If you own any sort of viewing device, I'm guessing you already know all the best Christmas movies. We do our best to take those in slowly enough to last through the 12 Days of Christmas (which is easier to do now that our kids don't get here until almost Christmas and would be crushed if we watched certain ones without them). But what about television episodes? I'm sure you have your favorite television series and most of them probably have a Christmas episode or two. I mean I asked my family for their favorite Christmas episodes and their answers ranged from the Simpsons to Bob's Burgers. To each, his own! In this post, I thought I'd share the television episodes we've grown to love for their distinctively "Advent" feel - as in waiting in the tension of suffering the hardships of a weary world while holding out hope for redemption.
We're always on the lookout for more quality television celebrating this theme truthfully and beautifully, so please send your suggestions! Here - in no particular order - is what Brian and I have chosen for the past couple of years.
p.s. There are all kinds of affiliate links in this post because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!
Rev. Christmas episode (season 2, episode 7)
Episode summary: Christmas. "The busiest time of year for a vicar, and Adam is full of ideas for his first Advent in London. However he soon discovers that Christmas at St Saviour's is quite different to his sleepy Suffolk parish."
So, this is Anglican priest and his wife are good-hearted, honest, if not completely holy. The humor is often irreverent, the cast of characters are completely broken, the worst of churchmanship is often on display, and yet.... We find this to be one of the television series (at least seasons 1 & 2 - haven't really watched season 3 totally yet) that most makes us want to serve the Church and the world for the rest of our lives. This episode, in particular, pretty much makes us weep. I think I view it from the eyes of girl who's had a front-row seat to the life of a pastor each December. But not December, only. Watch for the brief moment when Colin - the parish drunk - enters the sanctuary before the Christmas lunch and completely preaches the gospel. Yes, Merry Christmas, world.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip Christmas episode (Season 1, Episode 11)
Episode summary: "As he helps prepare the holiday show, Matt remains determined to bring the Christmas spirit to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Danny wrestles with his true feelings for Jordan."
We are unapologetic lovers of Aaron Sorkin, and sure do wish this series had lasted more than 1 season. In any case, we're glad it lasted long enough for the musical finale of the Christmas episode. If you don't watch the rest of the season, the rest of the storyline may or may not interest you. But the storyline about the displaced New Orleans' brass ensemble (led by the real-live Trombone Shorty) is absolutely magnificent.
The Waltons: The Best Christmas (Season 5, Episode 11)
Episode summary: With the Walton children growing up, this may be the last Christmas the family spends together. The family plans a celebration for Olivia, but disasters keeps everyone away from home.
Maybe it's because I re-watched this episode last year just before one of our kids got married and our youngest got ready to leave the house. Facing empty nest, I totally understood Mama Walton's need for everyone to be in one place, for the love of God! It's the Waltons which is almost as quintessential as Dickens. Turn off your cynicism, and enjoy.
Episode Summary: "Christmas is coming and the midwives of Nonnatus House are busier than ever. When an abandoned baby is discovered on the steps of the convent, the whole community rallies around to try and trace the mother. Meanwhile, Jenny Lee finds herself drawn into the mystery surrounding elderly local woman Mrs. Jenkins and Chummy is determined to stage an unforgettable nativity play."
The episode begins with an older Nurse Jenny reminiscing about her learning the true meaning of Advent her first year as a midwife in London's East End:
If you watch nothing else during Advent, watch this episode. It is gorgeous from start to finish. The scene with Nurse Jenny & Sister Evangeline bathing Mrs. Jenkin and dressing her wounds. The scoring of O Come, O Come Emmanuel is perfectly placed, but the scene with the "work house howl" is, perhaps, the truest soundtrack to Advent. May we have ears to hear and hands to serve.
Episode summary: "In the first of the "Dear Dad" episodes, Hawkeye's letter home to his father in Crab Apple Cove details Christmas in Korea: Radar ships a jeep home to Iowa, one piece at a time. Henry presents the monthly medical lecture - on sex, only to be heckled. Trapper helps deliver a calf. Frank berates Klinger for wearing dresses, and Klinger responds with physical violence. Hawkeye and Trapper sabotage Margaret's tent as a prank. Hawkeye even flies to the front line in a Santa suit in order to help a wounded soldier."
It's a classic. It's M.A.S.H. and Alan Alda at their respective best.
Episode summary: "Events circle around Toby getting involved in the fate of a dead Korean War veteran, reactions to a severe hate crime, and the ongoing controversy surrounding Leo's past alcohol and prescription drug abuse. It also earned Sorkin and Cleveland the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, as well as one for Richard Schiff."
For a (secular) Jewish man, Aaron Sorkin writes Christmas incredibly well. Maybe it's the outsider perspective that helps speak truth? Either way, West Wing has several excellent holiday-season episodes, but this - the very first - is our all-time favorite.
You might also be interested in some other "Advent favorite" lists:
- Our favorite Advent & Christmas books (for all ages)
- Our 10 favorite Advent & Christmas devotionals (for all ages)
- Our favorite Advent music (for all ages)