s impossible to pick a favorite from among Rankin/Bass’ many classic Christmas specials— The Year Without Santa Claus! Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer! Frosty the Snowman!—so instead, we’re going with the most underrated. 1977’s Nestor, The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey hits a lot of the same notes as 1964’s Rudolph—loveable misfit outcast makes good—but the bittersweet tale of the long-eared donkey, his mother’s ultimate sacrifice, and the important cargo he would end up shuttling to Bethlehem still resonates over three decades later.
A Colbert Christmas
This ain’t your father’s holiday special! In 2008, Stephen Colbert, everyone’s favorite fundit, hosted his own TV shindig on Comedy Central, complete with guest appearances by Elvis Costello, Feist, and Willie Nelson. But things really got cracking when his old pal Jon Stewart swung by, and tried to interest his friend in the festival of lights. “Whaddya say, Stephen, you want to give Hanukkah a try?”