Holiday episodes of our favorite TV shows are the perfect way to get just about anyone in the mood for the season. Nowadays, shows are making episodes about Hanukkah and other winter holidays along with Christmas, but Christmas still features prominently. The prime era for Christmas episodes, however? The ’90s. Almost every 1990s sitcom out there did at least one Christmas episode, and that bout of nostalgia is perfect for rewatches at this time of year.
For holiday lovers out there, nothing beats the Christmas episodes from TV sitcoms from the 1990s. They’re a staple of holiday viewing for many, along with classic children’s movies and cheesy Hallmark specials. But with a busy holiday season, we only have time for so many. Which episodes are a must-watch? Below are ten of the best holiday sitcom episodes from the ’90s, ranked and discussed for your trip down memory lane. There are still ten days until Christmas—get your viewing in while you can!
10. Family Matters — “Have Yourself a Merry Winslow Christmas” (1990)
Admittedly, Family Matters is another ’90s sitcom that hasn’t aged all that well—its sense of humor and the cartoonish, over the top nerd portrayal in Steve Urkel is just a little too much for us nowadays. The show does have some solid episodes, however, and “Have Yourself a Merry Winslow Christmas” is one of them. In this episode, we learn that Steve is spending Christmas alone—he’s shut out of the Winslow’s celebrations because he broke Laura’s old-fashioned Christmas ornament, and the Urkel family has abandoned him for Hawaii. Steve is sad and alone in his basement until Laura feels guilty for the way she treated him, and she goes to find him and bring him over for Christmas after all. Also, Santa is real! It’s typical sitcom holiday fare. Saccharine? Sure. But the show’s heart is obviously in the right place, and for that, I commend it.
9. Full House — “A Very Tanner Christmas” (1992)
Full House is a quintessential ’90s sitcom, and it put out a couple of holiday episodes—with “A Very Tanner Christmas” being the best of the ones that aired in the 1990s. In this episode, Michelle and Stephanie are getting a little too greedy for their own good, so they’re taken to a shelter to serve food and learn the true meaning of the holiday. Meanwhile, DJ is sad that Steve will be moving away, and Becky is missing Christmas in her hometown. The episode is a little overly-sweet, just like most episodes of Full House—admittedly, the show hasn’t aged all that well. But it’s a solid episode, and who didn’t melt at the scene where Jesse rents a Sno-Cone machine to fill the backyard with “snow” for Becky? That scene alone makes this episode completely worthy to be on this list.
8. Everybody Loves Raymond — “The Toaster” (1998)
Of all the most-talked about sitcoms from the ’90s, Everybody Loves Raymond tends to be an afterthought or even left off the list entirely. The show, with its older cast members geared more towards those who were already adults in the 1990s, wasn’t often a child favorite. But Raymond put out some great episodes in its time, and “The Toaster” is certainly notable. In this episode, Ray thinks he has the perfect Christmas gift for his loved ones: personalized toasters! The problem, though, is that his parents Frank and Marie don’t want a toaster and they decide to return it without even opening it—and don’t realize it’s personalized with their names. The scene with Ray’s parents trying to return the toaster to a department store is full of some of the best sitcom comedy you’ll find anywhere, and the whole thing culminates with Frank in a room full of toasters. It’s an entertaining episode that doesn’t deviate far from the standard Everybody Loves Raymond fare.
7. Roseanne — “White Trash Christmas” (1993)
Just like with their Halloween episodes, Roseanne often went all out with their holiday episodes. It’s reminiscent of the Conner family’s attitude on holidays, actually: they, too, tend to go all out. “White Trash Christmas” is probably the best of the Roseanne Christmas episodes, and this one features Roseanne and Dan at their pettiest—and maybe at their best. In this episode, Roseanne and Dan receive a passive-aggressive note from their homeowners’ association urging restraint in outdoor holiday decor, calling out their lawn ornaments in detail. Roseanne and Dan, not ones to take peoples’ classist assumptions lightly, respond by creating a Christmas display that goes beyond tacky and into a completely garish spectacle. It isn’t shocking that the Conners are turning other peoples’ opinions of them on their heads—they’ve proved time and time again how much they delight in such a thing. It’s just a shame that the episode never showed the viewers the full scope of this abominable Christmas display. It sounds like it would’ve been good for a real laugh.
6. Home Improvement — “Yule Better Watch Out” (1991)
One of the best things about Home Improvement was its reliability. The show’s formula was always the same, characters always had their quirks, and no episode was complete without some advice or a chat with Wilson. Season 1’s “Yule Better Watch Out” really sets the stage for what viewers could expect not only for other Home Improvement Christmas episodes, but for the whole show itself. In this episode, Tim becomes overly invested in a neighborhood decorating competition (a plot point which the show revisits essentially every Christmas episode), Brad and Randy terrorize Mark by telling him that Santa died six years ago, Wilson gives Tim some great advice, and Santa shows up to grant Mark’s wish. It’s predictable, reliable, and exactly what fans of Home Improvement want to see from the show. A Home Improvement classic.
5. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air — “Deck the Halls” (1990)
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air certainly did its fair share of Christmas episodes, but none are quite as good as their very first. “Deck the Halls”, from Season 1, is Will’s first Christmas with his family in Bel-Air. He realizes that his Aunt and Uncle don’t celebrate Christmas in a child-friendly way, and his younger cousin Ashley has never experienced a real Christmas. Will, of course, won’t stand for this and goes out of his way to show her how wonderful a real Christmas can be—he decorates both the inside and outside of the mansion to the fullest extent, getting him in trouble with some neighbors. The episode is classic Fresh Prince, with Will’s well-meaning schemes getting out of hand and getting him into trouble. The nice thing about “Deck the Halls”, however, is that we get to see how good-hearted Will really is. We see that he’s more than just a screw-up and a comedian—he cares about his loved ones. It sets the tone for who Will’s character is in the series, and that is definitely worth a place on our list.
4. Saved by the Bell — “Home for Christmas, Parts 1 & 2” (1991)
Many holiday episodes tend to touch on the idea of giving and helping those less fortunate, but the two-part Saved by the Bell episode “Home for Christmas” does it in a slightly unique way. Despite the fact that it’s somewhat of a bottle episode (the characters of Frank & Laura Benton never appear again), it’s a memorable one. Over the holidays, the Saved by the Bell gang is working at the mall for extra cash, and wind up befriending one of their coworkers, Laura. They later discover that Laura and her father are homeless and living out of their car, and the group invites them in for Christmas and does what they can to help them. What I like about this episode is that it presents an image of homelessness that, to my younger self, was new: that homeless people aren’t just those who beg for money on the streets. They’re also working hard to put their lives back together and be productive citizens, and that isn’t always an easy feat. It’s a heartfelt and notable episode for Saved by the Bell, and certainly among one of their best.
3. Boy Meets World — “A Very Topanga Christmas” (1997)
“A Very Topanga Christmas” does what so many Boy Meets World episodes were beloved for—it exaggerates a very realistic scenario that many viewers can identify with, making the whole thing relatable and honest while still being funny. In this episode, Topanga comes to stay with the Matthews family over Christmas, and she and Cory clash over their ideas of how the holidays should be celebrated. It makes Cory doubt his future with her, and we’re treated to a wonderful segment where a ghost-like Mr. Feeny plays Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future to show Cory what his life would be like without Topanga. The episode has its laughs, but also hits on something many people face as they grow up: The sometimes-sticky subject of merging two peoples’ traditions, experiences, and goals to start a joined life together. The episode doesn’t talk down to its teenaged audience; instead, it shows them how to compromise and to cherish the good in their lives. It’s a personal favorite of mine, and certainly worth the watch.
2. Seinfeld — “The Strike” (1997)
This list absolutely wouldn’t be complete without this episode of Seinfeld. After all, “The Strike” gave us Festivus! December 23rd is Festivus for the rest of us, of course—it’s a time to erect your aluminum Festivus poles, gather around a Festivus feast, and air all your grievances with your loved ones. It’s one of the Seinfeld episodes that has truly made its way into the cultural lexicon of today—even those unfamiliar with the show are likely to have heard of Festivus. It’s an episode that celebrates Christmas, Hannukah, and Festivus, and also introduces other concepts such as a “two-face” (someone who looks beautiful under certain circumstances but hideous in others, depending on exterior conditions). Plus, it explains why Kramer has never held a job—he’s been on strike from his job at H&H Bagels for twelve years. It’s an episode that’s wacky in some ways and utterly mundane in others, making it relatable and quintessentially Seinfeld.
1. Friends — “The One With Phoebe’s Dad” (1994)
Most casual Friends fans would point to Season 7’s “The One With the Holiday Armadillo” as Friends‘ best Christmas episode, but that one just doesn’t belong on our list. First of all, “Holiday Armdillo” aired in 2000, so it doesn’t count as a Christmas episode from the 1990s. Second of all, “The One With Phoebe’s Dad” is just plain superior! The episode features Phoebe, Joey, and Chandler driving a cab upstate to try to meet Phoebe’s father, while Rachel, Monica, and Ross are stuck at a boiling-hot Christmas party. The episode contains an emotional story for Phoebe, who discovers that she’s too afraid of the unknown to meet her father, but it has a lot of humor as well. Chandler and Joey are too late to do their Christmas shopping, so they have to get the gang gifts from a gas station. Rachel and Monica are too broke to afford Christmas presents, so they gift everyone cookies—and not everyone is happy about it. The episode shows that the love of your friends, your makeshift family, is all that really matters at Christmas.
Do you have a favorite holiday episode or film? What’s your personal holiday tradition? Tell us in the comments below!