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Sitcom Holiday Traditions

The Best Sitcom Holidays


Just about every sitcom that lasts for more than a season gets stuck with the standard holiday episodes: Families gathering for Thanksgiving dinner, lovers consummating their romances on Valentine’s Day, heartwarming lessons on Christmas, backyard barbecues for July 4th. But what about the shows that make the extra effort to create new holiday traditions? From Festivus to Anna Howard Shaw Day, here are five great examples of sitcom holiday traditions.

Festivus (‘Seinfeld’)

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Festivus, the holiday “for the rest of us,” has grown far beyond its origins in the Seinfeld episode “The Strike,” and was actually created by Seinfeld writer Daniel O’Keefe’s father as a tradition for the O’Keefe family. But no matter how many people go out and buy Festivus poles (only unadorned aluminum) and participate in their own Airing of Grievances (telling family members about all the ways they’ve disappointed you over the year), the made-up holiday (celebrated December 23 as an alternative to Christmas) still finds its purest form in George Costanza’s father Frank, torturing his son with Feats of Strength and Festivus miracles.

The Holiday Armadillo (‘Friends’)

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The tension between Hanukkah and Christmas is relatively unexplored territory in TV comedies, but Friends did broach the subject in its episode “The One With the Holiday Armadillo,” with Ross trying to get his son Ben excited about Hanukkah even though Christmas seems so much cooler. Stuck wearing an armadillo costume because that’s all he could find at the shop, Ross falters a bit when Chandler shows up as Santa, but eventually is able to get Ben to give Hanukkah its due. The Holiday Armadillo never quite caught on as a new seasonal mascot, though.

Halloween pranks (‘Roseanne’)

Roseanne Halloween
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Rather than a tradition of heartwarming Christmas episodes, Roseanne built an alternative tradition based on elaborate Halloween pranks, in keeping with the show’s iconoclastic spirit. Members of the Conner family would always try to out-prank each other, and later episodes featured Roseanne being visited by the ghosts of Halloween past, present and future, as well as possible communication from the great beyond. The tradition of snark and one-upmanship was always a nice counterpoint to the treacly holiday episodes of more conventional family comedies.

Anna Howard Shaw Day (‘30 Rock’)

30 Rock
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Disgusted with the oversaturation of Valentine’s Day marketing, and trying to hide her pain at being alone on the romantic holiday, 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon declared that instead of Valentine’s Day, she would spend February 14 celebrating Anna Howard Shaw Day, in honor of the birthday of Anna Howard Shaw, a feminist pioneer, leader of the women’s suffrage movement and the first female ordained Methodist minister in the U.S. Liz’s efforts to cover up her loneliness backfired, but Anna Howard Shaw Day is actually an officially recognized holiday in the Methodist church.

Turkey Drop (‘WKRP in Cincinnati’)

WKRP in Cincinnati
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When station manager Mr. Carlson devises a new Thanksgiving promotion for radio station WKRP in the episode “Turkeys Away,” things don’t exactly go smoothly. His plan to air-drop turkeys from a helicopter 2,000 feet in the air becomes a disaster, as it turns out that, despite what Mr. Carlson seems to think, turkeys can’t actually fly. As WKRP DJ Les Nessman watches in horror, the turkeys smash into cars in a shopping-center parking lot, while people run for their lives. The classic episode was named by TV Guide as one of TV’s best of all time, and real radio stations have taken cues from it to stage their own “Turkey Drops” (with paper turkeys rather than real ones) in subsequent years.

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