This article was originally published in 2018 and is being republished in the spirit of the season.
The Office gave us so much in its nine-season run. From prank wars to “that’s what she said” to Fire Guy, it boasted countless running jokes, many of which are still great. And one of the best recurring bits is the Dunder Mifflin annual Christmas party. The Party Planning Committee could always be counted on to go all-out with highly specific themes, decorations, and treats to ensure it would be a night to remember. The boss dressed up like Santa, employees exchanged gifts, and someone inevitably got a little too drunk — and no, it wasn’t always Meredith. These holiday shenanigans resulted in some of the show’s funniest and most-loved episodes, and they’re all exceptional in their own right.
Believe it or not, there are only seven glorious Office Christmas episodes. Missing are season one, which began in March and only had six episodes total, and season four, which was interrupted by the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike.
If you didn’t get invited to any Christmas parties this year, you’re always welcome to celebrate with your friends at Scranton’s best(ish) paper company, which is always waiting for you on Netflix. And even if you did get party invites, skip ‘em and stay in to stream these instead. Here are the Christmas episodes of The Office, ranked in order of greatness.
7. “Christmas Wishes” (Season 8, 2011)
This is the first Christmas episode without Michael Scott, and his absence is felt deeply. Andy, Dunder Mifflin’s fearful new leader, desperately wants to make his employees happy. He dresses like Santa and attempts to fulfill everybody’s holiday wishes, even though most of them are pretty suspicious. But Andy being Andy, he’d rather give in to questionable taste than give someone a reason not to like him. He buys Dwight an acre of property on the moon; he preemptively offers his designated driver services to Meredith, giving her permission to drink too much. And Erin’s Christmas wish? To have nothing to do with Andy’s new girlfriend, Jessica. Erin gets too drunk and accepts a ride home from the recently single and ready to mingle James Spader’s Robert California. He doesn’t try anything with her, but his intentions don’t seem entirely pure and live in some uncomfortable #MeToo gray areas.
Meanwhile, Jim and Dwight are chastised for their constant pranks on one another, which is a perfect metaphor for how lackluster they’ve become. Their desk-mate, Cathy, wants the pranks to stop. And she’s not the only one: Their high jinks were once a highlight of the show, but by season eight, they’ve run out of clever ideas. At this point, they’ve proved that they’re better when they’re working together, not against each other.
All in all, the episode is more dismal than cheerful. Someone always gets a little too drunk at the Christmas party, but it’s hard to laugh when it treads into #MeToo territory. Especially when Andy actually calls it out: “Mistletoe is not an excuse for sexual assault,” he warns. It’s almost humorous, but a little too real to be funny.
6. “Secret Santa” (Season 6, 2009)
Michael is a baby; this we know. And every once in a while, his childishness takes a turn for the mean, and it isn’t fun to watch. Here, he spends the majority of the episode in that too childlike state when Jim and Dwight, ill-suited heads of the Party Planning Committee, grant Phyllis the chance to dress up as Santa for the Christmas party. This sends Michael into a tailspin. Jealous, he suits up as Santa anyway, trying to get people to sit on his lap and eventually drowning his Santa hat in the punch bowl in protest.
If Michael is going to be Mean Michael, he’d better at least deliver hilarious one-liners, but the writing mostly falls short. (Though he does utter one of the most criminally underrated lines in all nine seasons: “When you need my help because I’m ruining everything, don’t look at me.”) Instead, it’s filled with fat jokes, sexist comments, and uncomfortable moments that might not make it to air today, including Michael calling Phyllis “Tranny Claus.” By the time David Wallace delivers the good news that their jobs are safe despite the forthcoming sale of the company, I’m already uninvested. It’s the most negative Christmas episode of the entire series, which is not the feel-good emotion we expect from holiday TV. The B-plot of Andy giving Erin the 12 Days of Christmas for Secret Santa is funny, sure, but not enough to bump the episode higher on the list.
5. “Dwight Christmas” (Season 9, 2012)
You might expect the final Office Christmas episode to be the least-loved; in addition to no Michael, there’s also no Ryan or Kelly. But considering it’s the show’s seventh Christmas episode in nine seasons, it holds its own better than expected. In their final celebration, Phyllis cheekily “forgets” to plan a Christmas party. It’s her way of further blackmailing Angela, whom she knows is cheating on her husband with Dwight. Elsewhere, Darryl gets so drunk he collapses into the food table and Nellie kisses Toby to get him to stop talking about the Scranton Strangler.
But as the title of the episode suggests, the true star is Dwight. When the office is left partyless, he springs into action to plan an authentic Pennsylvania Dutch–themed Christmas and dresses up like Belsnickel, who is actually a real Saint Nicholas–type figure in Germany and not a character the writers just made up. As such, Dwight decides to serve everyone ample amounts of glühwein (a German mulled wine), hasenpfeffer (traditional German stew made from rabbit), and hog maw (stuffed pig stomach).
But while we get to enjoy Dwight at his peak, we also have to suffer through Jim and Pam at their lowest. Jim is about to start his new job in Philadelphia and Pam is less than thrilled about the prospect of moving. But if there’s anything that can bring them back together, oddly, it’s Dwight. Dwight is so upset when Jim leaves the party early that he cancels it altogether. So, when Jim comes back, both Pam and Dwight are thrilled. Dwight, unable to hide his happiness, embraces his former foe. If the moment had come in an earlier season, it would be cheesy and out of character. But after nine seasons, it’s a genuinely sweet scene. Not a perfect episode, but definitely a high note.
4. “Classy Christmas” (Season 7, 2010)
This two-parter is more than just a Christmas episode because it also marks Holly’s (temporary) return to Dunder Mifflin. It starts the morning of the Christmas party with shockingly low stakes: The office is decorated, Gabe is handing out the corporate Christmas gift from Sabre, and Michael is wearing a Santa suit. Nobody has a single complaint. Even Stanley is in a good mood. Everything is almost too perfect, and Michael is craving drama. He soon gets it in spades: Toby announces he’ll be taking a leave of absence to serve as a juror on a high-profile case and that corporate will be sending Holly as his temporary replacement.
The news immediately sends Michael spiraling. In preparation for her arrival, he completely scraps the Christmas party Pam had planned and asks her to re-throw it so it coincides with Holly’s arrival. He goes all-out with a classy Christmas party to impress her, replacing colorful decorations with elegant ones, skipping CDs in favor of a live bassist, and swapping his Santa suit for a velvet smoking jacket. When Holly finally arrives, it’s just as Michael imagined, except for one detail: She’s still dating AJ. We learn that she’s itching to move their relationship forward, but AJ can’t commit. Kelly, ever the busybody, urges Holly to give him an ultimatum: If he doesn’t propose by the end of the year (keep in mind that it’s already December), it’s over.
Pam, who has always shipped Michael and Holly, comforts Michael at his lowest and tells him about the ultimatum. She encourages him once again to be patient. Michael’s love for Holly makes him do crazy things. When he’s with her, he’s his best self; when he’s not with her, he’s lonely, defeated, and jealous — and all three are dialed up to an 11 in this episode. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but somehow, it works. I dare you to watch it and not root for them to get together.
3. “Moroccan Christmas” (Season 5, 2008)
This episode wins the award for best Christmas cold open and best Christmas prank, featuring Dwight falling into his gift-wrapped (by Jim) “desk” (which isn’t actually there). It also has one of the funniest Christmas B-plots: Dwight buying and reselling the season’s hottest toys, Princess Unicorn dolls, to desperate parents at an exorbitant markup.
Jokes aside, this is also probably the most divisive Office Christmas episode, as it focuses heavily on Meredith’s alcoholism. She starts drinking when Michael makes her a “One of Everything,” which is equal parts Scotch, absinthe, rum, gin, vermouth, and triple sec, plus two packs of Splenda. Meredith winds up getting so drunk that she accidentally sets her hair on fire while dancing. The Moroccan-themed Christmas party abruptly shifts gears to an intervention, though Meredith insists she’s not an alcoholic. Michael disagrees and refuses to drop it. He tricks her into getting in his car, saying they’re going to a bar. Instead, he attempts to check her into rehab, literally dragging her into the building kicking and screaming. He finally drops it when a cop escorts him out.
Things end on an even more awkward note when Phyllis announces that Angela, who is engaged to Andy, is having an affair with Dwight. Even though the bulk of the episode centers around Michael and Meredith, the true heroes are the ensemble. “Moroccan Christmas” might not be for you. But if you love it, chances are you really love it.
2. “Christmas Party” (Season 2, 2005)
When you think of Office Christmas episodes, this is probably the one that comes to mind first. And considering this was the show’s first foray into what would become a nearly annual tradition, there’s something charming about its simplicity. In the episode, everyone is buzzing about Secret Santa. Jim can’t wait to give Pam a teapot filled with thoughtful mementos and inside jokes; Kevin drew his own name and treated himself to a foot bath; Michael is bursting to give Ryan a brand-new video iPod, which at $400, goes significantly over the $20 limit. Michael’s pride in his gift-giving and rule-breaking abilities is sky-high, but he’s immediately deflated when he opens his gift from Phyllis: a homemade oven mitt. Incensed that she didn’t go to the same financial trouble as he did, he throws a wrench in the plan and turns Secret Santa into a White Elephant gift exchange.
It’s one of the first examples that if Michael doesn’t get what he wants, he throws a fit. But it’s also proof that when he messes up, he owns it and fixes things as only he can. In this case, that means buying 15 bottles of vodka to throw a Christmas rager, despite the fact that corporate has banned branches from serving alcohol at their parties.
Speaking of firsts, the bits and beats in this episode lay the groundwork for tons of recurring Christmas-episode jokes: a bizarre gift exchange; somebody getting a little too drunk (first up are Kelly, who kisses Dwight, and Meredith, who flashes Michael); Angela taking her duties as head of the Party Planning Committee too seriously; and Michael throwing a tantrum when things don’t go his way. “Christmas Party” set the bar high for all future holiday episodes. They couldn’t have asked for a better first go.
1. “A Benihana Christmas” (Season 3, 2006)
Everything just worked in season three. By the time the Christmas episode rolled around, the show had really hit its stride. A portion of this episode takes place outside of the office, following Michael, Dwight, Jim, and Andy to Benihana for lunch. Andy gets Michael’s mind off of his breakup with Carol by getting him drunk on Nog-a-sakes (one part eggnog, three parts sake) and encouraging flirtation with their waitress. When they return to the office a few drinks later, both Michael and Andy bring their “new girlfriends” — neither of which was their actual waitress in the previous scenes — to join the Christmas party. Michael realizes he can’t tell them apart and doesn’t actually want to rebound with either of them, but not before singing “Your Body is a Wonderland” by John Mayer to both of them.
The success of this episode lies in the little moments, most of which come from Steve Carell: Michael donating his used bicycle to the toy drive; Michael wearing his Dunder Mifflin robe, a Christmas gift from corporate, around the office; Michael Photoshopping his head onto Carol’s ex-husband’s body in a family ski trip picture AND SENDING IT AS HIS CHRISTMAS CARD; Michael listening to the 30-second iTunes preview of “Goodbye My Lover” by James Blunt over and over, but not buying it; Michael calling Benihana “Asian Hooters”; Michael drawing a mark on his date’s arm so he can distinguish her from Andy’s date.
Even though Michael is the clear star here, Jim deserves an honorable mention for the squirmy faces he makes as he watches Pam and Karen form a friendship. Also, fun fact: This episode was directed by the late Harold Ramis. It couldn’t be more perfect.