10 Great Christmas Episodes In Unexpected Drama TV Shows

Christmas season has once again arrived, and so it’s time for many series, such as the hit sitcom Abbott Elementary, to begin airing their holiday-themed episodes. There’s no denying that there seems to be a particularly strong connection between the sitcom and the special Christmas episode, perhaps because both are meant to evoke joy.

Flying drone with camera


It’s important to recognize, however, that there have also been a surprising number of dramas that have also featured very good Christmas episodes. Indeed, these episodes are often the ones that show just how flexible and compelling television drama can be when it is in the hands of good writers and showrunners.

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“Christmas Waltz” – Mad Men (Season 5, Ep. 10)

Stream On Prime Video

Don and Joan in a bar in the Mad Men Christmas Waltz episode

Mad Men has come to be seen as one of the best dramas of the 2010s. With its focus on the ad men of the 1960s, it was also a biting commentary on the nature of masculinity and the culture of consumerism in America.

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Given that the series as a whole focuses on the inability of material things to bring happiness, it makes sense that “Christmas Waltz,” from the series’ fifth season, would bring the message home even more forcefully. There is, indeed, a poignant sort of sadness to this episode which serves a powerful reminder of how important it is to grasp the true meaning of the holiday.

“A Christmas Carol” – Doctor Who (Season 6 Christmas Special)

Stream On HBO Max

Doctor Who Christmas Carol Matt Smith and Michael Gambon

Doctor Who is one of the best science fiction series of all time. It is also particularly notable for some very strong Christmas specials, including the one from 2010, which saw Matt Smith’s Doctor attempting to convince a miserly man to help a spaceship.

The episode’s brilliance lies in its ability to be both true to Dickens’ darkly whimsical vision and also to the show’s overall aesthetic. What’s more, it also features a remarkably soulful performance from Michael Gambon, who plays the character of Kazran Sardick. As with the best holiday specials, it never fails to enchant.

“How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” – The X-Files (Season 6, Episode 6)

Stream On Prime Video

 Mulder and Scully investigate the haunted house in How The Ghosts Stole Christmas

At first glance, it might seem a bit strange for The X-Files, one of the most notable series of the 1990s, to have a Christmas special. After all, the series was far better known for its focus on the weird, the chilling, and the supernatural.

However, this is exactly what makes the Christmas episode, “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” so charming and entertaining. It managed to draw in numerous elements, including romance, horror, and even a bit of comedy, and it features appearances from both Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner, the ghosts of the title.

“White Christmas” – Black Mirror (2014 Christmas Special)

Stream On Netflix

A still from the 2014 Black Mirror episode White Christmas

Black Mirror has earned a great deal of praise for being a chilling series that taps into some of the most pervasive anxieties of the present. The episode consists of three separate stories, all of which are related by two characters in an isolated cabin.

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Like so many of the other great episodes of the series, this one engages with questions of technology and its impact on modern life and subjectivity. What’s more, it is also grounded by very strong performances from Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall.

“The Night Of The Meek” – The Twilight Zone (1960 Christmas Special)

Stream On Pluto TV

Santa looking shocked standing in the snow in The Twilight Zone. 

The Twilight Zone is one of the best horror series of all time, and its influence continues to be felt (not least in the fact that it was rebooted). Though many of its episodes focused on more sinister topics, this one was a bit of an exception, as it focuses on a department-store Santa Claus who, through some mysterious wish, becomes the real thing.

Of course, this is still The Twilight Zone, and so the episode is not lacking in strangeness. However, there is a sweetness to the entire story, in particular the ending, that allows it to become something more optimistic than is usual with the series.

“The Constant” – Lost (Season 4, Episode 5)

Stream On Hulu

Desmond in the Lost episode (The Constant)

Lost was one of those series that truly became a cultural phenomenon. In particular, its central mysteries kept viewers turning in week after week. However, though it was often a series show, it was also notable for producing a Christmas episode, which aired during the fourth season.

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Like so many other episodes of the series, “The Constant” dealt with weighty and complex topics, particularly time travel. At the same time, it also grounded its story in a romance plot which gave it a sweeter, more optimistic feel than was at all usual with Lost as a whole.

“Amends” – Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Season 3, Episode 10)

Stream On Hulu

Buffy holding a Christmas present in her hand talking to Angel in the street in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

There’s no question that Buffy is one of the best television series about vampires. While its musical episode has rightly been praised, its Christmas-themed outing, “Amends,” receiving particular praise. It is especially noteworthy because it features Angel being tormented with guilt over his past.

The episode is one of the more philosophically rich ones in the series, as it speaks to the nature of salvation, and whether anyone, human or vampire, can ultimately be victorious against evil. In tackling such a weighty issue in the context of a Christmas episode, Buffy once again showed just how powerful its writing could be when it was on its game.

“Christmas Special” – Downton Abbey (2016 Christmas Special)

Stream On Prime Video

Two characters dancing in "Christmas at Downton Abbey"

Downton Abbey is of course one of the most beloved period dramas. And, given its sentimental and nostalgic nature, it of course has a number of Christmas specials, one of the most beloved of which is “Christmas at Downton Abbey.”

It’s filled with all of the pleasures one typically associates with the show, including the usual mix of humor and pathos. Most notably, however, it also features the all-important moment when Matthew at last proposes to Mary. Though it might seem a bit trite, it is very much in keeping with the Downton ethos, and it manages to tug at the heartstrings.

“Death Takes A Holiday” – M*A*S*H (Season 9, Episode 5)

Stream On Hulu

Hawkeye talking to a man dressed as Santa

M*A*S*H is another of those series which has a good claim to being one of the best series of all time. It repeatedly managed to bring together drama and comedy in almost every episode.

This is particularly true of “Death Takes a Holiday,” one of the most poignant and heartbreaking of any produced in television, focusing as it does on both the 4077th’s attempt to host a feast for a group of orphans and on their efforts to save a man from dying on Christmas Eve. As so often, the show demonstrates its rich, deep heart and sophisticated storytelling.

“Noël” – The West Wing (Season 2, Episode 10)

Stream On HBO Max

Bartlett in a West Wing Christmas episode-1

Few shows about politics have been as popular or as beloved as The West Wing. It remains one of Aaron Sorkin’s best projects, and a testament to the power of political optimism.

In the Christmas episode “Noël,” which aired during the second season, there are moments of lightness, like President Bartlet’s desire to sign all of his own Christmas cards, combined with pathos in the form of Josh Lyman contending with symptoms of PTSD. Anchored by truly great performances from its cast, it’s another of the series’ stellar episodes from early in its run.

MORE: 20 Best Animated Christmas TV Specials


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