Favorite Christmas Episode of M*A*S*H

The following is an expanded version of a post originally written on December 24th, 2010.

There were three episodes of M*A*S*H set during or around Christmas: “Dear Dad” (Season One; originally broadcast December 17th, 1972), “Dear Sis” (Season Seven; originally broadcast December 18th, 1978) and “Death Takes A Holiday” (Season Nine; originally broadcast December 15th, 1980).

(During its eleven seasons on the air, no first-run episode of the series actually aired on December 25th. A repeat of “Lil” was broadcast on December 25th, 1978.)

There was also a Boxing Day episode, “‘Twas the Day After Christmas” (Season Ten, originally aired on December 28th, 1981) and a New Year’s Eve episode, “A War For All Seasons” (Season Nine; originally aired on December 29th, 1980).

Also, AfterMASH had a Christmas Eve episode, aptly titled “All About Christmas Eve” and broadcast during the show’s first season on December 29th, 1983.

Which is your favorite Christmas episode of M*A*S*H? And who do you think made the best Santa Claus: Hawkeye, B.J. or Colonel Potter?

“Dear Dad”

This is easily the most amusing of the three Christmas episodes, even if it does involve Hawkeye riding in a helicopter dressed as Santa Claus to treat wounded soldiers under fire, which is pretty serious. It’s a bizarre scene but that’s the point and I think it works well.

Image of Hawkeye dressed up as Santa Claus
Hawkeye as Santa Claus, from “Dear Dad”

Colonel Blake’s disastrous attempt at giving the 4077th a lecture on sex and reproduction is hilarious. An excerpt:

Colonel Blake: “The union of Figure A, man, and Figure B, woman, is the most sublime expression of romantic love. However, only in the institution of marriage is it recommended that this expression take place.”
Trapper: “Uh, sir.”
Colonel Blake: “Mm-hm.”
Trapper: “What happens in the event that Figure A is attracted to Figure B and wants to get married but Figure A is already married to, say, Figure C and Figure B is engaged to Figure D? But Figure A can’t keep his hands of Figure B because she’s got such a great figure.”
Colonel Blake: “Uh-huh. Well, according to the Army he’s got to forget her.”
Hawkeye: “That figures.”

“Dear Sis”

Situations in which Charles is depicted in a positive light are rare but always well done. So while “Dear Sis” is properly a Father Mulcahy episode, the highlight is watching Charles receive his beloved toboggan cap.

Image of B.J. dressed up as Santa Claus
B.J. as Santa Claus, from “Dear Sis”

The camp singing “Dona Nobis Pacem” is also a nice moment. And who doesn’t love seeing Father Mulcahy slug a soldier?

“Death Takes a Holiday”

Death Takes A Holiday” is one of my personal favorite episodes of M*A*S*H. The main storyline involves B.J., Hawkeye and Margaret working furiously to keep a mortally wounded soldier alive through Christmas so his kids won’t have to think of Christmas as the day their father died.

Image of Colonel Potter dressed up as Santa Claus
Colonel Potter as Santa Claus, from “Death Takes a Holiday”

It’s intense episodes but falls apart somewhat when looked at logically (would the soldier’s family really feel any better knowing he died five minutes after Christmas?) but it holds up well overall. What works best is the secondary storyline involving Charles and his family’s Christmas tradition. I’ve always found the line, “It is sadly inappropriate to give dessert to a child who has had no meal,” to be very profound and the scene in which Klinger brings Charles dinner and Charles calls him Max very touching.

So who made the best Santa? I’ve always been torn between Hawkeye and Colonel Potter. Hawkeye’s bushy eyebrows really stick out in my mind but Colonel Potter brings a certain amount of gravitas to the role.

4 Comments

  • Larry P. says:

    Hmmm, I’d have to give the best Santa to Potter. BJ’s cheesy mustache makes his a little hard to take. I don’t really mind Hawkeye’s, but between his and Potter’s, I’d give the nod to Sherm.

    As for the best Christmas episode, I like all three, but I’ll go with “Dear Sis,” as I enjoy any episode where Fr. Mulcahy is given a spotlight. One quibble though: Mulcahy understandably feels bad about punching the soldier, but why doesn’t anyone point out the fact the soldier punched Mulcahy FIRST? I know Mulcahy would still feel bad, being a gentle Priest and all, but Hawkeye trying to comfort him may have been a bit more successful had he pointed out it was a natural reaction (and besides, the soldier was being pretty unruly; Mulcahy helped settle him down). That aspect of the episode always irritates me, but not enough to detract from the rest of it, which I really, really like.

    “Dear Dad” is good, though still in the somewhat awkward (IMO) style of early season one. Hawkeye dressed as Santa in the field is amusing.

    “Death Takes a Holiday” – I think the scene between Klinger and Winchester near the end is the real keeper of this episode. The idea of keeping the soldier alive until December 26 is a nice thought, though I agree that it may not have made his family feel THAT much better. Frankly, had I been in the shoes of one of his kids, the knowledge probably would have ruined the entire season for me in subsequent years, but I understand the reasoning.

    Also: “‘Twas The Day After Christmas” – I know it’s the day after, but I always think of this as a Christmas episode. Large parts of it irritate me, particularly the Klinger/Potter role-reversal, though Winchester’s eventual appreciation of the cook is nice.

    • ” Mulcahy understandably feels bad about punching the soldier, but why doesn’t anyone point out the fact the soldier punched Mulcahy FIRST? I know Mulcahy would still feel bad, being a gentle Priest and all, but Hawkeye trying to comfort him may have been a bit more successful had he pointed out it was a natural reaction (and besides, the soldier was being pretty unruly; Mulcahy helped settle him down).” Yes! That, too, is pretty much my only quibble with the episode! The patient was being difficult and unruly, refusing help from anyone who wasn’t a doctor, and yes, he punched Mulcahy first, and Mulcahy simply reacted out of any human’s normal instinct (someone hits you, you naturally want to hit them back). Then, on top of that, the patient actually holds a grudge against Mulcahy, as if the whole thing is his fault, doesn’t accept his apology (though he should apologize to not only Mulcahy, but Margaret as well), intentionally brushes him off, then makes a crack about him being ordained at Stillman’s Gym (or whatever it was) before he walks out. You think Frank may have been his doctor back home or something and his bedside manner took?

      But, aside from that, I love both “Dear Dad” and “Dear Sis” equally. I think, though, the Christmas aspect of the story is a little more forefront in “Dear Dad” while it takes just a little more of a backseat in “Dear Sis”, but nonetheless, both are really good in their own way.

      “Twas the Day After Christmas” irks me a bit… it seems like it would be a good episode, but it took place during M*A*S*H’s Cerebus Syndrome, and as such, although there were actually a number of little humorous lines and moments throughout, the laugh track seems to accompany less than half the gags.

  • Crabapple Cove says:

    Dear Sis wins in my mind — if only for the moment between Radar and Charles when the Toboggan is opened. It gets me in the throat everytime I watch it. Dead Dad would be my second favorite — and would win if the only discussion was which was the funniest Christmas episode. (On a side note, even though MASH overused the ‘letter home’ episode motif, I tend to enjoy all of those episodes, regardless of who is writing. Radar’s letter home in “Dear Ma” is another favorite in that genre).

    As for the Santas, I like all three but I would probably give the nod to Potter as well.

  • Grandpa756 says:

    I have to say that I like “Dear Dad” the best because of the sheer unadulterated feelings of nostalgia of early Christmas memories it brings to mind. Just the sound of the Christmas music from a brass band played over the PA system garners warm thoughts of Christmas long ago when life and living seemed more simple, life and love itself more central.

    The thoughts of Radar mailing home a jeep, the introduction of Klinger’s character in more detail, the slight glimpse of the humanity of Margaret, and the strong, yet gentle character of Father Mulcahy seem to help weave together the humanity of people far from home and loved ones.

    When we are all prepared to see the Christmas party for the orphans, we are suddenly reminded that they are all still in worn torn Korea with Hawkeye being lowered from a helicopter in a Santa Claus suit to tend to a wounded soldier in a fox hole. The wounded soldier is comforted by his buddy with him that there is still a Santa Claus, giving a slight inference that there is still hope in the midst of chaos.

    The final scene reminds us of the characters, who like Hawkeye, have loved ones they left behind at home, and it is there that their hearts are filled with the memories of Christmases past as they long to see the ones that are yet to come.