One of my favorite things to do around the holidays is slip into some festive party sweats (not an oxy-moron, believe it or not), fill a mug with marshmallows and a little hot cocoa for good measure, and watch hours of Christmas movies. Everyone has an opinion on which Christmas movie is best – I, for one, like Christmas Vacation, Home Alone and Gremlins. But what about those mini-movies we like to call “TV shows”? Every December the holiday-themed episodes of our favorite shows come a-wassailing, but only some withstand the test of time. Here are a few of my favorites from over the years:
The O.C.: “The Best Chrismukkah Ever”
Oh yes, the very first item on my list is the show that gave birth to its very own holiday, “Chrismukkah.” For those of you who don’t remember, Seth Cohen, pictured above, created this holiday at the age of six when his parents couldn’t decide how exactly to merge their two faiths. The only traditions dictated by Chrismukkah seem to be eight days of presents, followed by one day of many presents. On that particular one day of many presents, the Cohen family orders Chinese food and watches Christmas movies, in a delightful blending of holiday traditions. The O.C. aired a Chrismukkah episode annually, and I’m listing the very first one as my favorite. It featured the coining of the word itself, but also the apex of the Seth-Anna-Summer love triangle (how amazing was that comic book Anna made? And has anyone ever looked high-school-hotter than Summer in her Wonder Woman costume?), Marissa’s endlessly self-destructive shoplifting and alcohol abuse, a giant party, and the introduction of bad-boy Oliver. Plus Seth giving Ryan his new Cohen family stocking is super-cute.
Saved by the Bell: “Home For Christmas, Parts 1 and 2″
This highly-underrated two-part very-special holiday-themed episode of Saved by the Bell is definitely one worth re-visiting. Zack and the gang take jobs at the mall (this whole concept is dripping with 90s nostalgia) to earn money for the holiday season. While working there, Zack meets a new girlfriend who certainly won’t be putting up Christmas decorations around her house anytime soon because… she’s homeless. Meanwhile, Zack’s mom is organizing a production of “A Christmas Carol” and, wouldn’t you know, the kids are acting in it. Of course, there are bigger things to worry about when Zack’s homeless girlfriend gets accused of shoplifting. And ONLY ZACK CAN SAVE HER! Don’t worry, guys, I have a feeling homeless-girlfriend and her dad are going to have a warm, cozy home to spend Christmas in after all.
My So-Called Life: “So-Called Angels”
In the spirit of Christmas homelessness, let’s move on to one of the most poignant tear-jerker holiday episodes of all TV time. In the only existing Christmas episode of the tragically-one-season-long My So-Called Life series, there’s definitely a little bit of magic in the air. But don’t get me wrong, it’s sad magic. Rickie has escaped the home of his abusive uncle and is looking for a place to spend the night, but when he overhears Angela’s mom talking about whether to take him in or not, he runs away. The episode then becomes a search for Rickie during which Angela and her mom, Patti, meet a mysterious homeless girl (played by Juliana Hatfield) who leads them to an underground world of runaway kids, and cryptically promises to “look after Rickie.” Did I mention you find out at the end that she is AN ANGEL??? For a long time my AIM away message was Patti’s moment of realization when she asks, “How did you die?” apropos of absolutely nothing. Sure, I was mocking it, but this is a really wonderful episode, also featuring a Christmas-connection moment between Rayanne, who’s running a hotline that night, and Brian Krakow, who’s been woefully left home alone by his parents.
Friends: “The Holiday Armadillo”
I’m not exactly a fan of late-season Friends (well, let’s be real, I’m a fan of everything relating to Friends, but I certainly wouldn’t claim that the later seasons are the best or anything, okay? OKAY?!?!). But there’s something really memorable about this particular holiday episode, featuring a typically neurotic Ross desperate to show his weaselly-but-cute little son how much fun Chanukah can be. When Ben gets upset that he won’t be seeing Santa this year, Ross tries to rent a Santa suit. Of course, it’s almost Christmas so nothing’s available except… a giant armadillo costume! Dubbing himself “The Holiday Armadillo,” Ross introduces Ben to the joys of being part-Jewish. This episode is chock full of funny moments and sight gags (see above), but in its own lighthearted way it also tackles the (year-round) difficulty of being either a child or a parent of divorce. Bonus: we find out Monica has a Santa fetish.
Gilmore Girls: “Forgiveness and Stuff”
Did anyone seriously think I would exclude Gilmore Girls from this holiday list? Gilmore actually doesn’t have too many Christmas episodes. There are Thanksgiving episodes and first-snow-of-the-season episodes, but just a couple of episodes that actually take place over Christmas itself. “Forgiveness and Stuff” is one of them. The episode opens with preparations for the Stars Hollow Christmas Pageant, and with a one-armed Baby Jesus we’re off on a Christmas journey that will bring us joy and sadness in turn. As with any Gilmore holiday, the town square and the Independence Inn are lavishly decorated, but no amount of cheer can dispel the tension between all three Gilmore girls (don’t forget this is right after Rory accidentally fell asleep with Dean at Miss Patty’s and didn’t come home all night). Emily uninvites Lorelai to their annual Christmas dinner so Rory goes alone, leaving Lorelai to eat a Santa Burger adorably prepared by the normally-Grinch-like Luke. Of course, nobody could have predicted that their holiday would end in the hospital when Richard collapses. The family, of course, comes together again, and many touching moments ensue. I love when Emily asks Luke what’s going on with him and Lorelai, and when he denies it, she says, “You’re idiots, the both of you.” Classic Em! Overall, this isn’t the most joyous of holiday episodes but everyone rediscovers the meaning of family and love and all of that, and the sheer abundance of Christmas decor and coziness cannot be denied.
While I left off some undeniable classics (perhaps most notably, the “Festivus” episode of Seinfeld), I can’t get around the fact that, to me, the best holiday shows are bittersweet. This time of year is never just eggnog and ornaments, as much as we wish it could be. So whether you’re feeling low and lonely or as cheerful as a thousand twinkling lights, savor the music and food and TV shows of the season, because they won’t come again for a whole year.