Since its official debut on December 17, 1989, The Simpsons has been synonymous with the holiday season. Unless you caught Fox’s famous cartoon family in their interstitial The Tracey Ullman Show shorts, they first entered your life in the form of a Christmas special. And the full month between said special and the first season’s start only made The Simpsons’ take on Christmas more popular. Simply put, we’d never seen anything like it before—and didn’t realize we’d be seeing it for the next 30 years.
Since The Simpsons’ immediate rise to fame shortly after its premiere, the show’s producers have played their Christmas cards carefully. While most year-long TV series typically produce an annual holiday episode, The Simpsons tends to be much choosier when it comes to Christmas content. If you’re looking to watch some holiday appropriate Simpsons episodes in this, the season of nog, you can’t go wrong with our top five.
5. “‘Tis the Fifteenth Season”
“‘Tis the Fifteenth Season” shows Homer at both his worst and his best in this memorable Christmas Simpsons. After receiving a financial windfall from an unwitting Mr. Burns, the family heads out to buy some pricey Christmas presents at the Springfield Heights Promenade. But instead of spending their newfound cash on gifts and a tree, Homer sneaks away to buy him a pricey talking astrolabe—one that later tests its smoke alarm for a full three hours.
Ultimately, “‘Tis the Fifteenth Season” acts as a tribute to Christmas specials of the past, which inspire Homer to change his greedy ways. After watching “Mr. McGrew’s Christmas Carol”—a not-so-subtle parody of a similar Mr. Magoo cartoon—Homer vows to be the nicest guy in Springfield, putting even Ned Flanders to shame. Homer’s plan backfires, though, when he misinterprets some Buddhist advice from Lisa and steals the townspeople’s gifts with the intent of burning them in the town square. “‘Tis the Fifteenth Season” may not hit the same heights as other Christmas Simpsons, but its dark ending—where Springfieldians mistake a rescue flare shot by a dying Hans Moleman for a vision of god—ties an appropriately cynical bow on this holiday episode.
4. “Miracle on Evergreen Terrace”
“Bart ruins Christmas” seems to be a common thread throughout these holiday Simpsons episodes. But, to be fair, Bart’s Christmas-ruining in “Miracle on Evergreen Terrace” comes about as a complete accident—though one fueled by selfishness. In an attempt to get the jump on Christmas presents, Bart wakes up before the rest of the family and digs into his bounty. But a mishap with a remote control fire truck soon turns the tree and the gifts beneath into a congealed mass of melted plastic.
Bart cooks up a story about burglars taking the gifts—and the tree for some reason—but soon caves when he can’t take the guilt of seeing the citizens of Springfield open their hearts and wallets for The Simpsons. He confesses to the family, who then has to share some of the guilt, and ultimately gets found out as a fraud when Kent Brockman’s crew uncovers the frozen Christmas blob where Bart buried it under snow. The town then takes its revenge on The Simpsons by looting their home, leaving them a solitary washcloth that Homer, Marge, Bart, and Lisa playfully fight over as the episode comes to a close. Many shows have done the “presents don’t matter” holiday message before, but only The Simpsons would deploy this moral using mob justice.
3. “Holidays of Future Passed”
Surprisingly, “Holidays of Future Passed” could very well have been The Simpsons series finale when it aired in 2011. When rocky contract negotiations made it seem as if the 495th episode would serve as The Simpsons’ last, the team decided it would only be fitting to go out with a Christmas episode. If things hadn’t worked out in The Simpsons’ favor, the show would span 22 seasons, neatly bookended by two Christmas episodes.
The Simpsons obviously continued after 2011, but “Holidays of Future Passed’s” status as a possible series finale definitely gives it more emotional oomph. And despite being a possible series finale, this episode doesn’t focus on The Simpsons we know and love. Instead, it jumps 30 years into the future for a glimpse at where Marge and Homer’s parenting have brought Lisa, Bart, and Maggie. Even though “Holidays of Future Passed” contains plenty of Futurama-style jokes about things to come, the pure emotionality shines through and gives the series a nice sense of closure. The true series finale—whenever that happens—will have to work pretty hard to beat this one.
2. “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”
“Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” isn’t just the first Simpsons episode to air; it also helped save the show. Though launching with a Christmas special seems ingenious in retrospect, Fox originally planned to premiere the first season in the fall of 1989. The writers and the animation team weren’t quite on the same page, though, causing enough delays to push season one’s formal debut all the way to January of 1990.
So, while the first Simpsons Christmas special might exist as the first true episode the world has ever seen, it’s actually the eighth episode produced. That’s fine, though, since this darkly comic Christmas adventure does a much better job of introducing the core cast than the true first episode where Bart squares off against his one-time enemy, The Babysitter Bandit. And, more importantly, this episode introduces Santa’s Little Helper, whose name acts as an underlying reference to the Simpsons’ Christmas originals. “Roasting on an Open Fire” doesn’t quite have the same energy as the more quoted episodes, but as an introduction to 30 years of The Simpsons, it certainly does a great job.
1. “Marge Be Not Proud”
If you loved video games in the mid-’90s, “Marge Be Not Proud” definitely spoke to you with its pitch-perfect parodies when it aired in 1995. For this particular Christmas, Bart has his eyes set on Bonestorm: An uber-violent take on Mortal Kombat that honestly doesn’t feel that ridiculous 20 years later. When Marge refuses to buy him such an expensive, violent gift, Bart shoplifts a copy from the Try-N-Save, setting up some of the more heart-wrenching moments ever seen on The Simpsons.
More than anything, “Marge Be Not Proud” hammers home the message that nothing feels more miserable than truly disappointing the people who love and trust you. Even though Bart’s ready to take his medicine, the punishment he receives is far worse than anything he anticipated: complete emotional detachment from Marge. Bart’s attempt to win his mom over again gives “Marge Be Not Proud” the most heartwarming ending of any Christmas episode—one the writers aren’t afraid to immediately undercut afterwards with a look at the lousy (unbeknownst to her) video game she bought him. All in all, “Marge Be Not Proud” makes for a fantastic Simpsons episode that doesn’t let its heartfelt moments get in the way of telling great jokes.