When you think of holiday-themed episodes of any television series (or any television movie), naturally you envision families gathering together to enjoy this joyous time of the year. Fa, la, la, la, la…la, la, la, la!
There are also those fictional holiday celebrations, “Chrismukkah” and “Festivus,” that bring joy to the small screen (and great additions to our pop culture). And, in some cases, there are those occasions when even a Christmas-themed episode of a classic science fiction series like The Twilight Zone has a happy ending.
So, quoting the words from that catchy theme song from everyone’s favorite Ozark family, the Clampetts of The Beverly Hillbillies, “set a spell, take your shoes off” and enjoy this walk down holiday memory lane (ranked from No. 10 to No. 1).
Ho! Ho! Ho! Let’s get started:
10) Happy Days (ABC, “Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas?” – 1974)
Known as “The Fonz,” Henry Winkler as the “King of Cool,” Arthur Fonzarelli (aka “Fonzie”), showed his softer side when Richie (Ron Howard) discovers he is spending the holidays alone in this season two episode of Happy Days. Richie invites the Fonz over under the pretext of needing him to fix the family’s mechanical Santa, and we witness what we all already knew – “The Fonz” is not so tough after all.
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By season three, “Fonzie” moved into the apartment over the Cunningham’s garage, when the sitcom shifted from single-camera to multi-camera in front of a studio audience (and the Cunningham family was reduced from five to four). This, in fact, was the last episode of Happy Days to include oldest son Chuck.
As Fonzie would say…”Aaayyy!”
9) The Jeffersons (CBS, “George Finds a Father” – 1978)
Like his former neighbor Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor) on All in the Family, spin-off The Jeffersons often explored the softer side to Sherman Hemsley as feisty George Jefferson. And, in this fifth season episode, George (Sherman Hemsley) learns that his “Uncle Buddy,” an early fatherly figure, was also his late mother’s lover.
“I did not know Mama was that kind of a woman,” angry George tells Buddy, who responds by slapping George on the face and walking out of the apartment. Before he leaves, George relents and hugs Buddy, and there is another happy ending after all in the “deluxe apartment in the sky.”
8) Friends (NBC, “The One With the Holiday Armadillo” – 2000)
In a rare installment of any TV series where Hanukkah is at the center, Ross (David Schwimmer) wants to surprise young son Ben (Cole Sprouse), but he waits too long to find a Christmas suit. So, he comes up with this bizarre concoction to explain the meaning of Hanukkah to Ben. Chandler (Matthew Perry) appears as Santa Claus to help Ross. Then Joey (Matt LeBlanc) shows up in a Superman suit, also to assist.
As Ben learns the story of the Maccabees, and then Superman, Santa, and the Holiday Armadillo, the cast of these perennially popular TV friends gather around the tree.
7) The Twilight Zone (CBS, “The Night of the Meek” – 1960)
Opens narrator Rod Serling: This is Mr. Henry Corwin, normally unemployed, who once a year takes the lead role in the uniquely popular American institution, that of the department-store Santa Claus in a road-company version of “The Night Before Christmas.” But in just a moment Mr. Henry Corwin, ersatz Santa Claus, will enter a strange kind of North Pole which is one part the wondrous spirit of Christmas and one part the magic that can only be found… in “The Twilight Zone.”
Next scene: On Christmas Eve, Henry Corwin (Art Carney), this down-and-out department store Santa, declares he would “like to see the meek inherit the earth” after being fired for arriving as Santa drunk. Soon he is bestowed with a magical sack of gifts that automatically presents recipients with a present suited to them. Suspicious, however, the police pick up the gift sack and discover nothing more than empty cans and a cat.
After Corwin wishes he could dole out presents every year in the same manner, the episode concludes with the implication that Corwin has become the “real” Santa Claus, headed back to the North Pole.
6) Seinfeld (NBC, “The Strike” – 1997)
Let’s face it…George Costanza’s (Jason Alexander) father Frank (Jerry Stiller) was, um, cuckoo. So, his creation of holiday “Festivus” (which includes a Festivus dinner, a Festivus pole, and Festivus “miracles”) was probably not all that unusual…for him.
There was much more, however, to this holiday-themed episode including news of the end of a 12-year strike ending for Kramer (Michael Richards) at fictional H&H Bagels, and a new Seinfeld term: a “two-face” — a person who looks attractive sometimes, but other times looks bad. We all know people like that, don’t we?
5) Every Loves Raymond (CBS, “The Toaster” – 1988)
Yes, we know. Raymond’s (Ray Romano) parents Frank (Peter Boyle) and Marie (Doris Roberts) are picky. Remember the Fruit of the Month Club mishegoss (translation: anguish) in the pilot episode? So, it is no surprise the pair are none too pleased after receiving a toaster from Ray and Debra (Patricia Heaton) for Christmas. But unbeknownst to them, Ray had the toaster engraved. And now, after returning it, chaos ensues at the store it came from when they try to get it back.
In a classic moment, Marie complains to Frank at the store that she does not just want to be a trophy wife. Frank’s response: “What contest in hell did I win?”
4) Family Affair (CBS – “Christmas Came a Little Early,” 1968)
One year before her now classic role as troubled middle daughter Jan on The Brady Bunch, Eve Plumb guest-starred on this episode of Family Affair as a terminally ill young girl named Eve Bowers that Buffy (Anissa Jones) makes friends with. Sadly, Plumb as Eve may not make it until the holidays, so her family celebrates Christmas in November.
Once Buffy realizes that not even her hero, Uncle Bill (Brian Keith), can make Eve better, the normally affable comedy takes a dramatic turn as the episode ends with Buffy tearfully embracing him.
3) The Mary Tyler Moore Show (CBS, “Christmas and the Hard-Luck Kid II” – 1970)
Oh that Mary! She just could not say no to that whiny co-worker who did not want to work on Christmas Eve. So, Mary steps in (to the dismay of Valerie Harper as best friend Rhoda), and she finds herself alone in the office and terrified at the sound of the elevator coming up in her empty building. Fear not…it’s no burglar! It is the office gang – Mr. Grant (Ed Asner), Murray (Gavin MacLeod) and Ted (Ted Knight) – who bring some Christmas cheer. That’s right…your friends can be your family too.
All together now…”Oh, Mr. Grant!!!”
2) A Very Brady Christmas (CBS, 1988)
Truly the definition of the phrase, “It’s so bad it’s good,” everyone’s favorite TV sitcom family, the Bradys, reunited for this 1988 holiday movie. Excluding Susan Olsen as the truly “youngest one in curls,” Cindy, the entire cast gathered for a glimpse of what happens when, well, you have two parents (Robert Reed and Florence Henderson) that are simply too good to be true.
Greg (Barry Williams) is now married with a child and the father of a young son. Marcia (Maureen McCormick) and Jan (Eve) still have their spouses – Wally (Jerry Houser) and Philip (Ron Kuhlman) – from earlier spinoff The Brady Brides, but Jan and Philip are, egads!, bickering. Peter (Christopher Knight) has commitment issues. Bobby (Mike Lookinland) has ditched grad school to be a race car driver. And then there is the not-so-little “Fake” Cindy (Jennifer Runyon), who wants to be treated like a grown-up.
Factor in good ‘ol housekeeper Alice (Ann B. Davis), who’s now hubby Sam has strayed, and you have two hours of nostalgia that I personally never get tired of revisiting every holiday season in A Very Brady Christmas. Admit it…you love it too!
1) The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (CBS, 1971)
Based on the childhood memories of The Waltons creator Earl Hamner, who was actually the oldest of eight children (and not seven as portrayed in the 1972-81 TV series), The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, starring Richard Thomas and Patricia Neal, tells the story of a loving family on Christmas Eve in 1933 as they prepare for the holiday. Unfortunately, John Walton, who was forced to take work in another part of the state, has not returned home yet, and his family — wife Olivia, in particular — are becoming increasingly worried.
The CW recently tackled a reboot, this time titled The Waltons: Homecoming, but nothing could match the feeling of love and family, and those precious memories we all hold dear to our hearts at Christmas – and throughout a lifetime – in this film. When you think of a warm TV family, The Waltons immediately comes to mind thanks to The Homecoming: A Christmas Story.
Good night everyone.