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The best Christmas TV episodes and specials on Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu, Peacock and more

Dwight (Rainn Wilson) and Michael (Steve Carell) in The Office's Christmas episode
(Image credit: Reveille Productions / NBC via Peacock)

The time-honored tradition of a Christmas TV episode or special always brings the feels this time of the year (or in the end of the summer if you're Ted Lasso). Yes, the best Christmas movies are only one half of the holiday streaming tradition.

The best part of these episodes is that they often tend to work out of context. Sure, TV shows often fit in a season-long arc, but the medium is often written for maximum accessibility. No need to know what was happening on Seinfeld before we learned about the Festivus pole, just jump right in and watch. 

Similarly, anthology shows thrive in this season, as Black Mirror's "White Christmas" requires zero context (though it does have some easter eggs for previous episodes). And because we know not everyone has every service (oh if they were all as affordable as Hulu), we're organizing the best Christmas TV episodes and specials by platform.

Best Christmas TV episodes and specials on Netflix

Community: Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas

While Dan Harmon's Community looked like a traditional sitcom on paper, it was often truly inventive with episodes such as "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas." A stop-motion animation spectacular, this episode uses the style of a Rankin/Bass special to dive into Abed's depressing Christmas memories that he's repressed over the years. Memorable for many reasons, and not just the phrase "Christmas pterodactyl" and a riff on how disappointing the show LOST was, "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" is a heartfelt and funny slice of the Greendale Community College study group's life, and how I choose to remember Community (let's all repress season 6). – Henry T. Casey

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Seinfeld: The Strike

“The Strike” may or may not be the best episode of Seinfeld, but it’s arguably the most influential. That’s because we got a brand-new, real-world holiday out of it. Kramer learns that George’s father, Frank, made up his own December holiday called Festivus. At first, Kramer wants in, and George wants out — but the younger Costanza changes his tune when he realizes he can use Festivus as an excuse to avoid giving Christmas presents at work. As Festivus proceeds, we learn about beloved traditions, such as the Airing of Grievances and the Feats of Strength. We also learn about the Festivus Pole: a plain aluminum rod, as Frank finds tinsel “distracting.” While “The Strike” isn’t technically a Christmas episode, you can celebrate Festivus yourself on December 23. — Marshall Honorof

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GLOW: A Very GLOW Christmas

The cast of Glow in A Very GLOW Christmas

(Image credit: Ali Goldstein/Netflix)

Memorable just for its pro wrestling — it's a perfect medium for a retelling of A Christmas Carol — GLOW's Christmas episode is a winner for the emotional drama at hand. While the cast of Las Vegas's best (and likely only) all-female wrestling show enters the episode nearly at each other's throats, Carmen does her best to save the mood with a Secret Santa, which actually helps mend fences. Meanwhile, Debbie realizes her relationship with Tex is a farce, and decides to use what she's learned for the good of the gals — working with a despondent Bash to buy a new home for GLOW: the Orange County TV station KXN. And while the return of Keith to reunite with Cherry gave folks reason to cheer, the episode ends on a down note, as Ruth declines Debbie's offer to direct the revived GLOW — and leaves. A bittersweet goodbye for the series, which would have its fourth season greenlit and then canceled. – Henry T. Casey

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Downton Abbey: Christmas at Downton Abbey

Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery dancing on Downton Abbey

(Image credit: Carnival Film and Television Limited for Masterpiece)

Downton Abbey’s first Christmas special ends with a magical moment between Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew (Dan Stevens), one that fans had been hoping to see for two seasons. But before you get to that, the special starts with a miserable Mary stuck in an engagement to Sir Richard Carlisle. The upstairs aristocrats and downstairs servants are also feeling glum because Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) is on trial for murder. The outcome leads Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) to push his daughter to find true happiness, and Mary leaps at the chance to be with the man she loves. - Kelly Woo

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Black Mirror: White Christmas

Jon Hamm in Black Mirror "White Christmas"

(Image credit: Netflix)

You can block people online, but have you ever wanted to block them in person? That's just one of the delicious twisted premises in the core of Black Mirror's three-act special "White Christmas." It all begins with Joe Potter (Rafe Spall) and Matt Trent (Jon Hamm), sitting in a cabin on a snowy Christmas Day, going over how their lives went horribly wrong. Humans are being cloned and put inside "cookies" (digital eggs, not the files in your web browser). The giant twist at the end of the episode is too good to spoil, but safe to say this is a must-see edition of the tech-focused anthology series. – Henry T. Casey

BoJack Horseman: Sabrina’s Christmas Wish

A still from BoJack Horseman: Sabrina’s Christmas Wish

(Image credit: Netflix)

BoJack Horseman is a dark, weird, and unsettling meditation on depression and addiction, wrapped up in the bright colors and clever one-liners of a traditional animated sitcom. If you guessed that the show’s lone Christmas special, “Sabrina’s Christmas Wish,” would be equally bizarre, you guessed correctly. In this standalone episode, BoJack and his roommate Todd watch an old episode of BoJack’s sitcom, “Horsin’ Around,” in which the young orphan Sabrina wants a very special present from Santa Claus.

It’s fun to see BoJack and Todd skewer some of the ‘90s sitcom tropes we took for granted, from cheesy laugh tracks to worldbuilding that cracks under the slightest scrutiny. But toward the end, the special takes a melancholy turn, when a conversation about Santa Claus slowly morphs into a meditation on surveillance, morality and the nature of God. If you want a hilarious Christmas special that still asks some big questions, this is the one. — Marshall Honorof

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Best Christmas TV episodes and specials on HBO Max

Friends: The One With the Holiday Armadillo

David Schwimmer is Ross dressed as the Holiday Armadillo with son Ben

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Television)

Friends’ Thanksgiving episodes are more famous, but the sitcom’s Christmas installments are also some all-timers. The One With the Holiday Armadillo is one for the Ross highlight reel, right alongside “PIVOT!” and the leather pants incident. Ross dresses up in the hilarious outfit to show his son, Ben, that the holidays aren’t just about Christmas. He invents Santa’s friend, the Holiday Armadillo, to teach Ben about Hanukkah and Jewish traditions. Watching them light the candles is sweet, and seeing David Schwimmer’s hangdog face in the armadillo costume makes me crack up every single time. And let’s not forget Joey showing up in a Superman costume, because … he’s Joey! - Kelly Woo

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Fresh Prince of Bel-air: Twas the Night Before Christening

One thing you don’t find in most streaming shows is the “event” episode, which brings in a big celebrity or musician as a guest star, like Fresh Prince’s season 4 Christmas episode. It’s told via flashback, from the advanced year of 1998, when Phillip tells his younger son Nicky about the origin of his four middle names. Five years prior, his cousin Will (Will Smith) panics after seeing the expensive gifts the family got for the baby’s christening. As a result, he goes over the top, promising a performance by Boyz II Men. Will sneaks into a radio station to invite them, but things go awry. It looks like the christening and Christmas are ruined — but, luckily for Will, that’s not the end of the road. - Kelly Woo

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The O.C.: The Best Chrismukkah Ever

A Chrismukkah card featuring Cohens and Ryan Atwood on The O.C.

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Television)

The O.C. season 1 episode introduces the world Chrismukkah, the bi-religious holiday created by Seth Cohen (Adam Brody). It’s a genius way to combine the traditions of his Jewish father and Catholic mother. As Seth tells foster brother Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie), there’s no need to choose between a menorah and a candy cane — you can have both on Chrismukkah! Of course, it doesn’t solve all of Seth’s problems, like the fact that he’s two-timing Summer (Rachel Bilson) and Anna (Samaire Armstrong). Getting them the same gift? Bad look, dude. And so not in the Chrismukkah spirit. - Kelly Woo

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Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol

Who doesn’t love Doctor Who Christmas specials? They’re a chance to cut loose and tell standalone holiday stories with our favorite time-traveling alien and his cast of kooky companions. Every once in a while, though, the Christmas specials lean into the show’s darker, more dramatic side, which is precisely what happens in “A Christmas Carol.”

The Doctor’s companions, Amy and Rory, are stuck on a doomed spaceship, and only wealthy industrialist Kazran Sardick can save them. The only trouble is that Kazran is a bitter, miserly old man with no friends or family, and doesn’t especially care what happens to the young couple. The Doctor hops into the TARDIS to explore Kazran’s past, present and future, in predictably Dickensian fashion. Romantic, heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measure, A Christmas Carol is one of the finest episodes of Matt Smith’s run as the Doctor. — Marshall Honorof

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South Park: Woodland Critter Christmas

A notable departure for South Park, Woodland Critter Christmas swaps the gang’s usual foul-mouthed antics for a delightful, child-friendly tale of… No, of course not. What did you expect? Really it’s a very, very un-child-friendly tale of Satanism, abortion, blood orgies and a shotgun-toting Santa. It’s also incredibly funny. Just don’t let the kids watch it with you or they’ll never look at Christmas the same way again. – Marc McLaren

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Best Christmas TV episodes and movies on Hulu

Pinky and the Brain: A Pinky and the Brain Christmas

Pinky and Brain in A Pinky and the Brain Christmas

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Even as a grown man with a healthy grip on his emotions, A Pinky and the Brain Christmas makes me tear up every year. Like most episodes of Pinky and the Brain, this Christmas special is full of creative slapstick and slightly subversive “kids, ask your parents” jokes. But unlike most episodes of Pinky and the Brain, the Christmas special has an absolute gut punch of an ending. It’s sentimental, but not sappy.

Just as they do every night, Pinky and the Brain want to take over the world. Their plan this time around involves tricking Santa Claus into distributing mind control devices along with his usual Christmas presents. The genetically altered lab mice set out for the North Pole, and get up to all sorts of mischief in Santa’s workshop. But when Pinky’s quest to deliver a letter to Santa goes awry, Brain has to choose between his ambitions and his best friend. — Marshall Honorof

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The X-Files: How the Ghosts Stole Christmas

Great though The X-Files’ conspiracy-focused ‘mythology’ episodes were, the monster of the week episodes were always more fun, and season six standout How the Ghosts Stole Christmas is proof of that. At a loose end on Christmas Eve, Mulder persuades Scully to investigate a supposedly haunted house with him and the paid soon find themselves trapped in a creepy old mansion with a couple of mischievous spirits played by Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin. What follows is a glorious encapsulation of everything that made The X-Files so special at its peak, perfectly blending comedy and horror and throwing in some thoughtful meditations on loneliness into the mix too. There’s a distinctly Dickensian Christmas feel to it — and there’s not higher praise than that. – Marc McLaren 

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Lost: The Constant

Henry Ian Cusick as Desmond Hume in LOST

(Image credit: ABC Studios via Lostpedia)

Calling loved ones during the holiday season is always emotional, but Desmond Hume's long distance dial in Lost's episode The Constant takes the cake. Stuck on the island, Des has been mentally unhinged, and this episode shows us exactly why he's like that. He's without his "constant," the lovely Penelope Widmore, who he's been separated from for far too long. While Sayid, Minkowski and Desmond chase down answers on the freighter, we see more of her father Charles Widmore up to no good. The happy holiday ending, at least in the moment, does come for Des and Penny, when she gets a call from him on Christmas Eve. By this point, Lost had needed a big reason to stay interested, and their relationship helped keep the island drama afloat. – Henry T. Casey

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My So-Called Life: So-Called Angels

Wilson Cruz and Claire Danes star in My So-Called Life

(Image credit: ABC Productions)

One of the best teen dramas ever, My So-Called Life didn’t shy away from tackling serious issues, from sex to drugs to guns. The Christmas episode focuses on runaway teens and homelessness. A concerned Angela (Claire Danes) goes looking for Rickie (Wilson Cruz) when he’s forced onto the streets after a fight with his abusive uncle. Aided by a mysterious homeless girl (singer Juliana Hatfield), Angela finds him and wants to invite them both for Christmas dinner. But when her mother refuses, Angela herself runs away — causing Patty (Bess Armstrong) to reconsider her ideas of right and wrong. - Kelly Woo

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Veronica Mars: An Echolls Family Christmas

Jason Dohring and Teddy Dunn in Veronica Mars

(Image credit: Hulu)

Veronica Mars' first season is often remembered as perfect long-form modern noir storytelling, and An Echolls Family Christmas is part of why. The episode begins with a poker party going wrong for rich kid Logan Echolls, who loses $5,000 to Weevil — or at least he did until the money wasn't in the pot. These being angry high-schoolers who want to prove their machismo at every moment, things go very wrong very fast, and a laptop is stolen. Of course, it falls upon high schooler / wanna-be P.I. Veronica Mars to solve it all, as the episode spirals into a good tale of "who's conning who?". Extra points awarded for the usage of The Dandy Warhols' cover of "Little Drummer Boy." – Henry T. Casey

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Best Christmas TV episodes and movies on Disney Plus

Homer in Santa training in The Simpsons

(Image credit: Gracie Films and 20th Television via Disney Plus)

“Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” wasn’t just a Christmas special; it was a proof of concept for America’s favorite animated sitcom family. Up until this episode, The Simpsons comprised shorts on the Tracey Ullman Show. “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” would have to prove that the show could stand as a full half-hour comedy. Thankfully, it succeeded with flying colors. When Homer’s Christmas bonus doesn’t come through at work, he takes a second job as a mall Santa to buy presents for the family.

While the animation and voices are still a little rough, this Christmas special has the Simpsons’ signature mix of humor and heart. “It doesn’t seem possible, but I guess TV has betrayed me” encapsulates the show’s love/hate relationship with sitcom tropes. When Homer brings home a family dog as a Christmas present it feels sweet, but not cloying, just like all the best Simpsons episodes. — Marshall Honorof

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Best Christmas TV episodes and movies on Peacock

The Office: Christmas Party

The Office made something of a speciality of festive episodes with seven in all, but season’s two’s Christmas Party just pips season three’s A Benihana Christmas as the funniest. The plot revolves around the Dunder-Mifflin Secret Santa, but really (as always) it’s about Michael’s ham-fisted attempt to get his own way and the effect it has on the rest of the team. There are classic lines aplenty, some nice developments in the Jim’n’Pam plotline and one of the best endings of any Office episode. Buy yourself 15 bottles of vodka and an iPod and enjoy. – Marc McLaren

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Best Christmas TV episodes and movies on Apple TV Plus

If you’re going to see one Christmas special during the holiday season, make it A Charlie Brown Christmas. Originally airing in 1965, it still remains a classic — and its message still resonates today — as Charlie Brown searches for the true meaning of Christmas amid all the commercialism surrounding the holiday. It’s both melancholy and heartwarming, and has one of the best soundtracks for the season, too. We look forward to watching it every year — sometimes even more than once. — Mike Prospero

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Ted Lasso: Carol of the Bells

Danny Rojas in Ted Lasso: Carol of the Bells

(Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

Divisive in a weird way — the folks who don't like Christmas episodes didn't expect one to arrive smack-dab in the middle of August — Carol of the Bells is a pretty great outing for the folks at AFC Richmond. The episode hits all the right notes about the spirit of the season: Higgins opening his doors to the team's international players who aren't going home for the holidays, Rebecca making sure that Ted isn't alone wallowing in his depression and Roy puts in the work to help his niece Phoebe to fight her bad breath. – Henry T. Casey

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Marshall Honorof
Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.