What’s the Best Christmas Episode of M*A*S*H?

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.

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.”

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.

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? 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.

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

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.

Other Episodes

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.

6 Comments

  • Crabapple Cove says:

    Dear Dad will always be my favorite. Dear Sis would be second. Death Takes a Holiday in distant third.

    Merry Christmas to everyone here at the virtual 4077th!

  • BDOR says:

    I’ve always liked both “Dear Dad” and “Dear Sis,” but I believe I enjoy “Dear Dad” a little more since it’s a more light-hearted and fun episode.

    “Twas the Day After Christmas” is okay.

  • futurenurse says:

    I enjoy all 3 episodes, but I think my favorite would have to be “Death Takes a Holiday”, then “Dear Sis”, and “Dear Dad” as my least favorite (again, a relative term since all of the episodes are good).

    I like “Death Takes a Holiday” because I feel like it was a very pivotal episode for all of the characters. B.J., Hawkeye, and Margaret do everything they can to save a patient, and yet he still dies. Even though I’m sure that happened more times than they can count, I have a feeling that this particular instance would stick with them after the war is over. Seeing Charles in such a positive light is another highlight of the episode (as well as seeing Charles and Klinger bond a bit in this moment).

    “Dear Sis” is good because we get to learn more about Father Mulcahy. I also love how they all sing “Dona Nobis Pacem” in the episode (it is a very special moment).

    “Dear Dad” is also great. It is a little bit more comical than the other Christmas episodes but still does a good job of pulling off a serious tone. Since I prefer later episodes, I miss Potter and B.J. Overall, it’s a strong episode that sets a precedent for other “Dear ______” episodes.

    As for who makes the best Santa, I think it’s Col. Potter. 🙂

  • TWoods says:

    I agree with futurenurse’s comments completely. My thoughts exactly. Those would be my order of favorites as well and for the same reasons.

    Also, I like to pull out A War for All Seasons this time of year – there’s just something I like about that episode. I live in central PA where we experience all of the seasons to their fullest…..Perhaps that’s the reason.

    And lastly, I lost my Dad suddenly back on 12/21/2015, which made last year’s Christmas horrible. This year was better, but I cannot imagine what it would be like if it occurred on Christmas day. So, having Hawkeye move the clock to 12:05AM was truly an awesome moment.

    Merry Christmas to all MASHers and Happy New Year as well!

  • Jon says:

    “‘Twas the Day After Christmas” originally aired in Season 10, not Season 7, on 12/28/1981. As far as I know, it’s the only Boxing Day episode ever made for any US tv series. I didn’t care much for it myself, but it was a new idea to explore at least.
    I just saw “Dear Sis” on Me-TV recently, and it’s my favorite MASH Christmas episode. Since Charles is my favorite character, I always like those rare shows where he looks good. I also like his subplot w/ Klinger in “Death Takes a Holiday”.

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