Although classic holiday films may be the first form of media you rush to this winter break, don’t skip out on a myriad of holiday TV episodes from your favorite series across all genres.
From “Downton Abbey” to “Gossip Girl” to “Modern Family,” nearly every classic series has tried its hand at a holiday episode or two throughout its run. Here are our staff’s top picks for the best holiday episodes to stream as soon as the season approaches:
“Gossip Girl” Season 1 Episode 11: “Roman Holiday”
Julia Koscelnik | Contributing Culture Editor
The aptly named “Roman Holiday” is undeniably among the best episodes of Season 1, chock-full of the show’s top-tier plot points.
The episode opens with a young Jenny leading the Constance Billard choir in a rendition of Fergie and Ludacris’ “Glamorous” at the annual Holiday Bazaar before drama ensues. Blair learns that her estranged father Harold is coming into town for the holidays for the first time after her parents’ separation with a surprise guest – his boyfriend, Roman. In true Blair fashion, she causes a rift between her father and Roman by inviting Roman’s ex to an annual Christmas party. Meanwhile, Jenny and Vanessa attempt to help a clueless Serena find her boyfriend Dan a nonmaterialistic Christmas gift to avoid highlighting the wealth gap between them.
“Roman Holiday” includes heaps of the drama “Gossip Girl” fans know and love, but it ends on a sentimental note, unlike most episodes of the series. Blair, Eleanor, Harold and Roman get past the initial tension and open their gifts together on Christmas morning in a heartwarming scene, while Dan cherishes Serena’s thoughtful gift – a 3D simulation of snow set up in his father’s art gallery. But make no mistake, “Gossip Girl” will always end on an addicting cliffhanger – this one being the fan-favorite Season 1 love triangle between Blair, her boyfriend Nate and his best friend Chuck. XOXO.
“30 Rock” Season 3 Episode 6: “Christmas Special”
Annie O’Brien | Research Assistant
A satirical sitcom from the mid-2000s, Tina Fey’s “30 Rock” tackles everything from network television, New England and, in this episode, the holidays. After NBC and General Electric executive Jack Donaghy accidentally hits his old, bad-tempered mother with his car while she visits him in Florida, they have to travel back to the Big Apple to nurse her back to recovery. She is a needy and rude patient, commanding the 50-year-old Jack around his apartment with a bell and criticizing his son’s disposition.
Desperate to spend as little time with his belligerent mother as possible, Jack forces NBC’s writers and actors to stay on Christmas Eve to produce a holiday special, complete with fake snow, holiday music and a live studio audience. To his mother’s horror, he leaves her in his apartment, but they confront each other at the holiday special. Are Christmas carols and painted frost on fake window panes on a television set enough to heal their mother-son relationship?
This 20-minute episode is a festival of laughs, perfect for anyone who needs to relieve holiday stress after spending too much time with their family.
“Community” Season 2 Episode 11: “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”
Erika Filter | Assistant News Editor
Dan Harmon’s classic sitcom “Community” has a wealth of Christmas episodes to choose from, but Season 2’s “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” is an instant classic. In this divergence from typical live-action sitcom antics, the episode commits to the vibrant, claymation style of early Christmas films from Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment classics like “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.” The show provides a balance of in-universe explanation for the sudden claymation look, accompanied by fourth-wall breaks acknowledging the cliche.
Follow the cast on a Wonka-esque, zany and undeniably festive adventure filled with musical numbers as characters enter and leave Abed’s imagined Christmas planet one by one. John Oliver takes a distinguishing early role in this episode as a cross between a Christmas wizard and therapist who tries to study Abed’s breakdown but ends up similarly damaged. Despite the constant quipping and gags, the episode retains its heart and consistently returns to the found-family theme at the show’s core.
“Downton Abbey” Season 2 Episode 9: “Christmas at Downton Abbey”
Nikki Ghaemi | Contributing News Editor
Julian Fellowes’ “Downton Abbey” is perfect for viewers looking to invest in a new show over winter break, especially this famous special that wraps up the second season with plenty of holiday drama. The cult classic follows the aristocratic Crawley family and the household staff that runs Downton Abbey while they struggle maintaining a favorable social standing.
Lady Mary Crawley grapples with the possible leak of a social scandal that could tarnish her reputation, Mr. Bates becomes a murder trial defendant and relationships are tested at the servants’ Christmas ball, a largely anticipated collaboration between the aristocracy and house staff. The episode even ends with a marriage proposal in the snow, a fan-favorite moment and certainly one of the most romantic in the entire series.
The episode is a spectacle in itself, with scenes of extravagant Christmas decorations decking out the abbey and an enormous Christmas tree in the center of the main hall, covered entirely with tinsel, lights and shiny ornaments. But this is also an episode highlighting characters’ solidarity regardless of social standing – a reminder that’s sure to get viewers in the holiday spirit.
“Modern Family” Season 3 Episode 10: “Express Christmas”
Abrigail Williams | Community Relations Director
Unlike other shows whose specials deviate from the typical plot of a show, “Modern Family” holiday specials stay true to the storyline, soul and humor of the show. Season 3’s iconic Christmas episode plays into the inevitable chaos the holiday season brings to the hilarious blended family.
Upon learning the extended family can’t spend Christmas day together, the Dunphy family patriarch Phil invents “Express Christmas” – a rushed attempt to expedite the holiday festivities before each family unit goes their separate ways. The audience follows the family as they split up into teams to buy presents, a Christmas tree and groceries. But true to the show’s comedic script, everything falls apart. Phil gets robbed and tased – a running schtick on the show – trying to score a rare baseball card to impress father-in-law Jay. Jay’s wife Gloria accidentally runs over and mutilates the Christmas tree that her son-in-law Mitch just scored. Meanwhile, Jay unsuccessfully wraps presents before having a short falling out with Cam, Mitch’s husband.
As the episode seems to close on a defeated family reeling from their failed Express Christmas, Jay creates a surprise winter wonderland for the kids to save the holiday spirit. The entire family plays in the fake California snow as the writers underscore the true importance of the holiday season – spending quality time with family and cherishing the moments you have left.
This article appeared in the December 5, 2022 issue of the Hatchet.