For a show with the volume and quality of output as The Simpsons, it never really excelled when it comes to Christmas specials. It has Halloween nailed down with its Treehouse of Horror outings, but it has struggled to produce as regularly when it comes to the festive season. That’s not to say there are not some enjoyable Simpsons Christmas specials out there though. While some are instantly forgettable and are a long way of the show’s best, there are a selection of outings which are well worth a Christmas re-watch.
Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire – Season 1
The show’s very first episode way back in 1989 was a Christmas special and it set the bar for all such attempts which followed it. Obviously this is an awfully long time ago and re-watching it, the dramatically more basic animation is a distraction of sorts. However there’s still plenty of warmth, humour and festive cheer on display which more than makes up for it. The episode’s central story revolves around Homer taking on a second job to help pay for the family Christmas after Marge uses their savings to have a tattoo of Bart’s removed. It finishes with the family gaining a pet in Santa’s Little Helper and indulging in a festive sing-song of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Marge Be Not Proud – Season 7
Perhaps my favourite of all the show’s Christmas specials, this episode revolves around Bart getting caught shoplifting and consequentially trying to re-earn his mother’s trust at Christmas time. Marge losing patience with her son has been a long time coming and Bart’s decision to steal Bonestorm is the last straw. There’s plenty of great moments dotted throughout this one, including Nelsons assertion that “shoplifting is a victimless crime, like punching someone in the dark”, and Milhouse’s gaming screen name of “Thrillho”. The episode’s climax also includes one of the show’s most touching moments as Bart finally finds a way to win back his mother’s love.
Miracle on Evergreen Terrace – Season 9
Bart ruins another Christmas here, this time by waking up extra early, opening his present and proceeding to inadvertently burn down the family tree and remaining gifts. This leads to the ever dependable Springfield residents banding together to ensure the Simpsons family doesn’t miss out on Christmas. When the truth is revealed, the family soon become pariahs. Luckily all is forgiven as the locals decide to loot the family home in order to extract what they had donated. The townsfolk are brought together by mutual annoyance with the family, and the Simpsons themselves learn an valuable lesson about not needing material things to truly appreciate Christmas.
Grift of the Magi – Season 11
In this episode, Kid First Industries take over Springfield Elementary and after first replacing the staff they then proceed to use the pupils for market research. The end result is the cuddly Funzo toy which is itself programmed to destroy its Christmas toy rivals. This results in Homer and the kids spending Christmas Eve breaking in to houses and stealing the Funzo dolls. There’s a great cameo from Gary Coleman as an unexpected security guard and along the way we also learn Homer’s Christmases saved/ruined ratio. A respectable 3 to 8, with 2 others “kind of a draw”.
She of Little Faith – Season 13
A not especially Christmassy episode here, but one which tackles the religious side of Christmas pretty darn well. After Homer and Bart accidentally blow up the church with a rocket, “the word “unblowupable” is thrown around a lot these days”, the resultant corporatisation of the church sees Lisa turn to Buddhism as an alternative. This sets her at odds with Marge as the festive season fast approaches and Reverend Lovejoy encourages Marge to bribe Lisa back to the fold with Christmas. It basically follows the same framework as the vegetarianism episode only with religion, but the overarching message of religious tolerance is a timely one.