Last night you couldn't tear me from the couch when yet another Simpsons Christmas episode debuted. Of course this is one of many in a long series, but it doesn't matter to me. Every time they put Maggie in that constricting star-shaped snow suit, you know the holidays are upon us.
However I will admit that in the last 25 years, from the series premiere onward, there is a hierarchy of Simpsons Christmas specials. In fact, here's a definitive ranking of all the Christmas episodes we've seen from the show in the past quarter of a century (not counting Tracey Ullman shorts), and the lessons they've left.
13 "White Christmas Blues" (Season 25)
Verdict: Last year’s Christmas special, which had the Marge hosting an impromptu inn to make Christmas money, rubbed me the wrong way. The tourists are rude, the plot line is convoluted, and they purchase an e-reader — which is something I’m morally against. I don’t know, it all falls flat.
Lesson: Materialism always serves as a motivator during the holidays.
12 "Kill Gil, Volumes I & II" (Season 18)
Verdict: Do we really need an entire holiday episode dedicated to Gil, of all side characters? With that in mind, where is that Hans Moleman Kwanzaa special we’ve all been waiting for?
Lesson: There IS such thing as too much good will towards men.
11 "Skinners Sense of Snow" (Season 12)
Verdict: The thing, a lot of points get shaved off because it’s BARELY a Christmas special. If Lisa (as a camel) didn’t send the audience a wish at the end, you’d forget that entirely. But, independent of the holiday, it’s a decent episode with some hysterical moments.
Lesson: If it’s snowing, just take the day off.
10 "I Won’t Be Home for Christmas" (Season 26)
9 "'Tis the Fifteenth Season" (Season 15)
Verdict: Even the title of this episode suggests that at this point the Simpsons holiday specials are getting old, and this one relies on referencing everything from How The Grinch Stole Christmas to A Christmas Carol. It’s fine, just not particularly memorable on it’s own.
Lesson: Something about letting Flanders being the nice guy in town, who knows.
8 "Simpsons Christmas Stories" (Season 17)
7 "The Fight Before Christmas" (Season 22)
Verdict: The second collection of Christmas mini-episodes is moved up a bit higher, if only because of that last weird segment. I like how it jacks up the parody, and maybe some of you will disagree, but for me it conjures up all the good memories of The Muppets. (That is, everything I can remember before the Lady Gaga Holiday special.) Not even Joseph Gordon-Levitt himself could save that hot mess.
Lesson: You’ll always get snaps for a bit of risk taking. And if that doesn’t work, put Katy Perry in a vinyl dress.
6 "Holidays of Future Passed" (Season 23)
Verdict: One of my favorite Simpsons episodes in recent history, which I understand probably doesn’t hold a lot of weight for those of you who shun the later seasons. Still, it’s a successful fast forward, showing how the Simpsons kids would tackle parenthood. Bart’s a single, deadbeat dad, Maggie is a knocked-up rock star (a silent voice-of-that-generation), and Lisa is a predictable power-mom. It’s like the best version of fanfiction, but from the writers themselves.
Lesson: Some things DO get better with age.
5 "The Grift of the Magi" (Season 11)
Verdict: This episode revolves the Simpsons trying to steal multiple “Funzo’s,” a must-have toy that resembles a Furbie re-designed by Satan and has Terminator-like aspirations. Between that plot and a cameo by Gary Coleman, it’s not the most emotionally charged Simpsons Christmas, and that’s fine. Sometimes watching Bart and Lisa have to scream “Silent Night” to cover the sounds of Homer getting attacked by a dog is more than enough.
Lesson: Sentimentality is a great aspect of the holiday season, but don’t forget to laugh.
4 "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace" (Season 9)
Verdict: Not the first time Bart nearly ruins Christmas, but definitely the first time the family is bailed out of that situation, It’s a Wonderful Life style. Bart lied about the missing Christmas presents (he claims it was a burglary, but he actually accidentally set the tree on fire, whatevs). And it becomes a WHOLE THING. A whole HILARIOUS thing, but one that’s been done better in the past.
Lesson: Lying doesn’t always pay off, and if Santa won’t punish you, an angry mob of townspeople definitely will.
3 "She of Little Faith" (Season 13)
Verdict: After the Simpson’s church becomes heavily commercialized, Lisa loses faith in Christianity. With the help of Richard Gere, she settles down with Buddhism, and the family attempts to re-convert her (read: bribe with ponies). It’s not only a great episode, it’s an important one that preaches religious acceptance and promotes character growth. (Lisa, seemingly, is the only Simpson to ever go through this.) All the while it retains a sense of classicism by harkening back to Charlie Brown-esque themes of finding truth in a materialistic world.
Lesson: Work to understand one another, whether that means accepting your daughter’s a Buddhist, or paying lip-service to Christmas for your mother’s sake.
2 "Marge Not Be Proud" (Season 7)
Verdict: It’s weird to think that this episode — which has Bart stealing a game called Bonestorm — as one of the most heartwarming Simpsons story arcs. In fact it gets downright chilly when Marge, disappointed in Bart, becomes cold to him, as if he broke past the limits of unconditional maternal love. But what salvages it is the ending, when Bart tries to make amends with a self-portrait, and then thoughtfully feigns excitement when Marge gives him a copy of Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge.
Lessons: As the holidays approach, try to put aside grudges. Also, maybe don’t steal.
1 "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" (Season 1)
Verdict: This was always going to be in first place, because even if the Simpsons was cancelled before the season was up, it would’ve left us with one of the most endearing Christmas specials of all time. Despite the shaky quality, which personally I think adds to the charm, it just embodies everything pure and good about the show. And I’ll be honest, when Santa’s Little Helper jumps in Homer’s arms, I absolutely lose it.
Lesson: The holidays are all about spending time with the family. Like, not your own family, but definitely the Simpsons.