The following is an expanded version of a post originally written on December 24th, 2010.
Do you make an effort to watch a Christmas episode of M*A*S*H around December 25th to celebrate the holiday and the series we all love? Three episodes were set during or around Christmas: “Dear Dad” (Season 1), “Dear Sis” (Season 7) and “Death Takes A Holiday” (Season 9). Below you’ll find my thoughts on these episode. Which do you think is the best and who do you think made the best Santa Claus: Hawkeye, B.J. or Colonel Potter?
Historical footnote: No first-run episode of M*A*S*H actually aired on December 25th. However, a repeat of “Lil” aired on December 25th, 1978.
“Dear Dad” (Season 1; 12/17/1972)
This is easily the most amusing of the three Christmas episode, in my opinion. Hawkeye riding in a helicopter while dressed as Santa Claus to treat wounded soldiers under fire is pretty serious. It’s a bizarre scene but that’s the point and I think it works well.
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.”
You can find my January 2014 review of this episode here. In the comments, a number of people called this their favorite Christmas episode of the series and a standout episode from the first season.
“Dear Sis” (Season 7; 12/18/1978)
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.
The camp singing “Dona Nobis Pacem” is also a nice moment. And who doesn’t love seeing Father Mulcahy slug a soldier? You can read my June 2014 review of the episode here. The comments were mixed with a few people liking it and others not so much.
“Death Takes a Holiday” (Season 9; 12/15/1980)
“Death Takes A Holiday” has long been one of my favorite episodes of M*A*S*H. The main storyline sees 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.
It’s an intense episode 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 still holds up well. 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 true gravitas to the role.
There are references to and jokes about Christmas in a number of other episode. For example, in “House Arrest” (Season 3), Trapper makes a crack about putting Christmas presents under Colonel Reese after Frank calls her “the most decorated nurse in the army.” Later, after getting Hawkeye to apologize to Frank, Colonel Blake hopes the dispute between the two is settled because he has to order glazed fruit for Christmas. With two mentions of the holiday in one episode, perhaps “House Arrest” takes place around Christmas.
“Soldier of the Month” (Season 4) features the following exchange:
Frank: “Oh, it’s all right. Now that I’m dying, you can fess up. Do you really like me?
Hawkeye: “You’re not really dying, Frank.”
Frank: “Do you?”
Hawkeye: “Let me put it this way, Frank. If we were the last two people left on earth I’d never forget to send you a Christmas card.”
Frank: “Real pals.”
Finally, in “The Yalu Brick Road” (Season 8), after most of the camp comes down with salmonella thanks to the turkeys Klinger acquired, Colonel Potter tells him “for Christmas, we eat out.”
There was also a Boxing Day episode (“‘Twas the Day After Christmas”) during Season 10 and a New Year’s Eve episode (“A War For All Seasons”) during Season 9.
AfterMASH also had a Christmas Eve episode, titled “All About Christmas Eve,” which aired during the show’s first season on December 29th, 1983.