There’s a lot of focus on holiday movies this time of year, but the best Christmas TV episodes can bring just as much joy. Living during the golden age of television also means living during the silvery, frosty, sparkling age of holiday content. And spending the holidays with your imaginary television friends is as easy as skipping to the Christmas episode that almost every long-running TV show includes each season. You can treat Netflix and Hulu like your own personal digital Advent calendars, streaming your way into the seasonal spirit.
But what to watch? A great Christmas episode makes you feel like you are standing inside a snow globe, hot chocolate running through your veins, about to leap into the arms of a person that you love. A poor Christmas episode makes you feel like you are in a shopping mall at 8 a.m., picking candy cane crusts out of your molars.
So to prepare for the holiday season, we sourced the five holiday episodes that will give you that crispy yule log feeling in your heart…and five to avoid. ’Tis the season to shamelessly use your ex’s login info.
It’s been a stressful year, but at least you can count on Hollywood to come through with the holiday cheer. After all, what’s more relaxing than watching an overworked woman fall in love with a Christmas tree farmer? So decompress with All the Jingle Ladies, our guide to the best holiday movies.
Best Christmas TV Episodes
The Mindy Project, season 2, episode 11, “Christmas Party Sex Trap”
This episode has everything: a wine bra, something called scream therapy, Maria Menounos singing “Santa Baby,” three or four different love interests for Mindy Kaling, and shots of New York in the snow that are way prettier than New York actually looks when it snows. Every cast member’s hair looks especially good, and Chris Messina does an erotic dance. No spoilers, but this episode does contain the ultimate Christmas fantasy: making out in the snow and eating a sugar cookie at the very same time.
Friends, season 7, episode 10, “The One With the Holiday Armadillo”
A truly important episode of television, “The One With the Holiday Armadillo” is about quirky friends living in New York City, yes, but it’s also about time and memory and how we pass traditions down to our children. Ross tries to teach his son Ben (tiny Cole Sprouse!) about Hanukkah by way of the Hanukkah Armadillo (“Santa’s representative for all the southern states, and Mexico.”) It’s sweet and weird, and it’s balanced out by themes of death and loss in the episode, the darkness of winter that makes us determined to encounter the light. Also, there’s a drum set and a tarantula.
The O.C., season 1, episode 13, “The Best Chrismakkuh Ever”
In this consummate California Christmas episode, the troubled rich white people of Orange County celebrate “Chrismukkah,” an “über-holiday” mashup of Christmas and Hanukkah repped by silver-tongued dork prince Seth Cohen (Adam Brody). “There’s no choosing in Chrismakkuh” Seth claims, arguing that he can have two holidays and two girls competing for his heart. Ironically, the original message of Hanukkah is about never, ever assimilating to mainstream culture or compromising on religious principles—but that message has evolved over the years! Millions of families celebrate elements of both Christmas and Hanukkah joyfully, and Seth Cohen shows us how to do it in style. Crucially, Summer (Rachel Bilson) arrives at a holiday party in a strapless evening gown and a tiara, then does a surprise costume change that includes a gold whip.
Grey’s Anatomy, season 2, episode 12, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”
Nothing says Christmas like a reluctant child undergoing a heart transplant! Unless it’s a doting father of five heading into brain surgery! Thankfully this unusually sweet episode of Grey’s gives us a one-time-only respite from watching slow deaths of beloved characters, in honor of the holiday. This episode has some gentle cynicism, which only makes the emotional payoff better—we start with some stats about suicide, break into multiple plot lines about struggling with vulnerability, and learn the important lesson that you shouldn’t assume you know what a Jewish person looks like. Christmas miracles come in the form of the melting of Christina Yang’s heart, and the gift only Shonda Rhimes can give: sparing absurdly likable guest stars from their untimely, cinematic deaths.
The Office, season 2, episode 10, “Christmas Party”
Every Christmas episode of The Office is exquisite, but this one has the perfect combination of deep discomfort and warmth that typify work holiday parties. Michael wants the office to have a “PlayBoy mansion party” for Christmas. He gifts Ryan an iPod video in the Secret Santa and receives a knit oven mitt in return. Jim plans to tell Pam how he feels (spoiler: Jim does not tell Pam how he feels for, like, 12 more episodes). Dwight quotes Billy Zane, from Titanic, which we should all do more often. Like all great Office episodes, it brings us right to the brink of despair, then pulls itself back together.
Worst Christmas TV Episodes
Glee, season 2, episode 10, “A Very Glee Christmas”
We get a Christmas cookie and a tight red sweater in the first two shots! We get a spangled red and gold tree! We get a group of exceptionally talented singers, covering Christmas classics! And yet—the combination of Glee and the holidays is as sugary as a gingerbread man dunked in eggnog, covered in frosting, and fried in an apple cider batter. Just watch Kurt and Blaine’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and skip the rest.
Schitt’s Creek, season 4, episode 13, “Merry Christmas, Johnny Rose”
Yeah, I said it—this is not Schitt’s Creek’s best work. Aesthetically, this ep is a slam dunk—you can practically feel the snowflakes melting on your tongue and the hairs from Moira’s wig getting stuck in your throat. The sweaters, tinsel, and Alexis’s messy bun are perfect. But it’s hard to watch the Rose family do their wealthy-person-whining shtick on Christmas, no matter how adorable they look doing it. A Christmas miracle does ultimately come to pass, but it’s another classic example of the struggling town giving generously to the spoiled, ungrateful Roses.
Gilmore Girls, season 7, episode 11, “Santa’s Secret Stuff”
Look—almost every Gilmore Girls episode feels cozy and Christmassy, even the ones that take place in the summer. This one checks every late-December box: snow, trees, stockings, Santa, mistletoe, frosting, reindeer, caroling. And that’s just in the first 10 minutes. But the roiling anxiety in the story line undercuts every warm and comfortable feeling—Christopher and Lorelai are failing to frankenstein themselves and their offspring into a happy family, Luke is on the brink of losing custody of April, and Lane’s pregnancy has effectively ruined her life (Justice for Lane Kim! Get that girl a time machine and some birth control!). Stars Hollow looks cute in the snow, but Christmas with the Gilmores will make you want to spend your holidays on a silent retreat, far away from blood relatives.
Happy Endings, season 3, episode 7, “No-ho-ho”
Like many Christmas episodes, this is about someone hating Christmas and then realizing its value. This is a great example of Taking That Concept Too Far—we, the audience, are robbed of Christmas and are only reunited with its spangly joy in the last 90 seconds of the episode. Every actor on Happy Endings is absurdly, almost scarily charming, but nobody is more charming than Christmas.
How I Met Your Mother, season 8, episode 10, “The Over-Correction”
This episode uses a great and important comedy trope: people hiding in each other’s closets. But it also uses a bad and boring comedy trope: adult men who have weird sex issues with their moms. Get this off our televisions! Especially in the holy month of December! In this episode Marshall struggles as his mom tries to date, and Lily actually throws up at the idea of their parents dating. Yes, that’s not great, but seeing your adult mom as a fully realized person is important! And if your mom refers to her boobs as “the Minnesota twins,” well, all the better. This episode is disappointingly cheerless overall—it’s not frosted, tinsely, glowing, silver with bells and mist, or snowy. I would rather be at a mall in Canada than with this crew on Christmas.
Jenny Singer is the staff writer at Glamour.
Originally Appeared on Glamour