5. “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” Community

Community wasn’t above a gimmick episode every now and then, and “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” certainly appeared like one. Presented in stop-motion animation and featuring the gang going on a cheery adventure through a candy-filled land to find Abed (Danny Pudi) — each of the obstacles a metaphor for Abed’s inner demons. In the end, the story turns bittersweet: It turns out Abed’s elaborate delusion of a stop-motion musical episode was a way for him to cope with his parents not visiting him for Christmas. It’s a poignant and personal episode that finds the balance between bitter comedy and sweet Christmas spirits, with the study group ultimately uniting around Abed to create their own holiday tradition.

Where to Find It: Hulu

4. “Amends,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Speaking of inner demons, for a show that makes it its business to fight them, there’s not a demon in sight in Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s outstanding Christmas episode, “Amends.” That’s because this Angel-centric episode is all about dealing with the ghosts of one’s past, spurred on by the First Evil. But the episode’s slow-moving, existential take on Christmas just works, with Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Angel’s (David Boreanaz) climactic battle of philosophies taking on shades of It’s a Wonderful Life and the ever-present A Christmas Carol. Haunted by the ghosts of the countless people he’s killed, Angel decides to put an end to his misery. As Angel bemoans that he is not strong enough to live, Buffy tearfully counters, “Strong is fighting! It’s hard, and it’s painful, and it’s every day. It’s what we have to do. And we can do it together.” It’s not her words that stop her — that would be too sentimental for this dark episode — but Christmas magic: snowfall in California. The episode offers a bold approach to a potentially treacly Christmas episode, introducing a sinister, abstract presence that Buffy can’t punch, and an uplifting ending that seems miraculous even by Buffy‘s standards.

Where to Find It: Hulu

3. “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” The Simpsons

It’s fitting that America’s favorite long-running cartoon would have kicked off its 28-year run with a Christmas episode. The very first episode of The Simpsons to air was its Christmas special, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” and it’s a little shocking to see how much the family has changed since then: Homer was a mean grouch, Springfield was a drab middle-America town. But even as the episode goes down some dark and surprisingly grim paths, The Simpsons wraps up its introduction in a nice red bow, making you fall in love with the humble family as they close out the episode with a heart-warming rendition of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Where to Find It: FXNow or SimpsonsWorld.com with a Preview Pass or cable login

2. “Night of the Meek,” The Twilight Zone

The Twilight Zone bucks its reputation as a purveyor of macabre morality tales for this earnest episode about a down-on-his-luck man who only wants to save Christmas. An alcoholic mall Santa becomes despondent at people losing sight of the true spirit of Christmas, only to discover a magical gift-giving bag that allows him to be the real Santa Claus for a night. The twist: there is none. He is able to give joy to children, adults, and even the authorities who arrest him for stealing the presents that he doles out. Like Rod Serling tells us in the closing narration, that’s the “wondrous magic to Christmas.”

Where to Find It: Netflix

1. “The Constant,” Lost

“The Constant” is by far one of the best episodes of Lost, if not one of the best hours of television ever. And to tell the truth, Christmas plays a minimal but pivotal role in this metaphysical episode, merely providing the setting for Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) and Penny’s (Sonya Walger) reunion. But despite the sci-fi technobabble and the head-spinning narrative, “The Constant” is at its heart the ultimate Christmas episode. The episode follows a confused Desmond as he becomes “unstuck” in time, flashing back and forth between his past and present. The temporal whiplash threatens to drive Desmond mad, unless he can find a “constant,” a person who can ground his subconscious at any point in his life. That person is Penny, the love of his life, with whom he reunites in a teary phone call on Christmas, the two of them stuttering their love for each other before quickly being separated again. It’s a dense, gripping episode that plays as a perfect parable about the holidays: There’s nothing that is truer to Christmas spirit than celebrating human connection amidst the chaos and uncertainty of the world.

Where to Find It: Netflix (But hurry, it’s leaving in January.)

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