Some of the best episodes of TV’s longest-running sitcom, “The Simpsons,” have been their holiday episodes. Most people take the time to praise the annual “Treehouse of Horror” episodes, and for a very good reason, but “Simpsons” has another group of holiday episodes that are just as integral and iconic: the Christmas episodes. So integral in fact, the series’ first episode to make it on the air was the Christmas episode “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” (However, it wasn’t the first episode to be produced. Production troubles and last-minute delays from FOX forced “Roasting” to air first)
Most Simpsons countdowns look at the “Treehouse of Horror” segments, but it’s hard to find one that looks at the episodes that involve Homer and family celebrating the holly jolly holiday. Below is the non-definitive ranking of each Christmas episode, going from the worst to the best. Of course, the rankings are subjective to the author, and even the lousier episodes still deserve a watch, as holiday episodes are one of the few times “The Simpsons” actually does something right.
White Christmas Blues: When Springfield becomes the only place in America that has snow, Marge turns the house into a bed and breakfast to disastrous results. What makes this the worst of the bunch is how unbearably dull its premise and writing is. None of the jokes land, the commentary is basic, and its ending is awkward. It isn’t funny, heartwarming, or anything that makes a good Simpsons ending. It just…exists. Both forgettable and frustrating, “White Christmas Blues” is not worth anyone’s time.
Grift of the Magi: When Springfield Elementary is forced to close down, a toy company buys and privatizes the school, in a secret attempt to create the next hit toy that’s so popular, and it literally destroys any other toy it comes across. This is one of the more forgettable episodes, on the basis it just feels like the writers were going through the motions. While its jabs at popular toys like Furbies and Tickle Me Elmo could have worked, the jokes feel tired and played out, and it doesn’t really offer many surprises. The only saving graces are every time guest star Gary Coleman appears, and the ending spoofing both Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life. Outside of that, there’s not much to enjoy, and it’s hard to find any reason to rewatch it.
Kill Gil, Parts 1 & 2: The Simpsons’ family lawyer Gil is jobless, so Marge asks him to stay at their place until he gets back on his feet. The problem is that he never gets a job, as he mooches off the family. This episode’s writing is pretty clunky. The resolution is tacky and rushed, it only barely connects to the Christmas season, and its comedy is largely unfunny, including an awful running gag where Homer is being stalked by a guy in a Grinch costume. One or two jokes get a chuckle, which helps in making the episode land above “White Christmas Blues,” but “Kill Gil” is a pretty big dud.
Dude, Where’s My Ranch?: After Homer makes a hit Christmas song that grinds on the family’s nerves, the Simpsons go to a dude ranch to escape the song. The first third is on point, with Homer’s song “Everybody Hates Ned Flanders” offering a lot of laughs. But once the story gets to the ranch, it’s a pretty mediocre episode. There are some amusing bits, including one where Homer and Bart fight a group of beavers, but it’s largely forgettable, and one that only just barely connects to Christmas, making it a hard one to get into the spirit of.
The Nightmare After Krustmas: Krusty wants to spend more time with his daughter, whose mom made her convert to Christianity. Thus, Krusty converts and attempts to celebrate Christmas. The main plot is pretty forgettable, save for a bit where Krusty has an “Itchy & Scratchy” episode themed to piousness, including a hilarious Poochie cameo, but what makes it more entertaining is the episode’s subplots. Reverend Lovejoy attempts to convert the non-Christians in Springfield, while Maggie faces her fear against an “Elf on the Shelf” toy. Both offer amusing moments, and some enjoyable lines and sequences, even if they are only slightly more memorable than Krusty’s plot. Nothing great, nothing terrible, “Nightmare After Krustmas”…exists, I guess.
Simpsons Christmas Stories: Similar to the annual “Treehouse of Horror” episodes, this features three short stories themed around Christmas. The first, a retelling of the Nativity, is easily the best of the bunch. Every character is perfectly cast, with Mr. Burns as King Herod obviously being a riot. Add in some funny “Three Stooges” references, and some funny moments between Bart as Baby Jesus and Homer as Joseph, and it’s an absolute joy. The other two shorts sadly don’t hit the mark. The second involving Grandpa Abe meeting Santa while marooned on an island during World War II is largely forgettable. The third is a musical episode themed to the music from “The Nutcracker,” and while this certainly has some tender moments and a couple of enjoyable musical sequences, it isn’t particularly funny or heartwarming to make the short really stand out. Watch the first segment, and feel free to skip the other two.
I Won’t Be Home for Christmas: After Homer stays at Moe’s Tavern to give the suicidal bartender some company, through a huge misunderstanding, Homer is kicked out of the house and is forced to wander the streets of Springfield alone. This episode works from both a comedic and sentimental standpoint. Flanders, Comic Book Guy, and Gil all have memorable and funny moments, but the audience is also able to sympathize with Homer, and like any good episode of the show, reveals he isn’t just some dumb punchline. He’s a character who’s trying to do his best, but doesn’t always have the answer. Add in a tender ending that puts you in the Christmas mood, and “I Won’t Be Home” works as one of the better post-movie Christmas episodes of the show.
The Fight Before Christmas: Like “Simpsons Christmas Stories,” this episode has multiple short stories, this time four, compiled into one episode. The first three all hit bullseyes, with the first one involving Bart in a “Polar Express” parody, as he attempts to meet Santa Claus through joining and advancing through the elf ranks. It’s able to be funny but also allow the side characters to shine, with Otto as the train conductor, and Krusty as Santa Claus garnering big laughs. The second, where Marge is in World War II, with the family forced to cope with the idea she won’t be home for Christmas, is generally sweet, but what makes it stand out is the “Inglorious Basterds” parody near the end. Without going into spoilers, it’s easily the highlight of the episode. The third story not only parodies Martha Stewart, but also features her as a guest star. It pokes fun at her in a clever way that doesn’t seem mean-spirited, and it also has a cute ending. The last one, which spoofs Jim Henson shows, isn’t particularly funny, even with Katy Perry guest starring in live-action, but the rest work very well regardless.
Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire: When this aired, it was the first time America met the Simpson family, and while it’s a bit clunky and rough around the edges today, it still succeeds as both a pilot and as a Christmas episode. Not only does the episode work as an introduction to both the main characters and many of the supporting cast, such as Patty, Selma, and Flanders, but it manages to be a great introduction of the show’s cynical, yet oddly warm identity. Little moments like Homer untangling the Christmas lights or the overworked mall Santas not only add charm, but relatability to the audience, giving viewers a more grounded look at family and life, at a time when cheesy, sentimental family sitcoms dominated the airwaves. It definitely isn’t as funny as many other episodes on the list, and part of the reason why I like it so much mainly has to do with its heartwarming ending but it’s a great introduction, and without its success, we would have never gotten this iconic series to begin with.
Miracle on Evergreen Terrace: When Bart accidentally burns down the Christmas tree and presents, he fabricates a lie about a burglar. This makes the whole town pitch in and help the family out, but once Bart reveals the truth, things go awry. Out of all the episodes on this list, “Evergreen Terrace” is probably the darkest, as every single moment of happiness is disrupted by something terrible. The episode begins with a hokey Christmas intro, but then Bart burns down the tree. All of the townsfolk give the Simpsons money, but very soon the town turns against the family once Bart reveals the truth. Homer buys a fancy new car, but it blows up in the next scene. But what makes the episode work, in spite of all the cynicism, is the comedy, which is full of great recurring gags, including a funny orphan scene, and memorable moments from Kent Brockman. It also has a bittersweet yet still somewhat poignant ending to help wash out the cynical undertones. “Evergreen Terrace” is an episode that I would not be surprised if people weren’t huge fans of, but as someone who enjoys when the series goes darker than usual, I can find plenty to enjoy and laugh at.
Skinner’s Sense of Snow: Bart, Lisa, the other kids, and Principal Skinner are all snowed in on the last day of school before Christmas break, where the kids usurp Skinner’s reign and take over the building. It just barely connects to Christmas, but it works because of the way the kids play off one another, as well as with Skinner. In addition, there’s a funny Cirque de Soleil parody and Flanders and Homer have a fun subplot. It’s a fun episode with some fun gags, and some fun writing. And sometimes, that’s all you need for a good Simpsons episode.
‘Tis the Fifteenth Season: After Homer has an epiphany over how he treats others, Homer decides to become the nicest man in Springfield, causing a rivalry between him and Ned Flanders. “Christmas Carol” parodies are a dime a dozen, but this gives a nice twist, as it shows what happens after the character is haunted by the spirits and how it affects the world. It’s a great concept that’s able to be pulled off thanks to its strong comedy and clever references, especially at the end when Homer becomes the Grinch and steals everyone’s Christmas toys in an attempt to show how nice he is. (It makes sense in the episode) With smart writing and an enjoyable story, “’Tis the Fifteenth Season” is a highly memorable episode that’s inspired and entertaining.
Holidays of Future Passed: Taking place thirty years into the future, the kids meet up at their parents place for Christmas, alongside their kids, as they all try and handle their own unique problems. Of all the “future” episodes found in “The Simpsons,” this ranks as one of the best. Not only is there a laugh a minute, with a seemingly endless line of jokes and references, but it’s fun to see the characters old and grown up. Ralph gets a laugh, Apu and his family have some enjoyable scenes, but the real standout is the Simpson family. Seeing Homer go from a buffoon to a lovable Grandpa is smartly handled and very pleasant to watch, Maggie being a world famous singer who lost her voice is genius, and Patty and Selma being rejected by robots who were programmed to love them is dark, yet hilarious. However, the best part of the episode is Lisa and Bart as parents. They both have problems that are believable and stick to their personalities, but what makes it even better is a scene where the two are in the treehouse drinking wine together and talking about their problems. As someone whose favorite characters are the Simpson siblings, it’s nice to see a moment where the two play around with each other, crack jokes, and find a way to get along with each other. It’s easily the best part of an otherwise terrific episode.
She of Little Faith: When the Springfield Church becomes commercialized and filled with advertisements in order to keep their funds up, Lisa loses her Christian faith, and becomes a Buddhist, to the indifference of Homer and Bart, and to the horror of Marge. Very few Christmas episodes tackle what it’s like when a family member leaves the religion, and this one not only does it in a way that’s both smartly-written and somewhat provocative, but I’d argue it’s the funniest Christmas episode. From Homer and Bart using a model rocket, to a John and Jackie Kennedy reference, to Carl and Lenny attempting to become Buddhists, to a hilarious cameo by Richard Gere, it piles on laugh after laugh, making this one of the smartest episodes both in its story and in its comedy.
Marge Be Not Proud: After being caught stealing a video game from a local convenience store, Bart is forced to handle severe repercussions for his actions, more importantly dealing with his relationship with his mother, Marge. Out of all the characters on the show, my personal favorite has always been Bart Simpson, and this episode is a prime example on why he’s such an endearing character. While there are a lot of great laughs, including video game parodies, jabs at consumerism, and some great one-liners from Homer (“Marge, is Lisa at Camp Granada?”), what makes the episode so memorable are the heartbreakers throughout the second half. Marge punishes Bart through flat-out ignoring his existence, and each scene featuring her excluding him from any sort of family activity is just gut-wrenching. Thankfully, the episode gives a happy ending that shows, as mentioned previously, why Bart is the best character on the show. He’s a troublemaker and will often do something shifty to make things go his way, but instead of being some one-dimensional annoyance, he’s still a kid who clearly loves his family, even if he doesn’t always express it in the right way. It’s a perfect episode that blends comedy, drama, and heart into a beautiful package, and is up there as one of the best episodes in the entire series, and the greatest Christmas episode.