15 best Christmas-themed TV episodes to watch this holiday season

‘The Office’ staff played Secret Santa in ‘Christmas Party.’ NBC
  • Every December, fans of popular TV shows look forward to rewatching their favourite Christmas-themed specials.
  • Shows like NBC’s “Friends,” “The Office,” and “Seinfeld” found success in holiday episodes that are cheerful and jolly.
  • Other series such as Netflix’s “Black Mirror,” ABC’s “Lost,” and CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother” drove the series’ plots forward using moments of reflection or tragedy during the holidays.
  • Some shows, like “Friends” and Fox’s “The O.C.,” also introduced Hanukkah celebrations into the mix.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

While some TV shows successfully create new Christmas-themed specials every year, others have trouble topping beloved episodes from past seasons.

Shows like NBC’s “Friends,” “The Office,” and “Seinfeld” have created cult-like followings for their lighthearted holiday segments. “Friends” and Fox’s “The O.C.” also had great holiday episodes that featured Hanukkah celebrations as well.

However, Christmas specials for Netflix’s “Black Mirror,” ABC’s “Lost,” and CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother” grapple with tragedy and loss, evoking emotion during the holiday season.

Insider rounded up a list of the top 15 Christmas-themed episodes to watch. They are listed below in no particular order.

A holiday armadillo steals the show in the “Friends” episode “The One With the Holiday Armadillo.”

‘The One With the Holiday Armadillo’ is season seven, episode 10 of ‘Friends.’ YouTube

In the charming chaos that NBC’s “Friends” mastered by its seventh season, Ross teaches his son Ben about Hanukkah in “The One With the Armadillo.” However, he doesn’t want to deprive him of a visit from Santa Claus, so Ross rushes to the store for a Santa costume – only to find that an armadillo suit is the only remaining option.

Seeping with the humour and chemistry that make viewers feel like part of the “Friends” group, “The One With the Armadillo” is a feel-good, light-hearted watch year after year.

“Forgiveness and Stuff” veers from the “Gilmore Girls” formula of caffeine and Stars Hollow drama, but it reveals the depth of the family’s relationships.

‘Forgiveness and Stuff’ is episode 10 of the first season of ‘Gilmore Girls.’ YouTube

The WB’s “Gilmore Girls” season one holiday episode forces the usually biting, stubborn characters to band together when Lorelai’s father Richard is rushed to the hospital with angina.

While far from the snarky and upbeat tempo that fans are used to, “Forgiveness and Stuff” cuts through the characters’ petty issues to successfully bring the Gilmore family together for Christmas.

A game of Secret Santa escalates in “The Office” holiday special “Christmas Party.”

‘Christmas Party’ is season two, episode 10 of ‘The Office.’ YouTube

In one of the most unforgettable specials on the list, the NBC comedy’s “Christmas Party” episode documents Dunder Mufflin’s Secret Santa gift exchange.

The trade quickly becomes an aggressive “Yankee Swap” after Michael Scott doesn’t like his homemade oven mitt from Phyllis Vance. He announces that the attendees can steal each others’ presents.

Loaded with some of the most memorable moments from the series’ second season, “Christmas Party” was nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards.

NBC’s “Seinfeld” draws attention to the holiday of Festivus in “The Strike.”

‘The Strike’ is season nine, episode 10 of ‘Seinfeld.’ YouTube

When Kramer finally returns to work at the conclusion of the 12-year strike at H&H bagels in NBC’s “Seinfeld” holiday special “The Strike,” his manager refuses to grant him December 23 off for Festivus – an anti-commercial holiday introduced to him by George’s father – so Kramer goes on a strike of his own.

In typical “Seinfeld” fashion, “The Strike” manages to lay the groundwork for a plethora of inside jokes in a 23-minute episode, bringing fans back to celebrate Festivus time and time again.

“Christmas at Downton Abbey” gives viewers the ultimate romantic moment.

‘Christmas at Downton Abbey’ is season two, episode nine of ‘Downton Abbey.’ YouTube

In one the most jam-packed episodes of PBS’s “Downton Abbey,” “Christmas at Downton Abbey” ties a lot of the second season’s strings together. It also has its fair share of drama including a pregnancy, an arrest, and an over-the-top Christmas party.

There are plenty of ups-and-downs to keep viewers entertained throughout the two-hour show. If nothing else, the episode merits a viewing for Matthew’s snow globe proposal to Mary.

Mindy Lahiri’s party goes haywire in “The Mindy Project” Christmas special “Christmas Party Sex Trap.”

‘Christmas Party Sex Trap’ is episode 11 of the second season of Fox’s ‘The Mindy Project.’ YouTube

“Christmas Party Sex Trap,” follows Mindy Lahiri’s scheme of throwing a gluten-free, alcohol-free office party to attract her crush Cliff’s attention.

Per usual in Fox’s “The Mindy Project,” the protagonist’s shenanigans fall through, and she doesn’t get a chance to make Cliff jealous or sing “Santa Baby” to him as planned. The episode does, however, valiantly capture holiday calamity in all of its glory.

The characters in Fox’s “The O.C.” come together to celebrate “The Best Chrismukkah Ever” — and there’s no shortage of drama.

‘The Best Chrismukkah Ever’ is episode 13 of the first season of ‘The O.C.’ YouTube

In “The Best Chrismukkah Ever,” Seth justifies that if he can bring Christmas and Hanukkah together, he can certainly juggle two relationships with different women.

This holiday special makes sure to include the usual soap opera-esque issues that “The O.C.” fans love like drinking, high school parties, and wealthy families – with a tree and menorah in the background.

Christmas doesn’t agree with Larry David in “Mary, Joseph, and Larry.”

‘Mary, Joseph, and Larry’ is season three, episode nine of HBO’s ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm.’ YouTube

In “Mary, Joseph, and Larry,” Larry David works to appease his wife’s family on Christmas, but nothing seems to go his way in classic “Curb Your Enthusiasm” fashion.

Larry, who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, accidentally eats his sister-in-law’s manger gingerbread cookies. When he tries to make up for the incident by arranging a live nativity scene, Larry gets into a physical fight with the man playing Joseph.

For perfectly awkward, can’t-look-away moments, “Mary, Joseph, and Larry” is a fantastic holiday option.

Leslie Knope becomes an activist while suspended from work in the “Parks and Recreation” holiday special “Citizen Knope.”

‘Citizen Knope’ is season four, episode 10 of ‘Parks and Recreation.’ NBC

In NBC’s “Parks and Recreation‘s” Christmas episode “Citizen Knope,” Leslie can’t seem to sit still during her suspension from work.

Between buying the office Christmas gifts and starting the citizen activist group “Parks Committee of Pawnee,” Leslie will tire you out this holiday season, but we suggest watching anyway.

“A Very Sunny Christmas” reveals the holiday customs that FXX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” characters picked up as children.

‘A Very Sunny Christmas’ is episode 13 of the sixth season of ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.’ YouTube

In an hour-long special called “A Very Sunny Christmas,” the “Sunny” crew sets out in search of its wholesome holiday spirit, only to find themselves up to their usual mischief.

Viewers can’t help but crack up as the characters learn that their childhood holidays were not as innocent as they recalled; Mac’s family used to steal presents from neighbours’ homes and Charlie’s mother used to sell sex to get him Christmas gifts.

The group ultimately realises that Christmas cheer isn’t for everyone – and we wouldn’t expect anything less from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

In “How I Met Your Mother’s” Christmas special “Symphony of Illumination,” viewers learn the truth behind Robin’s family.

‘Symphony of Illumination’ is episode 12 of the seventh season of ‘How I Met Your Mother.’ YouTube

In “Symphony of Illumination,” the plotline for CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother” takes a turn.

This episode reveals that Robin’s kids, who are central to the plot, are mere figments of her imagination, and she’ll never be able to bare children.

What has the potential to be a completely heartbreaking episode is somewhat salvaged by Tim, who illuminates a Christmas tree for Robin and promises that even in her darkest times, she’ll never be alone.

“White Christmas” takes “Black Mirror” fans for a dark, thrilling ride.

‘White Christmas’ is season two, episode four of Netflix’s ‘Black Mirror.’ YouTube

Although “White Christmas,” which was aired on Channel 4, takes place on Christmas Day, the episode is hauntingly grim – and one of the most layered “Black Mirror” episodes to date.

When two men wake up in a remote cabin, they begin to recount their life stories, each sharing their own disturbing, gruesome tale. As they both finally open up about why they’re in the cabin, which is presumably a place of punishment, a surprise plot twist makes viewers question everything they watched the 74 minutes prior.

As soon as the episode wraps, you won’t be able to listen to Wizzard’s “I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday” the same way.

ABC’s “Lost” pulls heartstrings with its Christmas episode, “The Constant.”

‘The Constant’ is season four, episode five of ‘Lost.’ YouTube

When longtime island dweller Desmond Hume’s consciousness is trapped in a cycle between 1996 and 2004, he must find something to ground him, otherwise known as a “constant” in ABC’s “Lost.”

Before Desmond arrives to the mysterious island, he promises his ex-girlfriend and love of his life Penny that he would call her years later, on Christmas Eve in 2004. To his surprise, Penny picks up the phone that evening, serving as his “constant” and permanently pulling him back to the present. Just before he loses the connection, she reveals that she’s been trying to contact him for years.

“The Constant” is filled with emotion, loss, and love – making it a must-see Christmas episode, albeit not a cheery one.

“Arrested Development” holiday special “Afternoon Delight” reminds us to never request the Starland Vocal Band’s song at office karaoke.

‘Afternoon Delight’ is season two, episode six of ‘Arrested Development.’ YouTube

At least when Michael and his niece Maeby make the mistake of singing “Afternoon Delight” at the Bluth Company Christmas party, they aren’t the only ones – Lindsay and George Michael do the same in Fox’s “Arrested Development” Christmas special “Afternoon Delight.”

Straying far from a family-friendly Christmas singalong, this episode shows just how messy (and awkward) the holidays can really be.

In “30 Rock’s” holiday special, the “TGS with Tracy Jordan” writers celebrate a holiday of their own called “Ludachristmas.”

‘Ludachristmas’ is season two, episode nine of ’30 Rock.’ YouTube

December means one thing for the “TGS with Tracy Jordan” writers: Ludachristmas.

An excuse for naughty behaviour, copious amount of alcohol, and free-flowing complaints, Ludachristmas becomes an annual office tradition in NBC’s “30 Rock.” When Kenneth tries to realign the writers’ priorities and cancel the celebration to refocus on Christmas, they begin to knock down the Rockefeller Centre Christmas Tree.

The episode is filled with jokes to put viewers in the Christmas, or rather the Ludachristmas, spirit.