Christmas on M*A*S*H

The following is an expanded version of a post originally published 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.

My review of “Death Takes a Holiday” from May 2017 can be found here.

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

There were no Christmas episodes of AfterMASH. But there was a Christmas Eve episode called “All About Christmas Eve.” It aired during the show’s first season, on December 29th, 1983.


Who made the best Santa? Hawkeye, B.J., or Colonel Potter? I’m torn between Hawkeye and Colonel Potter. Hawkeye b and his bushy eyebrows stick out in my mind but Colonel Potter brings true gravitas to the role. Hit the comments with your thoughts about Christmas on M*A*S*H.

5 Comments

  • Farret Face says:

    I don’t usually watch these episodes around Christmas time, but I did watch them this past week, and may do so again in future years.

    I will say that “Death Takes a Holiday” may be my least favorite of the three, but only because of how good the other episodes are. It’s still a very strong episode in its own right, with good stories for BJ and especially Charles. The previous time I watched the episode, during the summer, I came to the realization that, while it’s true that there are some logical issues with BJ’s story (time zone difference, and the question of whether it would make that much of a difference if it was the day after Christmas), viewing the story from BJ’s perspective. His obsession with the soldier largely stems from viewing the soldier as a parallel to himself, his own mortality, and those he left behind, making it believable that he wouldn’t really think clear and logically in that situation. After realizing this, BJ’s story really gained much more depth in my eyes. And that’s not even mentioning Charles’ great story with the candy for the orphans, once again showing why he’s become my favorite character on the show.

    And of course, the two Dear episodes were great in their own ways. I actually think “Dear Dad” is my favorite comedy episode of the series (though there’s definitely some strong competition), largely due to the variety of comedy from the different vignettes. And “Dear Sis” was a great episode for Mulcahy’s character. One of his better ones IMO. Though I agree, Charles/David Ogden Stiers really stole the show with his response to Radar’s present.

  • BDOR says:

    I really like both “Dear Dad” and “Dear Sis,” and for years, I pretty much liked both equally, but after thinking on it this year, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that I like “Dear Dad” a tad more than “Dear Sis.” “Dear Dad” is the more fun episode, as Farret Face pointed out, there’s so many humorous things going on in that episode that are all tied together: Radar mailing home the jeep piece by piece, Henry’s sex lecture, Trapper delivering a calf, Frank and Klinger’s big fight, Hawkeye and Trapper sabotaging Margaret and Frank’s romantic interlude, and finally Hawkeye flying into battle dressed as Santa. “Dear Sis” is a far more sombre episode: Mulcahy is depressed and feels sorry for himself, everyone else is depressed and feels sorry for themselves, Charles is really depressed and feels sorry for himself – but then everybody cheers up at the party, Hawkeye assures Mulcahy he is needed, and finally the Christmas “miracle” of snow falling.

    “Twas the Day After Christmas” was also an amusing episode, however, I feel like it would have played out better if they did it much, much earlier in the series’ run . . . like, can you imagine Henry sitting at Radar’s desk trying to use his typewriter, while Radar lounges around in Henry’s office, smoking his cigars, drinking his brandy, and looking at stag films through the microscope? And can you imagine the fuss Frank would be making if he had to be an Enlistedman for a day?

  • Doc Funnypants says:

    All three Christmas episodes had their moments, but if I had to choose, I’d pick “Death Takes A Holiday”. The scene where Charles chews out Choi for selling the candy on the black market and Choi’s explanation make this episode worth watching. As for who was the best Santa Claus, I’d say Potter because of the gravitas he brought to the part.

    Hawkeye choosing between fruitcake from his nutty Aunt Sarah and a quart of Old Granddad from his grand old Dad added some humor to the episode. A counterpoint to the funny portions was the efforts of Pierce, Hunnicut, and Margaret to keep the mortally wounded Flanagan alive through Christmas.

  • TWoods says:

    I know I’m a bit behind on my comments, but…. I definitely try to watch all three Christmas episodes each Christmas and this year I was again successful. I then finished all three with A War for All Seasons. I totally enjoy watching all these episodes for different reasons for each. As for my favorite Santa, I’d say that Potter makes the best one for me.

  • Belvedere Jehosaphat says:

    I just finished my Christmas dinner grocery shopping and I am treating myself to the M*A*S*H Christmas trilogy before cleaning. Ranking favorite to least: Dear Sis, Dear Dad, Death Takes a Holiday.

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