The year is nearly over and, and 2018 certainly gave us copious reasons to stress out. Whether your reasons are personal, professional, political, or otherwise, a year like this can make it hard to get that warm holiday feeling. Luckily, nothing cheers us up like festooning the hearth with colorful tchotchkes and embarking upon a good old-fashioned Christmas TV binge.
As such, we’ve collected our favorite easy-to-stream episodes and the best Christmas specials you can find in an insanely festive collection of the best Christmas TV out there. Enjoy!
Christmas TV episodes to stream
Note: If you’re more interested in the best traditional Christmas specials, skip to page two.
The Office — ‘Christmas Party’ (season 2, episode 10), 2005
Part of The Office’s genius is that it’s just enough like your own daily grind to be relatable, but weird and ridiculous enough to let you revel in it without feeling like you’re actually at work. Season 2’s Christmas Party rides that line beautifully, while also serving as the beginning of the American version’s departure from the equally brilliant British series from which it spawned. In this one, Michael Scott has ruined yet another holiday for his intrepid staff, alienating everyone after he turns Secret Santa into White Elephant on a whim. The show has plenty of great Christmas episodes, but this one is the best: “Is this enough to get 20 people plastered?” “Fifteen bottles of vodka? Yeah, that should do it.”
Bob’s Burgers — ‘Christmas in the Car’ (season 4, episode 8), 2013
A modern Christmas favorite, Christmas in the Car sees the Belcher family on a last-minute pilgrimage for a replacement, replacement (yes we wrote that twice on purpose) Christmas tree, thanks to matriarch Linda’s penchant for trimming the tree on November 1. On the way home, however, the gang becomes entangled with a menacing truck driver who’s piloting a giant candy cane and is out for revenge. An homage to Duel, the frightening directorial debut from Steven Spielberg, this one has all the Christmas classics you need for a good time: Laughs, scares, Bobcat Goldthwait, and even Dutch Babies.
Fresh Off the Boat – ‘The Real Santa’ (season 2, episode 10), 2015
In an attempt to make her youngest son Evan (Ian Chen) study harder in school while simultaneously embracing his cultural heritage, Jessica (Constance Wu) tries to convince him that Santa is not only Chinese, but also an esteemed scientist. When Evan starts asking Santa tons of science-related questions he can’t answer, Jessica quickly realizes that she’s caught in a massive web of lies, and her plan might backfire and ruin the magic of Christmas.
The Twilight Zone – ‘The Night of the Meek’ (season 2, episode 11), 1960
A slight departure for the psychologically thrilling sci-fi series, Henry (Art Carney) is a clichéd drunken department store Santa who gets fired from his job, only to find a mysterious, magical bag that spits out the objects people want most. Confusion and Christmas miracles ensue, of course. The story was so popular that the episode was remade in the first revival of the series in 1985, with Richard Mulligan playing Henry, who finds the toys emerging from a bag of garbage he’s about to take out of his apartment.
South Park — ‘Woodland Critter Christmas’ (season 8, episode 14), 2004
While each South Park‘s many Christmas specials has something fantastic to offer, Woodland Critter Christmas is arguably the most outrageous (and thusly, the most South Parkian). Told in rhyming narration in the vein of Sunday School stories and Little Golden Books for children, the episode explores the inner workings of one of the darkest minds in South Park, while telling a captivating story starring the “boy in the red poof-ball hat.”
Black-ish – ‘Stuff’ (season 2, episode 10), 2015
Sick of their spoiled grandchildren who see Christmas as a windfall of goodies, the Johnson grandparents propose the family spend more time together in lieu of an overabundance of presents. At first, dad Dre (Anthony Anderson) is against the elimination of “stuff” at Christmas. Who doesn’t love seeing their kids open presents? But he has an eye-opening moment when he realizes how demanding and selfish the kids can be. Naturally, the kids, who Pops (Laurence Fishburne) feels are downright spoiled, don’t take the news well and try and change their tune in hopes that Santa won’t cut back this year after all.
30 Rock — ‘Ludachristmas’ (season 2, episode 9), 2007
What, you’ve never heard of the time-honored tradition of Ludachristmas (no, not that one)? Another non-traditional take on the season of joy, this episode from NBC’s classic SNL parody sees the staff of Liz Lemon’s variety show prepping for their yearly drunken extravaganza. But Kenneth the page’s insistence that they remember the “true” meaning of Christmas, namely faith and charity, nearly ruins it for everyone. Meanwhile, Jack’s crazy mother is determined to prove that Liz and her family’s seemingly perfect relationship is nothing more than veneer, which is just an attempt to make her own son feel better about how awful she is. If that’s not the spirit of Christmas, we don’t know what is.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia — ‘A Very Sunny Christmas‘ (season 6, episode 13), 2009
The gang’s all here! Any Christmas episode from Always Sunny — the show that makes Seinfeld’s characters look like Good Samaritans — is bound to be an all-out mess. But A Very Sunny Christmas is even more violent, sacrilegious, and outright offensive than you probably remember. It’s also possibly the funniest episode on this list. From Christmas hookers to maimed Santas to feats of brutal revenge, this one will have tears of laughter running down your face, even if you feel a little bad about it.
Futurama — ‘Xmas Story’ (season 2, episode 8), 1999
Fall asleep for a millennium and everything changes, including Chris … ahem, Xmas. In one of the best episodes from Matt Groening’s wild sci-fi comedy, Christmas has transformed from a day of peace and love into a time of fear and horror, thanks to a maniacal Santa robot who short circuits, but still takes his job very seriously. Fry’s 20th-century mind barely has time to process the new order before he’s running for his life from Santa’s bazooka. Can the gang escape from the big, red robot killer? Yes. But it’s still really funny watching them do it.
Arrested Development — ‘Afternoon Delight’ (Season 2, episode 6), 2005
Yeah, like the guy in the $5,000 suit is gonna watch some stupid Christmas episode! C’mon!! Gob is in full form in this one, insulting and otherwise offending every office staff member he comes into contact with, as Michael hopelessly tries to raise morale by throwing an office Christmas party. The show that got caught up in the streaming revolution was never quite the same when it moved to Netflix for season 4 (and 5), but this episode is vintage AD, and its recurring karaoke hijinks make it nearly impossible not to laugh.
Watch it now on:
Peep Show — ‘Seasonal Beatings’ (season 7, episode 5), 2010
If you’ve been looking for the most awkward Christmas dinner ever (ding! ding! ding!), you’ve found it. A perfect introduction to the deliciously awkward splendor that is Peep Show (one of the UK’s best comedies) this episode sees the ever-uptight Mark and his bohemian roommate, Jez, hosting Mark’s family for Christmas dinner. On tap are Mark’s liberal and overly sexual mother, his conservative and borderline-abusive father, his girlfriend (whom his parents know nothing about), and his sister (whom Jez slept with and then tossed aside). The table is set, the pieces are all in place — now sit back and enjoy the mayhem of the funniest dinner party you’ve ever encountered. Next to this, Christmas with the in-laws is a piece of cake.
Black Mirror — ‘White Christmas’ (season 2, episode 4), 2014
Don’t let the wine and potatoes or the musty kitchen laid out in this episode’s introduction fool you; Charlie Brooker has, to borrow from Pink Floyd, set the controls for the heart of the sun in this one. Jon Hamm’s utterly charming mannerisms are no match for the eerie adventure contained within, which explores the very essence of humanity itself in the form of a flashback over Christmas dinner. Leveraging the time-honored tradition of dramatic British Christmas specials, White Christmas takes everything up a notch (or 10) for an experience you’ll not soon forget. With season four on the way, this is a good way for fans to catch up.
Community — ‘Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas’ (season 2, episode 11), 2010
Community was known for its inventive episode concepts, and Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas certainly falls under that category. In keeping with the show’s meta-tradition of breaking the fourth wall, Abed envisions the entire group in stop-motion animation (a classic Christmas trope, as evidenced by several of our selections below) as the group is teleported to icy Planet Abed by way of Christmas-nosis. Once there, the study group experiences several references to popular Christmas specials and works together to find the true meaning of Christmas.
Saturday Night Live (season 24, episode 9), 1998
Nearly 20 years later, “Schweddy Balls” remains one of the most iconic segments ever to grace the Saturday Night Live stage. Played by Alec Baldwin, Pete Schweddy is interviewed by the hosts of “The Delicious Dish,” as he shows off his family’s trademark holiday dish — balls made from cake, meat, and everything in between — which, of course, are sold in … sacks. The same episode is also home to one of the infamous “Bill Brasky” sketches, wherein Baldwin, Will Ferrell, and John Goodman reminisce on times spent with their extraordinary comrade.
Seinfeld — ‘The Strike’ (season 9, episode 10), 1997
No, The Strike doesn’t directly deal with the Christmas holiday, but it’s certainly relevant here, having given rise to Festivus. While Elaine works to track down a coupon that she gave away (along with a fake phone number), Kramer learns all about Festivus, a holiday invented by George’s father that involves bizarre ceremonies and the placement of a bare aluminum pole in lieu of a tree. Meanwhile, Jerry grapples with the relative attractiveness of his latest girlfriend.
Curb Your Enthusiasm — ‘Mary, Joseph, and Larry’ (season 3, episode 9), 2002
Is there anything more awkward (and hilarious) than Larry David trying not to screw things up? In the most festive episode of Curb, the Seinfeld mastermind finds himself in a holiday pickle on Christmas Eve after accidentally eating cookies that were baked specifically for a nativity scene by Cheryl’s ultra-religious sister. Larry enlists the members of a nearby church to try and salvage the nativity scene, but (as is tradition) things go terribly wrong, and Larry struggles to make peace.
Christmas TV specials
These are the TV specials you know and love. Most are only available via rental or purchase (or less ethical means). Either way, though, these are true holiday gifts that will bring you back to your childhood.
A Very Murray Christmas, 2015
OK, technically this isn’t a TV episode, but … whatever. Some comedians are wont to gather their very famous friends together and film a funny little Christmas special, which is what Bill Murray did here. A Very Murray Christmas opens with Bill in his suite at New York City’s Carlyle Hotel as a snowstorm brews outside, threatening his planned special by forcing guests to cancel. Of course, the show goes on in a very meta manner, and lots (and lots) of big names show up to help things along. Chris Rock, Amy Poehler, George Clooney, Michael Cera, and Miley Cyrus are just a few of the stars that appear, with numerous cheesy musical numbers keeping things spirited.
The Year Without a Santa Claus, 1974
This special — for many of us, the most recognizable of the Rankin/Bass stuff, despite not being based upon a classic Christmas song — scared us all by showing us how terrible the wintry season would be without our portly delivery man from up north. When Santa is sidelined with a head cold, he delegates gift-giving duties to elves Jingle and Jangle, who are promptly shot down by the Scrooge-like Heat Miser (which, fun fact, was also the name of Elliott Smith’s rock band) and Snow Miser. Jingle, Jangle, and Mrs. Claus must work to find a solution and keep Christmas on schedule, even going so far as to appeal to Mother Nature (who birthed the Miser brothers). Unlike the other Christmas specials on our list, you can actually watch this for free if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber.
A Christmas Carol, 1999
The story has been interpreted time and time again, with each version putting its own spin on things. As a made-for-television adaptation of this classic Charles Dickens tale, Patrick Stewart is a perfectly surly Ebenezer Scrooge, who hates Christmas and everything for which it stands. He’s visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, and realizes how his selfish, money-hungry ways are, and how they impact both his life and those of others. Naturally, there’s a happy ending, and the true meaning of Christmas is realized.
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, 1969
As with many of the classic entries, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town was crafted by the stop-motion wizards at Rankin/Bass Productions. Hollywood legend Fred Astaire — perhaps the most famous dancer ever to hit the silver screen — voices mailman/narrator S.D. Kluger (pictured), who offers some insight into the history behind several classic Christmas traditions. Mickey Rooney plays Santa Claus himself, while “Man of 1,000 Voices” Paul Frees takes on several characters. ABC airs this special, based upon the eponymous 1930s song, every year on its Freeform channel, but you can also buy or rent it from one of the sites listed below.
Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol, 2010
Another episode inspired by a classic Charles Dickens tale, this one adds a sci-fi twist, as one would expect from this series. A cosmic cruise ship housing more than 4,000 people is heading toward disaster, and The Doctor (Matt Smith) must use his time- and space-traveling capabilities to make a miserable man (played by Michael Gambon) understand why it’s important to help others and have a heart. The episode features flying sharks and a breathtaking performance by operatic singer Katherine Jenkins, and is widely regarded as the best of the sci-fi series’ annual holiday specials.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 1967
This 1967 stop-motion classic is even weirder than you remember it, offering fun for the kids alongside a clear and sustained shout-out to the 1960s civil rights movement — all while staying impressively close to the plot outlined by the titular Christmas tune. Rudolph’s journey to prove that even red-nosed reindeer can have a purpose in society manages to stay fun and compelling, even as it offers campy songs and dialogue. Burl Ives leads the show as the snowman narrator, and an elf dentist somehow saves the day in this bizarre, nostalgia-laden tale.
A Charlie Brown Christmas, 1965
“Christmas time is here,” as the tune so helpfully reminds us in this classic from the mind of Charles Schultz. While the story is nostalgic, if not particularly captivating, it’s the music from piano-jazz great Vince Guaraldi that makes this tale of Christmas with the ever wishy-washy Charlie Brown a timeless treasure. While it might not be quite as quintessential as the Halloween special — It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown — we dare you to try and watch this without getting the warm fuzzies!
Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: Christmas Special, 1988
Revisit the ‘80s and classic Pee-Wee Herman humor (“I know you are, but what am I?”) with the one-of-a-kind entertainer Pee-Wee (Paul Reubens), as he revels in all of the glitz, glamour, lights, toys, and fun that the Christmas season has to offer. The special has it all: Musical numbers, skits, and an impressive list of guest appearances from the likes of Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, Grace Jones, Cher, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Magic Johnson, and other familiar faces of the era. There are plenty of quirky and goofy moments to get you in the holiday mood, but also an underlying theme of giving.
Frosty the Snowman, 1969
One of the few Rankin/Bass products that doesn’t feature stop-motion animation, Frosty is nevertheless an obvious inclusion for our list. Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass apparently wanted this special to look like a Christmas card, so they went and hired Paul Coker Jr. — who also illustrated for parody publication Mad Magazine — for the job. Legendary comedian Jimmy Durante provides narration (in one of his final film roles), and the special continues to air each year on CBS, where it originally aired in 1969.
BoJack Horseman Christmas Special: Sabrina’s Christmas Wish, 2014
BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett) is a washed-up ‘90s actor (who also happens to be a horse) living in an alternate world with anthropomorphic animals, and he has zero interest in Christmas. But when he and his slacker friend Todd (Aaron Paul) catch wind of an old Christmas-themed episode of Bojack’s show Horsin’ Around, where his adopted daughter wishes for her parents to be alive again, he has a change of heart.
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, 1966
If you don’t already know this story, please turn around, surrender your Christmas badge at the door, and leave immediately. With all due respect to Green Eggs and Ham, How The Grinch Stole Christmas might just be Dr. Seuss’ best story. It focuses on an an angry, mountain-dwelling monster who preys upon the residents of Whoville by stealing gifts, trees, and general Christmas cheer. Though the 2000 live-action remake starring Jim Carrey might be more recognizable to some (and there’s a new, animated version on the way with Benedict Cumberbatch), the 1966 TV film — starring horror icon Boris Karloff! — is a must-watch this season.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: A Midwinter’s Tale, 2018
Set to debut on December 14, this Christmas special will provide a glimpse into teenage witch Sabrina’s life as a young and precocious child. “While The Church of Night celebrates the Solstice,” reads the official description, “that doesn’t stop Li’l Sabrina from asking Santa for something special.” The new series, a companion to Riverdale, takes a dark look at the Archie Comics’ character Sabrina the Teenage Witch, a half-witch, half-human girl who attends high school during the day and satanic rituals at night.
Updated on December 4, 2018: This post has been updated with more Christmas episodes and specials, as well as to adjust for shifting streaming access.
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