5. The Simpsons, "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace"
The Simpson family holidays are often plagued by the troublesome antics of Bart, who regularly ruins birthdays and Thanskgiving celebrations, so it's no surprise that he's at fault in this Christmas episode. His eagerness to open his presents triggers a chain of events involving a new fire truck toy, carelessness and a highly flammable Christmas tree. Everything is ruined. What does Bart do?
He concocts a detailed story. The blame for the burnt tree and piles of trashed gifts is pinned on a fictitious burglar. Springfield comes to their aid, raising plenty of money to replace the damaged goods. This is what The Simpsons does best; building up a moral to the story right from the off. You know what's coming, and how it'll play out, but it's still a joy to watch them all realise the true spirit of Christmas. It's a dishcloth.
4. Black Mirror, "White Christmas"
Hardly an uplifting series is it, Black Mirror? Showing us how dire the world will become should we continue using our smart tech. Well, nothing changes in White Christmas. Sin is in, and as usual, no-one's really enjoying it.
Watching the episode, however, is very enjoyable. A bronzed, confident Jon Hamm - is there any other kind? - plays opposite a cowering, pasty Rafe Spall. The two are trapped in a tedious job that's never really described, only coming together for Christmas. Backstories are revealed via some hellish flashbacks that cast both them in an uncertain moral light. Like all the best episodes from the series, it's about the tech -- and how even with some incredibly advanced gadgets at our disposal, we continue to make terrible decisions.
3. The X-Files, "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas"
The X-Files absolutely nails all of its Christmas episodes. Partly through the show's design, that acts around the deeper mythology arcs and monster-of-the-week episodes without feeling uneven. How The Ghosts Stole Christmas is Mulder and Scully at their standalone best, investigating a haunted house where two quarrelling lovers murdered each other years before.
Things turn into a cat-and-mouse game fast. Both spirits of the dead couple - Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner are brilliantly cast as the bitter pair - goad Mulder and Scully into the same fate. The ghosts trick the two agents through a series of mind games, to make out that the other one is trying to kill them. They're not dumb, and figure out what's happening soon enough, escaping the house and exchanging gifts. Despite having explicitly said they weren't going to. Aw.
2. Buffy The Vampire Slayer, "Amends"
Across its seven seasons Buffy made a habit of subverting convention; and never was that better achieved than with Joss Whedon behind the camera. The show's creator, he also wrote the Christmas episode which deals with the impending new year as a chance to face demons - literally and figuratively. For Buffy herself, it's the return of Angel, all brooding and tormented with his soul intact. He wants to die, bit of a Chrimbo dampener, and she wants him to live.
Whedon penned the best episodes of the show and Amends is among that bunch. One-liners such as "It's not the demon in me that needs killing, Buffy, it's the man," cut through the tweeness of a freak snow storm, and in retrospect make the sight of Buffy and her mom enjoying Christmas even more bittersweet. Excuse me, I think I've got something in my eye. (Yes, it's tears).
1. Doctor Who, "A Christmas Carol"
Accept no substitute when it comes to the Doctor. A Christmas Carol is arguably the best of all the Who Christmas specials - depending on your preference - reinventing the classic Dickensian yarn for legions of Whovians.
This seasonal episode opens with Amy and Rory on a doomed spaceliner that's on the cusp of crashing. The Doctor steps in and locates the only man who can help save his two companions, and the thousands of remaining passengers, by aiding the malfunctioning craft.
Enter: Michael Gambon. Perfectly cast in the role of the stick-in-the-mud curmudgeon Kazrak Sardick, - the richest grump in town - he flat-out refuses to help. The Doctor has other plans that involve recreating the ghostly machinations of Dickens' tale through use of the TARDIS. It's a heart-warming and rather intimate expression of the "be grateful for what you have" maxim, that ought to bring much cheer to any crowd gathered around the box.