Many people identify Friends with Thanksgiving, but the show certainly didn’t slouch on holiday cheer when it came to Christmas. In fact, Friends marked every season save for the last (which was more focused on tying up emotional loose ends) with a Christmas-themed episode.
Naturally, as the group grew up, got married, and had kids, the tone of the holidays did shift a bit — instead of panicking over dates for the New Year, they were panicking over finding the right costume for their children. However, while things changed, it was always clear that the friendship and camaraderie evolved right along with the rest. While the holidays sometimes took a backseat to the relationship drama, there was usually still a fair share of cheer to spread around.
Watching your favorite seasonal television is one of the best parts of the holidays, so let’s take a look back at which Friends episodes will fill your hearts with the Christmas spirit and which ones are just filled with mock-late.
9. “The One With Christmas In Tulsa,” Season 9
Separating Chandler from the group for a while by sending him to Tulsa for work was a real bummer. As the last Christmas episode that the show would ever do, it would have been fun for some last-minute shenanigans, but instead, fans were stuck with a clip episode that just rehashed past events. Just like Chandler’s sub-par gifts (can you honestly see any of them going to the ballet that the donations were made to?), this episode can’t help but feel a little bit like a let-down.
Even if the stuff they’re rehashing is good, fans would have liked to see some new Christmas cheer before the show ended for good. However, Chandler does end up quitting his job in Oklahoma and returning to the fold, so there is still a silver lining.
8. “The One With The Girl From Poughkeepsie,” Season 4
This season 4 episode focuses on Ross and Rachel’s post-break-up dating life and gets to the heart of why a long-term relationship is hard to make work, even when they’re just a train ride away. As Ross juggles multiple women who live varying distances away (and are varying degrees of racist), Rachel tells Chandler to set her up with a coworker because she wants to have a fling. Chandler, unfortunately, handles this in the absolute worst way, bungling any chance for her to hook up with any of his circle. Hey, at least he got some free stuff out of it.
If this doesn’t sound particularly Christmas-y, that’s fair. It may have been ranked higher had there been a high amount of Christmas festivities, but the holidays are pretty tangential. However, this episode did give us Phoebe’s Christmas Song, which is one of the all-time greats from the show’s entire run. It’s still a shame that nothing rhymes with “Chandler.”
7. “The One With The Inappropriate Sister,” Season 5
The ecosystem of friendship can be precarious at best, as exemplified by Ross temporarily moving in with Joey and Chandler. Following his Thanksgiving, “moist maker” meltdown at work, the eldest Geller is forced into sabbatical and needs to relocate, making their already snug apartment even more cramped. Their holiday cohabitation is marred by Ross’s micromanaging, but the creation of Fire Ball proves that some of the most brilliant things are born out of hardship.
Also suffering a holiday hardship is Rachel, whose current boyfriend Danny (George Newbern) is way too close with his sister. Joint bath times are best left in childhood, ok? At least Phoebe attempts to get into the holiday season by volunteering to ring the bell for the Salvation Army, but unfortunately she finds the city more hostile than she expected. Good for comedy, bad for the Christmas spirit.
6. “The One With The Monkey,” Season 1
Honestly, this episode is more about New Year’s Eve than Christmas, but it does a great job of solidifying the core six as a unit against the rest of the world early on in the show’s run.
As they worry through Christmas about whether or not they will spend New Year’s Eve alone or with a date, Friends did a great job of encapsulating the fear that comes with being single at the holidays. While you hate to be stuck with some subpar date, sometimes facing the new year is too much to do alone. Luckily, they learn that all they really need is each other (cue the audience “awwww”). And alcohol.
Plus, the episode introduces us to some of the show’s best side characters: Marcel the Monkey, Fun Bobby, and David (Hank Azaria), who was arguably Phoebe’s best boyfriend. Sorry, Paul Rudd.
5. “The One With Ross’s Step Forward,” Season 8
Another Ross-centric episode, this time with the focus on the thrice divorced paleontologist balking at taking the next step with his girlfriend, Mona (Bonnie Somerville). Every couple has to decide for themselves whether or not they want to send out a joint Christmas card, and unfortunately, these two were not on the same page. Unfortunately, with his lack of communication, he ends up taking another huge step instead by giving Mona a key to his apartment, a true kiss of death for a couple that just isn’t ready yet.
However, this lack of communication skills bleeds over to Chandler’s life as well, as he lies to his boss that he and Monica broke up in an attempt to avoid after-work hangouts. This also backfires, but at least Chandler realizes that his life truly is better with Monica in it. Still, any episode where Chandler is caught in a lie is bound to have its hilarious moments, and this one is no different. At least he’s not trying to avoid incessant ass slaps from his boss this time around.
4. “The One With Phoebe’s Dad,” Season 2
The holidays mean family, as uncomfortable as that may be, which makes Phoebe’s first attempt to find her real father all the more timely.
Your heart breaks a bit for her as she learns that her grandmother has been lying to her about the identity of her dad for her entire life, and she goes on a quest upstate to track him down, only to chicken out at the last minute. Establishing a long avoided emotional connection can be a hard trick to pull off so it’s only fair for Pheebs to take her time.
In other news, Ross and Rachel are still reeling from the aftermath of his pros and cons list, with their bickering putting a real damper on the Christmas festivities. However, the highlight is the episode coda, where Chandler and Joey’s gleeful distribute the gas station gifts that they purchased while on Phoebe’s failed dad discovery mission. Their enthusiasm over Monica’s gift of condoms is not to be missed.
3. “The One With The Routine,” Season 6
The Gellers were never, ever cool. Fans are reminded of this of this by way of their enthusiasm over appearing on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rocking Eve, which comes complete with a long practiced dance routine. While they may never make it up onto the podium to do their dance, at least they’ve still got the moves from their youth.
Things end up a little better for Joey, who finally gets to make out with his hot roommate, Janine (Elle MacPherson). However, the B-plot in this episode really shines, with Phoebe, Rachel, and Chandler teaming up to find Monica’s Christmas stash in order to gauge what kind of presents they need to get her. While it all ends up being over a water purifier, fans can relate to the madcap panic that comes with gift-giving stress. Monica’s note saying “Chandler, I knew they’d break you” is all to indicative of the hilarious yet stressful holiday mentality.
2. “The One Where Rachel Quits,” Season 3
Over the course of the show’s run, Rachel’s professional transitions are among the most drastic. As she moves from almost-trophy wife to fashion executive, there are a few bumps along the way. One of those is her time as a waitress at Central Perk, a crap job that she was crap at. When Chandler finally encourages her to embrace The Fear and quit, Gunther is devastated, but Rachel is on the path to liberation. Still, quitting your job is always terrifying, especially around the holidays.
Phoebe’s hippie nature also comes out in full force in this episode as she takes umbrage over Joey’s job selling Christmas trees, which includes sending the unwanted ones to the chipper. However, Phoebe’s excitement at the culmination, with every single Charlie Brown tree ending up in the apartment, is a Christmas miracle. Who says that joy at the holidays has to end when you’re a kid?
1. “The One With The Holiday Armadillo,” Season 7
Friends has a lot of memorable images — the lobster, Hugsy the Bedtime Penguin Pal, the yellow door frame — but few rival the Holiday Armadillo. It can be hard to compete with Santa during the holiday season, but Ross (Christmas really was his time to shine) was desperate to teach his son about Hanukkah through Santa, but unfortunately the costume was unavailable. Thankfully, some quick thinking leads to The Holiday Armadillo, Santa’s half-Jewish friend who is there to teach Ben about the Maccabees. Things get a little awkward when Chandler shows up as Santa and Joey shows up as Superman, but Monica’s apparent Santa fetish definitely takes the cake.
Add in some roommate swapping with Rachel deciding to keep living with the guys and you’ve got a truly great Friends Christmas and a reminder that, while holiday episodes are a well-worn sitcom trope, when done well, they can move beyond gimmick into something worth dusting off every December. Sometimes you just need something comforting to enjoy with a glass of eggnog, and like always, the friends from Friends will be there for you.