When audiences think of the ways in which The Simpsons honors the holidays, fans likely immediately jump to the fact that the animated series delivers viewers a Halloween-themed adventure every year with its "Treehouse of Horror" series, though there are plenty of Christmas-themed exploits for the first family in animation that stick with viewers. These events might not come as often as Halloween episodes, but they are delivered with enough frequency to amass more than a dozen entries over the years. As with most episodes of The Simpsons, however, the holiday episodes hit their stride earlier in its tenure, as each subsequent season saw more middling results.
At their best, The Simpsons' holiday episodes hit just as hard with their heart as they do with their humor and, at their worst, are thinly veiled attempts at cashing in on the holiday excitement by wrapping a subpar episode in holiday packaging. Additionally, the absurdist nature of the series and the ways in which it can span days, weeks, or months at a time mean that a handful of episodes feature scenes involving Christmas, though these sequences take up so little screen time that they don't feel like genuine "holiday episodes." In this regard, episodes like "Skinner's Sense of Snow" and "The Burns and The Bees" briefly touch upon holiday festivities, but it's a stretch to include them alongside much more Christmas-centric adventures.
With all that out of the way, scroll down to see how we think The Simpsons' Christmas episodes stack up!
15) "Kill Gil, Volumes I & II" - Season 18, Episode 9
With the Simpson family inadvertently being responsible for Gil Gunderson getting fired as a mall Santa, they offer him a place to stay, only for him to wear out his welcome. After staying with the family for nearly a year, Gil is kicked out and heads to Scottsdale, Arizona to become a realtor. The Simpsons then head to Scottsdale to check on Gil, only to accidentally get him fired again, though they buy a house from him out of pity.
Between the family visiting a "Krusty's Kristmas on Ice" and the inciting incident being directly connected to Christmas, the overall experience largely feels like a Gil-focused episode that just so happened to align with the holidays, as opposed to one that required the holiday setting. Add to this episode largely being holiday-themed in aesthetics more than in authenticity is that Gil plays a major role and, despite being highly entertaining in small bursts and with depressing non-sequiturs, centering a whole episode around a D-list resident of Springfield doesn't really stand out.
The only real bit that works is Homer's rivalry with the "Grumple," a Grinch-like character he accosted at the ice rink that refuses to let their rivalry subside.prevnext
14) "Simpson Christmas Stories" - Season 17, Episode 9
Likely due to the success they found with the "Treehouse of Horror" concept, The Simpsons would go on to replicate the structure of an episode featuring multiple outlandish tales that would be more difficult to pull off in a traditional capacity, with "Simpson Christmas Stories" being a weaker execution of the formula.
The first story sees the Simpson family recreating the birth of Christ, with Marge representing Mary, Homer representing Joseph, and Bart representing Jesus, giving their "hilarious" take on the Biblical tale. Next, Grampa Simpson tells Bart and Lisa about the time he was stranded on an island during World War II and accidentally shot down Santa Claus. The final vignette sees the entire town of Springfield contributing to parody of various excerpts from The Nutcracker, as Marge notes that the songs are in the public domain and anyone can use the music.
Other than those well-versed in the Bible, there's little to laugh at in the opening story, as a Simpson-ized retelling of the Bible is already enough of a parody, that the weak attempts to add more jokes to the concept fall flat. (Though, one joke about the origins of a Christmas Tree being a number of dead soldiers getting impaled on a massive structure will surely cause a chuckle.) Grampa's recollection of his time on an island with Santa, alongside Mr. Burns, is a far cry from the joys of their time together as part of the Flying Hellfish, resulting in another underwhelming experience.
Luckily, with the final vignette taking a number of ancillary Springfield residents and giving them a mere line or two as part of the Nutcracker does bring some delightful moments, especially the entire montage of Moe trying (and failing) to kill himself to the tune of "Dance of the Flutes." While Moe is often shown as being a depressed person in the series, his regular attempts to commit suicide on the holidays become a staple of The Simpsons shocking audiences by finding ways to make punchlines with the most macabre of subjects.prevnext
13) "The Fight Before Christmas" - Season 22, Episode 8
In an almost direct lift from the structure of Season Three's "Treehouse of Horror II," the Simpson family all experience a variety of bizarre dreams on Christmas Eve, much like when they all had too much Halloween candy and experienced nightmares.
The first sequence focuses on Bart's dream in which he is treated to a Polar Express-esque journey, with Otto escorting him to the North Pole, hitting all the major beats of that book to essentially serve as a straight-up parody of the kids' book. Lisa's dream sees her imagining herself living in the 1940s with Marge being a soldier in World War II, as the rest of the family struggles without her. Marge's dream features Martha Stewart showing up to construct the perfect Christmas decorations, but they're at the cost of connecting with her family on such an important day. Maggie's dream delivers a somewhat live-action experience, as the Simpson family appears as puppets going on vacation for the holidays, with Moe arriving as the housesitter, who invites his girlfriend Katy Perry over to join him.
Given how closely the structure of this episode resembles the "Treehouse of Horror" setup and how late into the animated series' career this episode debuted, both the concept and execution feel pretty lazily thrown together. Strangely, it's also the concept that most works in its favor, as fans will likely view it as "Treehouse of Horror: Christmas Edition," and while the Katy Perry cameo surely dates the event to the peak of her popularity, seeing puppet versions of this character is exciting enough to keep our attention for a few minutes.prevnext
12) "'Tis the 30th Season" - Season 30, Episode 10
After Marge makes a Black Friday sacrifice to help Gil get a toy instead of buying the TV the family wants, Homer, Bart, and Lisa all decide to treat her to a vacation, with the group heading down to Florida for the holidays. With the entire experience being disappointing on all counts, they head back to Springfield and join Moe at his bar as he feeds the old and needy.
With so many holiday specials throughout time using snowy landscapes and wintery imagery to set the stage, pivoting to celebrate the holidays in Florida will likely excite those who live in warmer climates. Admittedly, much of what happens in Florida is devoid of any holiday-specific humor, but the strength of the opening scenes in which Marge waits in line for Black Friday are strong enough to make this episode stand out from other installments as a whole.prevnext
11) "Holidays of Future Passed" - Season 23, Episode 9
As the Simpsons gather for a holiday photo, the annual photos begin to flip and we jump decades into the future, where Bart is a deadbeat dad, Lisa fails to connect with her daughter, and Maggie is about to go into labor. While we see that the familiar interpersonal dynamics continue into the future, we also witness how Homer appears to be a wonderful grandfather, despite not always being the best father, with the entire extended family earning a new appreciation for one another as they come together for a new family photo.
The series has often gone into the future, with this journey offering more opportunities to make gags about how the future could unfold. Whether it be airlines turning into Mad Max-style experiences or browsing the internet being an experience akin to entering The Matrix, this episode has a number of gimmicky gags, though we are still treated to some heartfelt moments in seeing how the now-adult Simpson children cope with being parents themselves. However, the holiday nature of the episode feels more like an afterthought than an integral piece of the story.prevnext
10) "White Christmas Blues" - Season 25, Episode 8
Due to global warming, the entire country will be devoid of snow on Christmas, with a unique alignment of climate conditions and city-specific pollution colliding and resulting Springfield being the only place with snow, bringing in a surge of tourists. Marge and the rest of the family turn their home into a bed and breakfast, delivering guests a variety of holiday experiences.
What this episode might lack in solid gags, it more than makes up for with its "holiday spirit." With tourists being treated to holiday traditions, as is the viewer, delivering the Simpson-ized version of these traditions, even though Marge can't help but note, "All eggnog is terrible." Before even diving into the meat of the narrative, another highlight is the series' extended Christmas-themed opening, whereas previous installments featured much more brief twists on the famous couch-gag sequence.prevnext
9) "I Won’t Be Home for Christmas" - Season 26, Episode 9
Even though he genuinely makes an effort to be home on Christmas Eve, Homer accidentally stays out late drinking, with Marge kicking him out of the house. Homer explores a lonely Springfield, spotlighting the sights, sounds, and fellow residents who are also alone on the important date, only for Marge to ultimately realize Homer's folly wasn't his own.
Homer's status as a good husband might regularly be called into question by his actions, but it's clear how much he cherishes Marge, making the emotional impact of this episode and how Moe is ultimately responsible for Homer's delinquency on his journey home causing genuine emotional reactions in viewers. Given how many times his own actions have caused a rift at home, seeing him subjected to a lonely evening while also showcasing the various unconventional ways one can celebrate the holidays, even without traditional experiences, can still result in memorable connections with others will surely hit home with viewers.
It's also worth noting that this episode features Comic Book Guy referencing the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special (though it's titled "Cosmic Wars Holiday Special"), which adds an extra level of excitement for all of the series' nerdy viewers.prevnext
8) "She of Little Faith" - Season 13, Episode 6
Due to a model rocket malfunction, the Springfield church sees serious damage, ultimately enlisting the sponsorship of corporations to make repairs. With Lisa disgusted by the commercialization of religion, she abandons the church, ultimately embracing Buddhist teachings. In hopes of wooing her back to Christianity, the episode culminates with a Christmas celebration, with Richard Gere elucidating Lisa on the idea that, with Buddhism being about love and acceptance, she is encouraged to participate in the traditions of other religions to support her family.
While other episodes earlier in this list were chastised for how little they related to the holiday, "She of Little Faith" is an exception to this idea, as it proves a major character evolution for Lisa. Christmas only comes into play in the final act, but with the genuine display of themes of love and acceptance, it marks a significant tonal shift for the satirical series, with Lisa identifying as Buddhist throughout the rest of the series following the events of this episode.
As with all Lisa-focused episodes, by giving her the brunt of the narrative weight, it also means all of the other characters can pop in with absurd experiences to compensate for the humor missing from her journey.prevnext
7) "The Nightmare After Krustmas" - Season 28, Episode 10
Krusty struggles to connect with his daughter during the holidays, as he's Jewish and she's Christian, with the clown joining the local church so that the pair can celebrate holiday traditions together. Meanwhile, Marge introduces Maggie to the "Gnome in the Home," a parody of the Elf on the Shelf, resulting in Maggie's immense fear of the visitor.
Essentially another mediocre episode of late-era The Simpsons that happens to have a holiday veneer to it, the payoff of Krusty being willing to convert religions just for the sake of being a good father is effective, though he ultimately reverts back to Judaism with the support of his daughter. The real highlight of the episode is the horrifying experience of Maggie being watched by the Gnome in the Home, as it never stops watching her and seems to scurry around her room when she's not looking. Mocking Elf on the Shelf might feel like cliched territory now, but The Simpsons' take on it is arguably the most effective send-up of the growing tradition.prevnext
6) "Bobby, It’s Cold Outside" - Season 31, Episode 10
A number of Springfield residents are having their holiday packages stolen from their porches, with many people suspecting Sideshow Bob to be the culprit. An investigation reveals that Mr. Burns is behind the thefts, as he recalls how he was denied Christmas presents by his parents as a child. Mr. Burns ultimately realizes the errors of his ways, as he heads back out into Springfield to give the town back their presents.
Even though he isn't attempting to murder anyone, fans will surely appreciate Sideshow Bob getting involved in the holiday hijinks, while even giving him somewhat of a happy ending. Mr. Burns' trajectory of living in poverty inspiring his quest for wealth and ultimate change of heart manages to both mirror Ebenezer Scrooge and The Grinch's backstories, to the point that it's almost a genuine parody of those stories. The various selections of holiday tunes that are added into the episode also inject some added seasonal spirit.prevnext
5) "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" - Season 1, Episode 1
After Homer learns he won't be getting a Christmas bonus, he is forced to take a second job as a mall Santa, though Bart gets a tattoo honoring his mother, requiring the family to blow their savings on its removal. His measly paycheck falls short of his expectations, as he decides to wager his earnings on a dog race. While he might lose his money, the family ends up with their beloved dog, Santa's Little Helper.
This installment marks an important, and somewhat confusing, entry into the annals of The Simpsons. Technically, it's the series' first episode following their shorts in The Tracey Ullman Show, though it is billed on-screen as "The Simpsons Christmas Special," with "Bart the Genius" being billed as its actual series premiere.
Understandably, comparing the first episode of the series to subsequent holiday episodes when the series was a much more fully formed concept feels a bit unfair, but even its debut installment stands above a number of subsequent storylines. Being titled "Simpsons Christmas Special" marks an accurate reflection of the actual content, as it largely features expected tropes and send-ups you'd see in similar made-for-TV specials, but a Simpsons Christmas Special is still much funnier than more traditional holiday events.prevnext
4) "'Tis’ the Fifteenth Season" - Season 15, Episode 7
After trading a rare baseball card to Comic Book Guy, the Simpson family have plenty of money to go shopping for Christmas presents, only for Homer to blow most of their funds on a "personalized talking astrolabe," as the family calls him out for being selfish. Vowing to become the nicest guy in town, Homer embarks on a genuinely charitable crusade, only for his efforts to go too far as he steals the town's presents in hopes of teaching them to be less materialistic. As he threatens to burn all the presents, he realizes he may have gone too far and returns the presents to the town.
It's rare to get an episode about Homer actively trying to be a good person, without also being given the unintended consequences of those efforts, which often involve him causing more harm than good, with longtime fans surely appreciating his genuine attempts to improve as a person. Add to that is a direct parody of The Grinch, alongside other Simpson-ized holiday specials, making for quite the enjoyable experience. You'd also be hard-pressed to see any other Christmas episode of any series that finds a way to organically incorporate an astrolabe, which earns this installment a few more bonus points.prevnext
3) "Grift of the Magi" - Season 11, Episode 9
Following Bart accidentally breaking his "butt bone," Springfield Elementary has to enlist the mob to pay for the building of ramps for his wheelchair, which bankrupts the school and forces them to be privatized. The new owners of the school are secretly collecting data from the students to create the world's best toy, "Funzo," leaving Bart and Lisa to expose the company for their true intentions.
Lisa and Bart make the perfect foils for one another, as Lisa typically drives the story forward as Bart chimes in with his unhelpful assistance, while this structure also allows Homer and other Springfield residents to completely fly off the handle, as they do in this episode. To some, the seasons in the double digits mark the decline of the series as a whole, with "Grift of the Magi" ushering in the unfulfilling future of the series, though it stands as a last gasp of delightful absurdity.
For example, Gary Coleman voices himself as a security guard at Kid First Industries, with later episodes often settling for the mere inclusion of a celebrity voice hoping of eliciting laughter. Instead, this episode shows him arguing on the phone with a restaurant about the number of prawns he received in his order, only for Lisa to reveal the phone isn't even plugged in. This combination of initial absurdity, only to then get a subsequent and more outlandish punchline, highlights some of the best of the series' humor.prevnext
2) "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace" - Season 9, Episode 10
When Bart wakes up early on Christmas morning, he unwraps his toys but unfortunately burns down the Christmas tree and hides it in the front yard, blaming everything on a burglar. Following the subsequent news coverage, the rest of the town donates money to the family, which they use to buy a car. After the melting snow uncovers what really happened, the town breaks into the Simpson home seeking retribution, leaving the family to bicker over the only thing left in the house, a raggedy washcloth.
This is a rare example of the entire family being the focus of the episode and where all of them get to deliver great jokes. Whether they're arguing about how to best maneuver out of a skid when their new car hits ice or how they immediately know what to do when walking past the Flanders' home and pretend to have cross country skis by sliding across the sidewalk, each character supports one another to enable the best delivery of hilarious jokes.
Adding to the strength of the ensemble humor and plenty of holiday cheer, the episode ends with a relatively touching moment in which, despite having every reason to be angry at Bart, they all playfully argue over a washcloth, reminding us of the importance of family, even in the face of loss. The episode also offers a cameo from Alex Trebek, as Marge appeared on Jeopardy! in hopes of making up their lost funds, only for Trebek to threaten her to pay back the show after ending with a negative balance. In the wake of Trebek's passing earlier this year, it serves as another spotlight of his sense of humor.prevnext
1) "Marge Be Not Proud" - Season 7, Episode 11
Not only the best holiday episode of The Simpsons, "Marge Be Not Proud" is arguably one of the series' best, solidifying it as the go-to installment to define the series' seasonal accomplishments.
The only thing Bart wants for Christmas is the video game Bonestorm, with his desperation seeing him shoplifting the game. After he gets busted by security, Marge expresses how she's not so much angry with him so much as she is disappointed, with the episode seeing him being omitted from typical family events as Marge feels he's "too old." Bart ultimately returns to the Try n' Save to have his portrait taken, which he gives to Marge to make up for ruining their family photo.
The opening minutes of this episode have enough hilarious moments to cement itself as one of the best holiday-themed episodes the series has to offer, from Krusty struggling to pronounce the name of a Brazillian singer to Bart demanding of parents, "Buy me Bonestorm or go to Hell!" to Milhouse's shock and awe at entering his name into Bonestorm as "Thrillhouse," only for audiences to see he could only fit "Thrillho," the jokes comes fast and heavy, rarely going more than 30 seconds without making us laugh.
From there, the jokes might slightly slow down, but the emotional arc of Bart escalating his typical mischief into petty theft and how this signals a transition from being a kid into being a pre-teen will surely resonate with audiences, as many of us can remember a time where, no matter how old we were, we wished that our parents would provide us the same support as they did when we were 10.
While the entire cast of characters gets to deliver hilarious lines, Homer ends up becoming a true standout, thanks to Dan Castellaneta's subtle performance. From his objections to helping Bart with his "zipper" problem to confirming Bart won't get eggnog, "In fact, no nog, period," to his monologue about the Police Academy movies, the actor confirms Homer as a defining figure in the history of comedy with every single syllable.
Virtually every holiday episode of The Simpsons has something to offer fans, but "Marge Be Not Proud" is the series at its finest, successfully delivering the feather touch of emotions and the power drive of silliness.0comments
What's your favorite holiday episode of The Simpsons? Let us know in the comments below or contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter to talk all things horror and Star Wars!prev