It's that time of year again, when the whole family comes together to snuggle up around... all the West Wing episodes to watch over the holidays. What, that isn't your yearly tradition? Well, you should consider changing it, because this show contains everything you could possibly want from your holiday season, all wrapped up in a tidy, 40-something-minute package.
Just think about it. What's your favorite thing about this time of year? Heartwarming tales of friendship? Look no further than President Bartlet and Mrs. Landingham or Leo McGarry for all your tear-jerking needs. Get more into the spirit of gift-giving? Perhaps you'll enjoy Charlie Young receiving a carving knife crafted by a little-known silversmith named Paul Revere. Or maybe you frequently get the wrong gift for the people you care about the most? Step right this way to enjoy the very same thing happening to Danny Concannon when he misunderstands Josh Lyman telling him that C.J. Cregg likes crackers and gets her an actual goldfish.
There's something for everyone in this series, and you can (and should!) watch it all year round. But particularly during the holidays, there are a few episodes that you won't want to miss. They'll light your candles with their sparking wit, fill your stockings with remarkably political content, and, above all, keep your hearts and minds merry and bright all season.
1. "The Short List" (Season 1, Episode 9)
There will be plenty of opportunities later on this list to check out episodes where someone gives a really excellent gift. But, if that isn't your forte, take some time this holiday season to watch "The Short List," wherein Danny Concannon misunderstands a simple fact about C.J. Cregg and presents her with a pet instead of a snack. But never fear. That pet gets named Gail and lives in C.J.'s office for the rest of the series, as a simple reminder that even the most fumbled present can turn out OK — or even great. So don't let your to-buy list stress you out.
2. "In Excelsis Deo" (Season 1, Episode 10)
This episode might take some pretty skillful handiwork with the clicker if you want to avoid some of the more depressing elements — like the reveal that Mrs. Landingham doesn't celebrate Christmas because her twin sons died in the Vietnam War on the eve of the holiday. But there are also heartwarming moments, like President Bartlet sneaking off to do some Christmas shopping without the encumbrance of his Secret Service team and Toby Ziegler doing a truly good deed.
3. "In The Shadow Of Two Gunmen (Part I)" (Season 2, Episode 1)
If one way to get on the Nice List is by putting others before yourself, then Secret Service Agent Gina Toscano should certainly be expecting something special from Santa this year. An episode containing the aftermath of the assassination attempt might not feel like traditional holiday viewing, but watching the way the rest of the staff comes together to move forward will have you feeling all warm and cozy. Plus, the caliber of acting in this particular episode is the holiday gift we all deserve.
4. "Shibboleth" (Season 2, Episode 8)
Thanksgiving may be behind us, but the spirit of kindness and giving is all around. Not only does a turkey get pardoned, but President Barlet presents Charlie Young with that infamous carving knife smithed by a historical luminary. It'll have you feeling those warm and fuzzies in no time. (Like a cozy, crackling fire for your emotions.)
5. "Noël" (Season 2, Episode 10)
The good news: this episode contains some really beautiful music, as Christmas approaches in the White House. The bad news: it's all incredibly triggering for Josh Lyman, who's been struggling with PTSD-induced flashbacks ever since he was shot during the assassination attempt. It's the opposite of holiday fluff, but the episode tackles important issues that should be part of the conversation during any time of year.
6. "Bartlet For America" (Season 3, Episode 10)
The Season 3 Christmas episode forces the viewer to grapple with the fact that President Bartlet has lied to the American people about his MS diagnosis. But, underneath all that, the real meat comes in a series of flashbacks that show how deeply the foundation of friendship and loyalty is laid for Bartlet and his team. And that, friends, is the true reason for the season.
7. "Holy Night" (Season 4, Episode 10)
Come for the fact that this is one of the show's yearly Christmas episodes, stay for the revelations about Abdul ibn Shareef's plane, and the relationship between Toby Ziegler and his father. Plus, we get the first glimpse of Zoey Bartlet's new boyfriend Jean-Paul, who is most definitely on the Naughty List.
8. "Twenty Five" (Season 4, Episode 23)
If you're a fan of the title character's transformation in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, try the episode of The West Wing when Toby's children are born. The notoriously cantankerous staffer melts under the gaze of his newborns Huck and Molly, and even the iciest heart will grow three sizes any time you watch it.
9. "Abu El Banat" (Season 5, Episode 9)
Put your frustrations at spending time with family in some perspective with the Season 5 holiday episode. Even Jed Bartlet has a son-in-law that he's not the most fond of, and the President has to decide how he's going to handle Doug Westin's run for Congress. Oh, and he also has to take a stand on right-to-die laws and solve a hostage crisis in Sudan. So, all of a sudden, your uncle who gets loud on Facebook isn't seeming like such a big deal anymore, huh?
10. "Impact Winter" (Season 6, Episode 9)
If you're someone who gets worn down by all the positivity around the holidays every year, maybe you'd appreciate a little dose of the dire. The Season 6 Christmas episode has a literal asteroid heading toward Earth, which is either terrifying or a good reminder to live every day like it's your last. And it genuinely might be, because President Bartlet's MS is also acting up in China, leaving him completely paralyzed, and Donna Moss and Josh Lyman might never happen, because the former quits her job. Is that enough Christmas downers for you?
11. The Gag Reel
Listen, this show is a lot. So, to release some of that intense energy, celebrate this wonderful cast and this wonderful show by laughing along with the bloopers. You deserve it.
No matter what type of mood you're in this holiday season, or how you celebrate, The West Wing is there for you, to provide anything you might need.