Every year there are certain Christmas-themed television episodes that I simply must watch or it does not feel like the season. Some people date the true beginning of their holiday season to the day after Thanksgiving, or the day they put up the tree. I date it to when I first watch “The Christmas Lunch Incident” episode of the Vicar of Dibley series. I know. We all have our traditions.* (And I’m always looking to make new ones: What Christmas Brit TV or movies can’t you live without?)
But nobody does Christmas, or Christmas on TV, like the Brits. So here they are, my top 5 Christmas episodes from British television.
5. As Happy as a Turkey on Boxing Day, Ballykissangel. Come on. You know how I feel about Ballykissangel. Sure, this one’s a bit dramatic, a bit over-the-top (complete with saving a child in peril!)–but that, along with the strong sense of community among the characters (who you wish were YOUR community, frankly) is what makes Ballykissangel the Ballyk-iest Brit series of them all.
4. The Father Christmas Suit, Keeping Up Appearances. Keeping Up Appearances takes a lot of heat in my house (my husband has picked on it from the very first time he saw me watching it…and that was nineteen years ago) but I’m still watching it because I still love it. Good old Hyacinth. Or “Our Hyacinth” as her sisters call her. If you’ve never seen it and you’re up for some good lowbrow-ish humor, the basic set-up is that Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced “bouquet,” please) dreams of being several steps up in social class from where she is. She’s constantly scheming to get anyone more posh than her to attend her parties or her “candlelight suppers,” and all her long-suffering husband, definitely NOT posh family members, and put-upon neighbors can do is stick to that blessedly beautiful English reserve and try to keep up as best they can.
3. Okay, it’s not a British TV show, but each holiday season I have to re-watch the original Bridget Jones’s Diary, because you know what? It was a damn good movie, based on a damn fine book, and damn, was Colin Firth fine. (And Hugh Grant. Come on. Sure, he’s had his issues, but who doesn’t get a chuckle out of Hugh Grant?) Extra points for the perfect ending; even makes me wish for snow, and I never do that anymore. (I hate driving in it.)
2.5. Another slight cheat here: the adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree. When the movie opens, it’s Christmastime, complete with a party featuring country dancing. Country dancing with James Murray! Marriage proposals coming at Keeley Hawes from all directions! And caroling! I love this movie and will basically watch it for any reason whatsoever, so “it makes me feel Christmasy” will certainly suffice at this time of year.
2. A Christmassy Ted, Father Ted. Extra point for watching this one directly after the Ballykissangel one; bonus Assumpta and Fr. Clifford sighting in the very beginning! We haven’t talked about the series Father Ted yet, but trust me, it’s brilliant. The series is about three priests stuck together on a small island in Ireland, largely because one embezzled from his last parish, one is a complete simpleton who thinks you can’t take “it” too seriously (“it” being “heaven and hell and everlasting life”), and the last is a drunken old lech who can’t stop hollering FECK! If it sounds surreal, oh, believe me, it is. Surreal as in TOTALLY HILARIOUS. You should probably watch the series in order before you go right to the Christmas episode, but if you can’t wait, the sequence in this one of the group of priest friends getting lost in a department store’s lingerie department will make all the family-, gift-buying, and materialistic-miserableness totally worth it.
I should have made this list longer; I’ve got a ton of honorable mentions. There’s a very nice Christmas episode in the All Creatures Great and Small series (series 2, episode 14); Miranda Hart’s great comedy series Miranda ended its run with a hugely popular Christmas special; and then there’s The Office. Oh, my God, The Office Christmas specials. (CAREFUL: spoilers there.) So great (and a great crash course in British pop songs for the holidays) but it really can’t be watched without binge-watching the entire two first series of The Office first. And with two little boys, I just don’t have that kind of time during the holidays anymore. But that’s okay. I own the box set of The Office and its Christmas specials and it is just there waiting for me in Christmases yet to come.
But now, without further adieu, one of the finest holiday specials ever, from one of the finest British comedies ever:
1. The Christmas Lunch Incident, The Vicar of Dibley.
Vicar Geraldine somehow ends up invited to, and having to eat, three Christmas lunches. And even then the village of Dibley still isn’t done with her! The scene where she catches a taxi from Alice’s house to her own (you’ll just have to watch it to see what I mean) is one of my favorite comedic moments on all of television, ever, full stop.
Happy Christmas, everyone, and get viewing. The shopping, the wrapping, the baking, the fights with the relatives, it’ll all wait. Trust me.
*I’m more open to certain American TV episodes at Christmastime too. Every year I simply must see The Charlie Brown Christmas Special (my appreciation for the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special has grown in the time I’ve had little boys, too), the Northern Exposure raven episode, and the first Simpsons Christmas episode (“Simpsons Roasting On an Open Fire“) before I can really buckle down to any of the work of the season.