So when you’re watching Christmas on TV, there are usually only a few plots to contend with. There’s your “update of A Christmas Carol / It’s a Wonderful Life / Gift of the Magi“—all solid Yuletide choices. There’s your “codger or child learns the true meaning of Christmas” option. And there’s your “Christmas is saved by a real, bona fide, inexplicable miracle” plot. I’m most intrigued by this last category; since Christmas has many different traditions tied to it, these miracles can come from some conception of the Christian God, or they can come from Santa, or they can just come from some sort of vague universal force that wants to be nice to people on holidays. So in honor of the season, I’ve rounded up ten of my favorite Christmas miracles.
I didn’t restrict myself to any particular genre, but I did keep only to episodes that are part of a regular series, rather than one-off Christmas specials. Let me know if I missed any of your favorite Christmassy moments in the comments!
10. My So-Called Life, “So-Called Angels”
Christmas Miracle: Juliana Hatfield teaches us all to love.
Who’s Responsible? The God of Very Special Episodes
Why Is It Here? This is at the bottom of the list because it contains several things I don’t like on TV: Very Special Episodes, Very Special Guest Stars, Very Special Empathy Lessons From Angels (when there are wonderful human characters like Rickie right freaking there, who you could talk to instead), Guitar Wielding Guest Stars/Angels
The opening of the infamous My So Called Life episode “So Called Angels” features Best Character Ever Rickie spitting blood onto snow. This is because he’s just run away from home after a fight with his uncle. As many have noted, this episode feels far more like an after school special than an MSCL. The miracle here is that the spirit of Homeless Teen Angel Juliana Hatfield visits Angela and her mother (who think she’s a Homeless Still Alive Teen Juliana Hatfield) to point out that given slightly different circumstance, Angela herself could be Homeless Teen Claire Danes. Angela gives the Angel her new Docs, her mom allows Rickie to come stay with them, and the Homeless Teen Angel presumably goes back to Heaven, to lurk until she’s needed by another Very Special Episode.
9. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Amends”
Christmas Miracle: Snow! In southern California!
Who’s Responsible? Snow Miser! No, probably The Powers That Be, who can’t let Angel die yet, as it would deprive them of opportunities to kick him in the stomach, existentially speaking.
Why Is It Here? I never like it when Buffy goes Very Special Episode, but there are good moments here.
Angel’s all like, “I’m evil, and I’ll never be good, so rather than trying to redeem myself I’m going to go sit on the beach until the sun comes up and fries me.” Buffy, meanwhile, is all like, “Dude, I just got you back? Could you stop trying to suicide, please? I have a lot on my plate right now”. The episode ends with the one tiny inkling the show ever gave us that maybe the PTB were looking out for their Slayer: a snowstorm rolls in, so the sun’s rays aren’t able to make it through the layer of clouds and touch Angel’s delicious vampiric skin. At least, that’s what the show wants you to think: the real miracle is that everyone in California didn’t simultaneously die in the roughly one billion car wrecks the snowstorm would have caused, as Californian drivers had to reckon with the thing we humans call “weather.”
8. The Addams Family, “Christmas with the Addams Family”
Christmas Miracle: A Santa-based miracle restores Christmas for the Addams family!
Who’s Responsible? Santa!
Why Is It Here? I want to spend every Christmas with Gomez and Morticia.
Here is the sitcom 101 plot: a mean older person tells Wednesday and Pugsley there’s no Santa. The family conspires to restore the kids’ faith in the Claus, through the time-honored method of everyone dressing up as jolly St. Nick, with varying results. (Morticia, for instance, inspires thoughts that no one should ever think about Santa; Cousin Itt is just hilarious.) The miraculous twist is that, just when the kids have unmasked all of their family members, and embarked on the depressing phase of adolescence known as “grown-up-Christmas”—where you know all the loot comes from your family, and that’s nice and all, but is it really a substitute for Santa?—the real immortal gift-giver delivers a brand new tree and a pile of presents, thus convincing child and adult alike of his existence.
7. MacGyver, “The Madonna”
Christmas Miracle: Troubled teens are brought back to the Light Side through aggressive theological wackiness; a widower rejoins the church.
Who’s Responsible? God, presumably, since we’re dealing with Mary. And that’s really weird given that MacGyver is usually super secular.
Why Is It Here? I love MacGyver, but this is a clunky muther of a Christmas episode.
Mary (like the actual, legit Mary) incarnates as a wacky homeless woman to teach an angry teen (the awesomely-monikered ‘Breeze’) to renounce violence, which then inspires other teens to keep coming to the…ummm…I think it’s supposed to be a Boys and Girls Club, but they also seem cool with elderly homeless people hanging out, but it doesn’t seem to be a full shelter? It’s the sort of organization that only existed on 1980s dramas. She also seems to inhabit a statue that was made by an angry widower, who believes he was forsaken by God when his wife died. (Angry teens and faithless ministers? These are the kinds of situations Christmas episodes dream about at night.) But Mary herself shifts between violence and whimsy so often that it’s hard to get a handle on the show’s tone. It’s also worth noting that on this steadfastly science-loving show, the writers went for one of the more overt miracles on 1980s TV. But it wisely keeps MacGyver himself clear of the mystical moments. Mac is all about science, engineering, and duct tape, and suddenly making him believe in supernatural occurrences would be a dent in his character.
6. Walker, Texas Ranger, “A Matter of Faith”
Christmas Miracle: Troubled teens are brought back to the Light Side through the aggressive quoting of scripture; a pastor comes out of a coma; a stillborn baby comes back to life.
Who’s Responsible? God, obviously, who is both a Texan and quite possibly a Ranger as far as this show’s concerned.
Why Is It Here? This is the single most over the top, explody, action-sequence-stuffed Christmas episode I’ve ever seen, and it still manages to fit, like, twelve miracles into its 45-minute running time.
Oh man, this Walker special… this combines so many Very Special Plots that it’s difficult to know where to start! Here goes: Evil Santas are robbing banks, and must be roundhouse kicked into submission; one of Walker’s many racially coded gangs breaks into a church to literally steal toys from the toy drive; one gang member menaces the pastor straight into a coma and a former gang member/current youth group leader swears vengeance; another former gang member needs to get his pregnant wife to the hospital (of course they’re named Jose and Maria, who do you think you’re dealing with here?); and nobody knows what to get Walker for Christmas! These plots all come together in a fiery car crash on Christmas Eve, when, mere moments after Walker has talked the youth group leader out of killing the gang leader, Jose crashes his wife and not-quite-born-kid right into the town’s largest Nativity set. Walker roundhouse…wait, no, he delivers the baby like a normal person, but it isn’t breathing! The Texas Rangers, the youth group leader, and the gang leader are all united in prayer for the baby, while at that same moment across town, a different Ranger is praying for the comatose pastor! The baby starts breathing just as the pastor wakes up, and everyone has a merry Christmas.
5. Quantum Leap, “A Little Miracle”
Christmas Miracle: A well-timed star inspires a miser!
Who’s Responsible? Gee, Davy…
Why Is It Here? It’s a classic QL episode, doesn’t go full saccharine, and makes great use of Al Calavicci as a Dickensian Ghost.
The episode is literally called “A Little Miracle”! A normal Quantum Leap episode is like the Christmas episode of a regular show, so naturally, their Christmas episode doubles down, giving us a 1960s-era miser, Michael Blake, who is trampling over the rights of the poor. I think this is the only Quantum Leap episode where Sam and Al straight up say that they have to save someone’s soul, which, how exactly does Ziggy quantify that? But whatever, Al plays all the ghosts from A Christmas Carol, and he’s supposed to zap Blake with the star you see in the above picture…but he never does! But the star effect happens anyway! And here, in a commercial that was sadly never turned into a full episode, Sam leaps into Santa Claus himself. Ho ho ho boy.
4. Northern Exposure, “Seoul Mates”
Christmas Miracle: Chris in the Morning hears his dog talk.
Who’s Responsible? I think we can chalk this one up to God.
Why Is It Here? As I mention below, it makes me cry. More importantly, it walks a delicate line between poignancy and schmaltz very well, and that’s kind of my jam.
Northern Exposure often edged into magical realist territory, usually by treating either Native Alaskan or Jewish tradition as fact. In their Christmas episode, “Seoul Mates”, they keep things pretty grounded except for one heartbreaking story from KBEHR DJ Chris in the Morning. When Chris was a kid, his mom was gone, his dad was in prison, and he was spending Christmas Eve alone with his dog, Buddy. He waiting up, because he’d heard a story that animals were granted the ability to speak at midnight. And, though he can’t remember exactly what Buddy said, Chris insists that Buddy did speak to him. Miracle? Fuzzy childhood memory? I’m willing to give it a spot on this list, cause this story makes me cry.
3. Mystery Science Theater 3000, “Santa Claus”
Miracle: Snow IN SPAAAAAAACE
Who’s Responsible? I think you should really just relax.
Why Is It Here? Mike Nelson always had more issues with being in space than Joel. He was miserable up there, so it’s nice that the show gave him one purely happy moment amongst all the experiments and planet destruction.
In MST3K’s second Christmas episode, Mike and the ‘Bots riff a terrible Mexican film in which Santa battles a demon. At the end of the episode Mike is pining for a Christmas at home in Wisconsin—until Crow, Tom, and Gypsy notice that weird white stuff falling outside the Satellite. How is snow falling in space? Where is it falling from? No one knows, but they all agree it’s a miracle (“A wet miracle, and I ain’t shovelin’ it!” is Crow’s take) and Mike declares a snow day so they can go play. Meanwhile, Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank get to host a battle between Good and Evil when Santa shows up to get revenge on their lunch guest, the demon Pitch.
2. Smallville, “Lexmas”
Christmas Miracle: Supes Saves Santa
Who’s Responsible? Suuu-per-mannn
Why Is It Here? Come on, Superman saves Santa from Suicide.
This one is great because there’s an enormous miracle packaged within such a heartbreaking episode. Lex Luthor’s in a coma, and the spirit of his dead mother is showing him the life he can have with Lana if he’ll just be a better person. Wait, that’s not the miracle yet. As the episode unspools, Lex has to make a nearly impossible choice, while unconscious, while his evil dad is running around in the waking world playing God, and Clark makes the difficult decision to celebrate a Kent family Christmas to help Chloe distribute toys to children in a hospital. In the midst of the mystical Luthor storyline, and the “what’s the true meaning of Christmas” Kent storyline, Clark finds a man (who just happens to be dressed as Santa Claus) about to commit suicide rather than live in a world without any Christmas spirit. Naturally, Clark saves him. And obviously, since we’re in TV Miracle territory, the man turns out to be the real Santa Claus. So, Santa not only exists, he suffers from seasonal depression, and oh yeah, Superman saves Christmas.
1. The Twilight Zone, “The Night Of The Meek”
Christmas Miracle: There is a real Santa Claus, and he’s one of us!
Who’s responsible? This is left pretty ambiguous. The spirit of Christmas itself? Is that a thing?
Why is it here? A purely subjective reason: I’d love it if Henry Corwin was Santa.
I’m putting this one on top for a couple reasons. First of all, it’s The Twilight Zone. But more importantly, it’s the rare TZ episode that offers a glimmer of hope, both to its characters and its viewers. When depressed department store Santa Henry Corwin discovers a magical bag of holding, he’s able to give everyone he meets the things they truly want. Naturally, people think he might be thief, and remarkably, the show’s universe actually rewards him for his faith in the Christmas spirit.
So what do you all think? Did I miss any of your favorite miracles?