Yeah, we know, eight is significant to Hanukkah, not Christmas. Nonetheless, here are eight very special episodes from our memories of Christmas TV past.
A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS: In the same way that the classical music we know is all from Bugs Bunny cartoons, Linus’s speech is many people’s only exposure to the Gospel of Luke. “And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone about them; and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.’” This was Christmas pre-X.
SEINFELD – “The Strike”: The episode that introduced us to the made-up holiday of Festivus (featuring the slogan, “Festivus for the rest of us”). Created by George’s dad, it features a “celebration” around a bare pole instead of a tree, and a dinner featuring the traditional, “Airing of Grievances.” Like Christmas on Bizarro World. Priceless.
HAPPY DAYS - “Guess Who’s Coming To Christmas?” Yes, this is the series that jumped the original shark. But in its first few seasons, it was actually well-written. The schmaltz is the Cunninghams’ discovery that Fonzie has nowhere to go at Christmas (this at a time when Howard still considered him a hood, and is against inviting him). But a sub-plot about a mechanical lawn Santa contained an unforgettable sight-gag – St. Nick beating the crap out of Howard, while shouting, “Ho, ho, ho!”
FUTURAMA – “Xmas Story”: In the 30th Century, Santa is a killer robot run amok (a programming glitch causes pretty much everybody to fall under the category of “naughty” and targeted for termination). The template for evil TV Santas to come, including the memorable, horned Santa-demon Krampus (an actual German myth) from the recent yuletide episode of Grimm.
THE SIMPSONS – “The Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire”: Long story, but it involves Homer working as a department store Santa, a trip to the racetrack and the introduction of the family dog Santa’s Little Helper, turning the worst Christmas into The Best Ever. In a later seasonal episode, Lisa would be wooed away from Christianity to Buddhism by Richard Gere (and back again by Marge).
THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW – “Uhny Uftz”: Not presented as a Christmas episode. But Rob, Buddy and Sally are having a very Bob Cratchit-like late night at the office, re-writing the Alan Brady show when they’d all rather be home, when Rob spies a flying saucer outside his window that shouts the apparently-alien phrase, “Uhny uftz!” Unfortunately, it disappears as soon as anyone else takes a look. The reveal, from a disappointed inventor, is that it’s a flying Christmas toy that’s supposed to announce “Merry Christmas.”
JESUS VS. SANTA: The 1995 short film by Trey Parker and Matt Stone that became the template for South Park (and is available as a DVD box set extra) featured a Ninja video-game style deathmatch between the two title characters over the true meaning of Christmas. Who won? Well, both Jesus and Santa would become regular characters (as would Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo).
COMMUNITY – “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”: Yes, it’s one of those, “What were the writers smoking?” episodes, in which Abed sees the world in stop-motion a la Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. Eventually everyone sees the world the way he does, and accepts that “the meaning of Christmas is that Christmas has meaning.” It ain’t Luke, but it works for me.