TV's best holiday episodes – from Festivus to Holiday Armadillos

TV has been host to various memorable holiday episodes, from the 'Community' gang becoming Rankin/Bass-like characters to the 'West Wing' staffers experiencing a sobering winter season. Here are a few of the best.

John Shearer/Invision/AP
Steve Carell starred on 'The Office,' which had various memorable holiday episodes.

While you're celebrating your holiday season, your favorite fictional characters on the small screen are usually doing the same, with the weeks before the major winter holidays flooded with episodes in which TV protagonists experience humorous or poignant – or both – events during the special time of year.

Some fade from the mind pretty quickly, but others become classics. Here are a few of the best holiday episodes that have aired on TV, and let us know if you have another favorite.

--"Dear Dad," 1972, "M*A*S*H"

In "Dad," Army doctor Hawkeye Pierce is penning a letter to his father at home during the holiday season and attempts to describe events that are happening at camp, such as a corporal, Radar, trying to send a Jeep home by mailing each piece separately. Hawkeye dresses up as Santa Claus to entertain the children in the area, but when a call comes in, he's forced to go tend to patients while still wearing the outfit.

--"The Strike," 1997, "Seinfeld"

Don't recognize the title? We'll clear it up for you: it's the one with Festivus. (It's called "The Strike" because in another of the episode's plots, Kramer has been on strike from a job he held at a bagel company for 12 years.) In the plotline everyone remembers it for, George remembers that his dad made up a holiday titled Festivus ("A Festivus for the rest of us"). Kramer is so interested by it that he asks George's dad for more information about it, and the group celebrates the new holiday at the end of the episode. To properly carry out Festivus, participants must obtain a metal Festivus pole, carry out events titled the Airing of Grievances (in which people do just that) and Feats of Strength, in which the head of the household must be defeated. Events that have very obvious explanations can also be declared Festivus Miracles.

--"In Excelsis Deo," 1999, "The West Wing"

While "Deo" also has dark moments, including a plot line about the murder of a man who was gay, another storyline which follows White House communications director Toby is more uplifting. Toby is notified that a homeless man who died was wearing a jacket with Toby's card inside it, which Toby had donated to Goodwill. The man was a Korean War veteran, and Toby arranges a full funeral in military style for him to honor his service to the country.

--"The One with the Holiday Armadillo," 2003, "Friends"

While not quite as famous as their Thanksgiving episode, "Friends" also created several holiday-themed episodes, but only one ever related an armadillo to a winter holiday. Ross is disappointed that his son Ben is excited about Christmas and completely uninterested in Ross's holiday of Hannukah. When Ross tries to push the Jewish holiday, Ben is crushed when he thinks Santa's not coming at all, so Ross tries to rent a Santa suit to make him happy again. Only problem? There aren't any Santa suits left at local costume shops, so Ross is forced to improvise and rent an armadillo costume, which he dubs the Holiday Armadillo, Santa's Southern helper who wants to explain Hanukkah to Ben. Things escalate when Chandler, who heard Ross needed help, arrives in a Santa suit and Joey, who also wanted to make Ben's Christmas better, arrives as Superman.

--"Christmas Party," 2005, "The Office"

"The Office" aired a holiday-themed episode in almost all of its seasons, but its first remains one of its best. In "Party," the staff participate in a Secret Santa and buy gifts for their assigned person, only for boss Michael to decide that it would be better if they all did a Yankee swap. Worker Jim is crushed that his thoughtful gift for the fellow staffer he secretly loves, Pam, is going to someone else, and the other workers battle for Michael's outrageously inappropriate gift of an iPod.

--"Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas," 2010, "Community"

"Community," which loves to reference movies and other TV shows, took on classic Rankin/Bass holiday specials (as in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "The Year Without a Santa Claus," etc.) in this episode. One member of the community college study group, Abed, starts seeing the other members as Rankin/Bass-style stop-motion animated characters, and the group visits a Christmas-themed planet in this form.

Merry Festivus to all and to all the Holiday Armadillos a good night.

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