Just because we’re snarky does not mean we don’t need a little Christmas sometimes–even after writing about ten Hallmark movies with the exact same plot. Here at Screen Scholars, we like Gremlins and Die Hard as definitive Christmas movies, “Player’s Ball” and “Brick” are Christmas songs, because the world is a better place when that touch of red and green spirit hovers in the background. At least that’s our story for the extent of this feature.
One of our favorite things is the Christmas episode. Whether it’s one of our beloved grumpus characters learning the “true meaning” of the day, a few of them stranded by a snowstorm but finding the spirit of the holiday as they are hunkered down, or a family we’ve grown to feel we are a part of struggling to create the perfect Christmas day–even as their budget is swiftly shrinking–we melt instantly when all the tropes we know come together for a perfect holiday episode. Everything that can go wrong usually will. Jay Pritchett and his grandon Manny set out in the snow to manually cut down their own Christmas tree; Leslie Knope’s friends try to find the perfect gift for the perfect giver; Edith Bunker trying to come to terms with her faith at Christmas after her best friend dies. The list goes on and (mostly) everything works out, sometimes it doesn’t, and often they blatantly follow a formula. But it’s a comforting formula. By the way, none of those three examples will be featured in this daily list.
This does not mean that it’s not one of our top 12. This collection of one show a day up to Christmas Day is not meant to be a definitive list of what our editors deem the best dozen (plus) holiday episodes ever aired. What it is is simply a variety of shows whose yuletide adventures touched us or excited us or made us feel the spirit of Christmas, something that is naturally going to mean different things for different people.
Speaking of that meaning, we’ll leave you with one of the shows that did not make our list, partially because it was more a standalone special than an episode of the longest running kids show around–that show featuring the humans and muppets of a certain colorful city block tucked somewhere in the Upper West Side. First aired in 1978 (already Sesame Street‘s ninth season), Christmas Eve on Sesame Street tells the simple tale of a simple, and very neurotic, 8-foot-tall bird tricked by a green trash creature into waiting up to answer how Santa can get down the chimney with all his girth and all his toys–all this with the everpresent threat of gizzard-freeze looming over him.
Of course, by the end of the hour, he realizes the true meaning is not what Santa can bring in his bag, but the warmth and love that surrounds him on his home block. And if that isn’t a true blue miracle, we don’t know what one is. The special airs every year to this day on PBS (and can be found to watch anytime on HBO Max for those who wish to, as the underrated song goes, keep Christmas with them all through the year). Its brilliant and unforgettable opening sequence is a mostly single shot of the gang from Sesame Street and its usual menagerie of tow-headed children frolicking on a trip to the ice skating rink as Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad” blasts in the background. Here’s the nearly 10-minute scene: