Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the town, not a creature was stirring – not even Krusty the Clown. So gather round children, and with joy in our heart, let’s rate the festive adventures of Homer, Marge, Lisa, Maggie and Bart.
For the purpose of this exercise, a Christmas episode will be one in which the plot revolves around the holiday. So “Dude, Where’s My Ranch?” doesn’t count, despite the fact it features Homer writing the well-known Christmas song “Everybody Hates Ned Flanders”. The same goes for “Behind the Laughter”, which includes hit album Simpsons Christmas Boogie but is ultimately not about Christmas. (Also, this ranking will only go up to Season 15, because the less said about the 2010 holiday special featuring a live-action Katy Perry, the better.)
So without further ado: have a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a kwazy Kwanza, a tip-top Tet, and a solemn, dignified Ramadan.
7. Skinner’s Sense of Snow
I am of the personal and correct belief that Principal Skinner is one of the most underrated Simpsons characters and has some of the show’s best lines (“Good evening, everyone, and welcome to a wonderful evening of theatre and picking up after yourselves”). So what could be better than an episode in which he gets trapped in the school with his students by a snowstorm, ultimately to be rescued by the class hamster? However, despite its strong premise this episode is not really that memorable. Maybe this is because it’s just not as heartwarming or infused with hard-hitting moral lessons as The Simpsons’ other Christmas tales. This is a strong category.
6. ‘Tis the Fifteenth Season
This merely pretty good episode is spared from being last because of one overlooked but great Simpsons character: Homer’s talking astrolabe from the Springfield Heights Promenade – “the rich people’s mall!” I finished this episode still unsure as to what an astrolabe is. That doesn’t even matter. It also features the 1986 holiday classic, Christmas with the California Prunes (“This is offensive to both Christians and prunes!” – Lisa).
5. Miracle on Evergreen Terrace
There will be no fire truck for little Bart, no sweater for little Lisa, no Cajun sausage for little Homer – and no escaping the emotional weight of this episode. Despite being from 1997, “Miracle on Evergreen Terrace” provides some good foreshadowing of a future world in which every misfortune leads to an online fundraising page – which in turn can actually cause more problems. It also makes excellent use of Kent Brockman, who tells viewers while reporting on the Simpson family’s apparent Christmas burglary: “So while you’re home today, eating your sweet, sweet, holiday turkey, I hope you’ll all choke… just a little bit.”
4. Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire
The origin story of Santa’s Little Helper – and the first episode of The Simpsons’ inaugural season – carries a lot of sentimental value. But it is also a great episode in its own right. The story packs a huge amount into 20 minutes, introducing ideas which become recurring themes throughout the show – from Bart’s bad behaviour ruining Christmas to Homer going behind Marge’s back to hide a shameful secret, and things ultimately turning out OK despite his failures as a husband and father. Oh, and it brings the Happy Little Elves into our lives.
3. She of Little Faith
This episode is the closest I ever came to paying attention to an RE lesson. It’s also another appearance for Nibbles the hamster, who up until now I did not realise was such a frequent guest star. Like “Lisa the Vegetarian”, it’s a masterclass in personal growth and discovery as she explores Buddhism. What more could you want at Christmas than an anti-capitalist message, a David Bowie reference (Reverend Lovejoy refuses to ask him for help in the wake of Homer’s wanton destruction because “he’s done enough for this church”), and Milhouse and Ralph dressed up as two halves of a pony.
2. Grift of the Magi
One of the reasons I struggle to get behind the orthodoxy that “the first ten seasons are the only real Simpsons” is that this Season 11 episode is one of my all-time favourites. There is not a single line in it that isn’t funny. The maybe-occasionally-bordering-on-problematic mocking of Gary Coleman aside, it’s virtually flawless. It features Krusty’s Non-Denominational Holiday Funfest. Funzo is hysterical. There’s an underlying message about the commercialisation of Christmas and the creeping privatisation of state education. Bart confuses the words “ironing” and “irony”. Detective-mode Lisa is on fire throughout. Milhouse and Bart appear in drag at the beginning. The title is also a clever play on “gifts of the Magi” (otherwise known as the three wise men, thank you Wikipedia).
1. Marge Be Not Proud
It wouldn’t be exaggerating to say this episode is the foundation on which rests my entire moral code. It’s the main reason I have never shoplifted. For an episode which revolves around the relationship between Marge and Bart, it features a pleasing amount of Milhouse; it’s also the reason that whenever I tried to grass up my brother as a child my own mother would sarcastically shout at me: “MUM, BART’S SMOKING.” It’s one of the best depictions of peer pressure and guilt I’ve ever seen on screen (writer Mike Scully has said the plot was based on his own childhood experience). And the ending – in which Marge innocently buys the wrong video game and Bart pretends it was the one he wanted all along – hits you harder than a golf club from Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge.