25 Spirited Facts About American Girl Dolls

Dolls via Pleasant Company Catalogue // Collage by Chloe Effron
Dolls via Pleasant Company Catalogue // Collage by Chloe Effron

Whether they had Kirsten, Molly, Samantha, Felicity, Addy, or Josefina, these wildly successful, historically accurate dolls defined the childhoods of many girls in the '90s—but if their creator, Pleasant Rowland, had listened to anything but her gut, American Girls might never have existed. Here are a few things you might not have known about the dolls.

1. THEY WERE INSPIRED BY A VISIT TO WILLIAMSBURG—AND A TRIP TO THE TOY STORE.

In 1984, textbook author, TV reporter, and teacher Pleasant Rowland accompanied her husband on a business trip to Williamsburg, Va. “I loved the costumes, the homes, the accessories of everyday life—all of it completely engaged me,” Rowland told CNN Money in 2002. “I remember sitting on a bench in the shade, reflecting on what a poor job schools do of teaching history, and how sad it was that more kids couldn't visit this fabulous classroom of living history. Was there some way I could bring history alive for them, the way Williamsburg had for me?”

A few months later, Rowland went Christmas shopping for her nieces, then 8 and 10. She wanted to get them each a doll—but she found that her only options were Barbie and Cabbage Patch Kids. “Here I was, in a generation of women at the forefront of redefining women's roles, and yet our daughters were playing with dolls that celebrated being a teen queen or a mommy,” she said. “My Williamsburg experience and my Christmas shopping experience collided, and the concept literally exploded in my brain.”

She dashed off a postcard to her friend Valerie Tripp: “It said, ‘What do you think of this idea? A series of books about 9-year-old girls growing up in different times in history, with a doll for each of the characters and historically accurate clothes and accessories with which girls could play out the stories?’ In essence, I would create a miniature version of the Colonial Williamsburg experience and take it to American girls using the very playthings—books and dolls—that girls have always loved.”

She spent a wintry weekend creating a detailed outline of the concept. “My pen flew as I tried to capture the idea that was just given to me—whole,” she said. “This was my business plan!” 

2. PLEASANT ROWLAND FUNDED THE COMPANY HERSELF ...

Rowland Reading Foundation, YouTube

Rowland had $1.2 million of textbook royalties saved, so rather than asking for money from investors, she funded what would become the Pleasant Company herself. “American Girl seemed like a million dollar idea,” she told CNN Money. “I put $200,000 aside in case all failed and plunged in.” The goal: Have the dolls ready by Christmas 1986.

3. ... BUT HAD NO IDEA HOW TO MAKE THE DOLLS OR THEIR HISTORICALLY ACCURATE ACCESSORIES. 

1991 Pleasant Company Spring catalogue

Rowland had experience writing books, but she was at a loss for where to begin with the dolls—she didn’t even have a model to work with, so she sent a friend to Chicago to look for one. “By the end of the second day, she found one at Marshall Field's, down in the storeroom, covered with dust,” Rowland said. “Nobody had paid any attention to this doll because it had crossed eyes! The sales clerk had no idea where it had come from, but when we undressed the doll, sewn inside the underpants was a label that said ‘Gotz Puppenfabrik, Rodental, West Germany.’” Rowland made some calls, and not long after, found herself in Germany, “picking out fabrics and ribbons and clothes for the American Girl dolls.”

The 18-inch dolls would be manufactured in Germany, but the books would be made in the company’s Madison, Wisc. offices and the doll’s accessories would be made in China. (These days, both the dolls and their accessories are made in China, and assembled in and shipped from Wisconsin.) 

4. ROWLAND AND TRIPP CONCEPTUALIZED THE FIRST THREE DOLLS.

The first three dolls were Molly McIntire, who lived during World War II; Samantha Parkington, who lived just after the turn of the 20th century; and Kirsten Larson, who lived in the mid-19th century. "We knew that we wanted Samantha to have lived at the turn of the last century because we felt that that was an enormous turning point for women,” Tripp said. The orphaned Samantha might have been inspired by a comment from Rowland’s 8-year-old niece. “I asked her who she liked to read about,” Rowland told the Chicago Tribune in 1990, “and she said, ‘Oh, Aunt Pleasant, orphans.’”

5. THE COMPANY USED AN UNUSUAL MARKETING STRATEGY.

“It was clear to me that American Girl was a thinking girl's product line, one that would not sell at Toys 'R' Us,” Rowland told CNN Money. “It wasn't meant to blare from the shelves on its packaging or visual appeal alone. It had a more important message—one that had to be delivered in a softer voice.” So rather than create a commercial, which the company didn’t have the budget for anyway, or sell to toy stores directly (they had told her the dolls, at $82, were too expensive), Rowland decided that the dolls would be sold by direct mail.

6. FOCUS GROUPS INITIALLY HATED THE CONCEPT.

When she was deep into development on the dolls, Rowland hired a marketing manager, who advised doing some focus groups with mothers. When the leader explained the concept to the group, “they thought it was the worst idea they'd ever heard,” Rowland remembered. “I was devastated—and terrified. It had never really entered my head that this idea could fail!” But once the women saw a doll with her accessories and a sample book, they loved it. “The experience crystallized a very important lesson for me: Success isn't in the concept. It's in the execution,” Rowland said. 

7. EVERYONE SAID IT WAS A BAD IDEA.

Even Tripp was initially skeptical. Rowland’s idea, she recalled at American Girl’s 25th anniversary celebration, was “met with disbelief and patronizing tolerance, summarized as, ‘Are you kidding? Historical dolls in the day and age of Barbie?’” According to Fortune, industry insiders told Rowland that no one would buy dolls with a price tag higher than $40. Lands’ End, which was filling Rowland in on the tricks of the direct marketing trade, thought she would fail. The list managing company in charge of her direct mailing list advised her to be cautious and send out just 100,000 catalogs. “I said, ‘No way,’” Rowland recalled to CNN Money. “We had to take our shot that Christmas, and American Girl would either succeed or fail. So we mailed 500,000 catalogs and crossed our fingers.” 

8. THE COMPANY WAS IMMEDIATELY SUCCESSFUL. 

Rowland’s gamble paid off. Between September and December 1986, American Girl sold $1.7 million worth of product. And the numbers only went up from there: The company made $7.6 million in its second year and brought in $30 million in 1989. Twenty-seven million dolls have been sold since 1986. “For all the money the company made subsequently,” Rowland told CNN Money, “none of it was as fun or rewarding as that first million dollars.”

9. THE BOOKS WERE A KEY PART OF ROWLAND’S STRATEGY.

1991 Rowland Company Holiday Catalogue

For Rowland, the dolls and the books went hand in hand. “To bring the stories alive, I wanted to have the play experience to make the learning alive—to touch, to feel,” she told the Chicago Tribune. “Books are the heart of the collection, but the dolls are the way the stories are visualized and experienced as little girls act out the stories using the dolls. They came together. I never conceived of one without the other.” Rowland described the combination of learning and play as “chocolate cake with vitamins.”

10. THE ORIGINAL DOLLS CAME WITH SIX BOOKS THAT FOLLOWED NAMING CONVENTIONS.

From 1986 up through 2000, all the dolls had a six-book series with the same titles: 

Meet [Character]: An American Girl
[Character] Learns a Lesson: A School Story
[Character’s] Surprise: A Christmas Story
Happy Birthday, [Character]!: A Springtime Story
[Character] Saves the Day: A Summer Story
Changes for [Character]: A Winter Story

Each book cost $12.95 in hardcover or $5.95 in paperback. Kit, released in 2000, was the last doll with books that followed these naming conventions. The dolls released starting with Kaya in 2002 retained the first and last titles, but had four different books in the middle. With the rebranding of the historical line as BeForever in 2014, the books were repackaged into two volumes, and Maryellen, the first new character released after rebranding, only ever had stories in two volumes. 

11. ROWLAND WAS DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER EARLY IN THE COMPANY'S HISTORY. 

After Pleasant Company’s second year in business, Rowland moved its headquarters from “a broken-down warehouse with one freight elevator” to a brand new space, just in time for for its third holiday season. Then, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “I cut the ribbon on the new warehouse in the morning and went into the hospital that afternoon to have surgery,” she said. “It was a large tumor, and I had a poor prognosis, but throughout chemotherapy and radiation I never missed a day of work, and work is probably what saved me. Pleasant Company was on such a roll. I loved what I was doing, and after all my mind didn't have cancer. I just got through.” 

12. THERE WERE A BUNCH OF ACCESSORIES AND KITS YOU MIGHT NOT REMEMBER. 

Pleasant Company 1997 Holiday Catalogue

In addition to outfits and accessories built around each doll’s books (Samantha’s birthday collection, for example, included a wicker table and chairs, a mohair teddy bear, and a doll pram, a lemonade set, party treats, a book, and a “lacy pinafore dress” with a flower crown, which could be purchased individually or as a set for $240), night time sets, which included a bed and a wardrobe or trunk to store clothes and accessories, and outfits that allowed girls to dress like their dolls, Pleasant Company also sold what they called Scenes & Settings. According to the 1997 holiday catalog (which had new doll Josefina on the cover), each was “a sturdy portfolio of five beautifully illustrated playscape scenes. It includes a bedroom, kitchen, school room, store, and outdoor scene to re-create the world of each American Girl.” The scenes were 5 feet wide by 2 feet tall and weighed about 7 pounds. Kirsten’s featured scenes were “America!” (a port of some kind), “The Larsen Cabin,” “Powderkeg School,” “Berkhoff’s General Store,” and “The North Woods.” 

Also for sale were accessory kits that, according to the catalog, “are historically accurate reproductions appropriate for children 8 and over.” Felicity’s Christmas Story, for example, had an optional Shrewsbury Cakes Kit, which the catalog billed as “A Fun Project!”: “Make colonial Christmas cupcakes just like Felicity did. An authentic recipe for Shrewsbury cakes is included in this kit.” The project for Happy Birthday, Addy! was a tiny ice cream freezer that actually worked!

Pleasant Rowland 1997 Holiday Catalogue

And it didn’t end there! American Girl obsessives could also buy paper dolls of their favorite characters, cookbooks, diaries, family history albums, Victorian valentines, a sewing sampler, a weaving loom, a straw ornaments kit, and more. There was an ad-free magazine and an American Girl fan club, too, and in 1997, these historical dolls got a high tech twist: a $35 CD-Rom called American Girl Premiere let girls create their own plays. 

13. THE AUTHORS SOMETIMES BASED THE BOOKS ON THEIR OWN EXPERIENCES.

The amount of company guidance on the creation of a character and her stories varies by doll. Tripp, who has written more than 30 American Girl books, drew from her own childhood experiences for the books. “Like Josefina, I have three sisters,” Tripp wrote in her website biography. “In winter there was sledding, ice-skating, or making snow angels, as Molly does in Molly's Surprise. [We] went roller-skating like Molly and Emily, or had picnics, as Josefina and her sisters do. Like Kit, sometimes we typed family newspapers on our father's old black typewriter. And just like Ruthie, we all spent a lot of time reading. Every Sunday afternoon, my father would take us to visit his elderly aunt and uncle, whom we called Aunt Clara and Uncle Frank. They lived in a pretty Victorian house, like Samantha and Grandmary. … My best friend, Bobby, was the inspiration for Kit's friend Ruthie.”

Jacqueline Dembar Greene, who wrote the Rebecca Rubin series, incorporated a moment from her own third grade experience into the books. Greene, who is Jewish, was asked to work on a Christmas project. “She didn’t know how to cope with it, and struggled with being attracted to it because it was pretty and fun and felt special, and her teacher expected it, but in her heart she knew it wasn’t right for her family or her culture,” the book’s editor, Jennifer Hirsch, told Forward. “So I said we have to get that in there. That tension really was a theme throughout the books … We felt there was something universal [in her story] of the tension in being a minority culture in America.” 

The illustrators, too, often find inspiration close to home. “Felicity’s younger sister and brother were my kids,” Dan Andreasen, who illustrated some of the earlier books, said. “Later when I did the Samantha books, I used my daughter as the model for Samantha and her best friend for Nellie.” 

Christine Kornacki, who illustrated Marie-Grace and Cécile, told the Hartford Observer [PDF] that she was given character descriptions, but also modeled the two girls after friends and family members. “Illustrating for American Girl is a highly structured, involved process,” she said. “I would read the stories first, which was exciting to me as an American Girl fan. Then I was given instructions on what to illustrate and a packet of historical information to interpret. ... American Girl gave me the descriptions of the characters, but, yes, you can say I created their image. Marie-Grace is modeled after my sister. A friend’s niece was the model for Cécile.”

Of course, not everyone had so much freedom. Novelist and college professor Connie Porter, who penned the Addy books, told the Los Angeles Times that “the character was completely mapped out. They had even decided on an over-arching plot line.” According to the paper, Porter also worked “under the watchful eye of an advisory committee of historians, educators, museum directors and filmmakers. Like Porter—and indeed like Addy—all the committee members were African-American.” 

Despite the constraints, Porter enjoyed working on the books. “Addy was a chance for me to give a voice to someone who would not have had a voice in her own time,” she told Kids Reads. in 1996, she told the Ocala Star-Banner that she saw the books as teaching tools: “I want children to see African-American people as part of strong, loving families, caught up in slavery, doing what they had to do to survive. I want them to realize Addy is part of a group of people. There were a million Addys out there. They lived and died.”

14. ADDY WALKER’S STORY WAS INSPIRED BY A REAL WOMAN. 

Mary Walker was an adult house servant who escaped life at a nearly 30,000-acre North Carolina plantation called Stagville, when she traveled with her owner to Philadelphia in 1848. Like Addy, Mary had to leave behind family—her mother and three children—and, like Addy, she was reunited with some of her family after the Civil War ended. You can read more about Mary Walker here

15. EACH HISTORICAL CHARACTER IS THOROUGHLY RESEARCHED.

The American Girl headquarters has an actual library, where, according to a 2012 Chicago Tribune article, three librarians and historians “do the groundwork that provides everything from the best name for the doll to the details of the doll's life, which the designers and even the authors of American Girl books then work from.” Elsewhere in the headquarters, “There are drawers holding actual day dresses from the 1800s, antique umbrellas, old newspapers. And bins holding every conceivable doll part and accessory: straw hats, cloth hats, flocked hats, socks, sweaters, heads with hair, heads without hair.” 

The creation of each historical doll can take between three and five years. “We have an advisory board of historians, editors, writers and product designers,” Spanos told the Ashbury Park Press, “because we want to get it right. It takes a long time.” According to Racked, the company consults not just historians but also linguists and curators of museums, and takes research trips to pertinent areas (when researching Josefina, they went to Santa Fe, N.M.; for Rebecca, they visited New York City’s Lower East Side). They’ll even ask the committees to weigh in on things like when a girl’s story should begin—according to Forward, the board’s discussion about “whether to begin Addy’s story before or after emancipation was a passionate one.” In the end, they opted to begin the story just prior to when Addy and her mother escape, leaving Addy’s infant sister behind because her cries will give them away.

The company had long wanted to create a Native American doll "to show [7-to-12-year-old readers] that our country's history did not begin with the American Revolution," the company’s brand director, Julia Prohaska, told USA Today. The company didn’t want the doll to represent all Native American tribes but a specific tribe, so its representatives needed to figure out which tribes would be willing to work with them. After months of discussions, the Nez Perce tribe was chosen, not only because the tribe still exists but because they agreed to help advise on the creation of the doll, which would be named Kaya.

Ann McCormack, the tribe’s cultural arts coordinator who initially brought the idea to the tribe's executive committee, was part of an eight-person advisory committee that weighed in on book manuscripts and doll accessories and worked with the book’s author, Janet Shaw, to get everything historically accurate. No detail was too small: According to Racked, the advisory board even weighed in on things like how Kaya’s braids were positioned and the patterns on her pow-wow outfit. One big request: That Kaya’s stories be set at the peak of Nimíipuu (the original name of the Nez Perce) culture, so the books were set in 1764.

When Shaw began work on the books in the late ‘90s, she knew very little about the Nez Perce. “The Kaya stories are the written record of my own education in the Nez Perce people, their culture, and their beautiful country,” she told Kids Reads. “I settled in to read and study the materials that Pleasant Company's historical researchers were compiling—a long list that now numbers more than 90 books and articles. I studied photographs and made sketches of tools, jewelry, saddles, and tepees, and I visited museums all over the Northwest. But it wasn't until I met the Nez Perce people themselves that my true education began—and the world of black and white print began to change into color … At every step along the way, the members of the advisory board gave me guidance and corrected my mistakes. If these stories portray Nez Perce life truly and accurately, it is because of the dedicated attention they have given to the text, illustrations, and products.”

The doll was unveiled on the Nez Perce reservation in Lapwai, Idaho, in 2002. In addition to the “Looking Back” section that all American Girl dolls have, which gives key context to the events in the books, Kaya’s books also included information about Nez Perce life today. "In so many cases, children read about Native Americans as something of the past," Prohaska told USA Today. "It was really critical to the advisory board that we bring the story up to the present to show that there are 9-year-old Nez Perce girls today being influenced by their ancestors and culture."

16. KAYA WAS DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHER AMERICAN GIRL DOLLS IN MANY KEY WAYS—AND ONE REALLY BIG ONE.

AmericanGirl.com

There were a number of differences between Kaya and the other dolls: Whereas most dolls’ stories were built around birthdays, school, and holidays, "in 1764, the Nimíipuu had none of those patterns," author Janet Shaw told USA Today. In addition, "Kaya wouldn't have had a lot of the material things that are represented with the other dolls," Prohaska said.

But the biggest difference between Kaya and the other American Girl dolls was her mouth: All of the American Girl dolls have their two front teeth showing—except for Kaya. The Nez Perce advisors told the company that in their culture, it’s a sign of aggression.

17. THE BRAND EVENTUALLY EXPANDED TO WITH PRODUCTS LIKE “BITTY BABIES” AND LOOK-ALIKE DOLLS.

Pleasant Company 1997 Holiday Catalogue

The original dolls were meant to be 9-year-old girls, and were targeted to 9-year-old girls, “an audience largely ignored before,” Rowland told CNN Money. “To expand the brand, we created Bitty Baby dolls and books for younger girls, and for older girls we created modern girl dolls, American Girl magazine, and a line of advice books about friendships and social interactions.” The look-alike dolls, dubbed American Girl of Today, debuted in 1995. “She’s just like you,” the catalog said. “You’re a part of history too!” Like the other dolls, girls of today had accessories—everything from clothes to computer desks to beds. The names changed several times over the years: American Girl of Today became American Girl Today, which became “Just Like You” and “My American Girl” and, finally, “Truly Me” in 2015.

18. THERE WERE AMERICAN GIRL MUSICALS. 

It was called "The American Girls Revue," and it played at Chicago’s American Girl Place from 1998 until 2008 (it could also be seen in stores in New York City and Los Angeles). Other American Girl-themed shows included "Circle of Friends: An American Girl Musical" and "Bitty Bear's Matinee: The Family Tree."

19. ROWLAND SOLD HER COMPANY TO MATTEL IN 1998 FOR $700 MILLION.

After building American Girl Place in Chicago and putting on an American Girl musical there, Rowland said that “my original business plan had been executed, and I was tired. It was time to sell the company ... Why Mattel? I felt a genuine connection to [then CEO] Jill Barad, the woman who built Barbie. The ironies did not escape me, and many were critical of my decision, but I saw in Jill a blend of passion, perfectionism, and perseverance with real business savvy. During the same 13-year period that I built American Girl from zero to $300 million, Jill built Barbie from $200 million to $2 billion. An amazing feat.” 

20. THERE’S A “GIRL OF THE YEAR” RELEASED ANNUALLY. 

After Mattel bought Pleasant Company, they appeared to shift focus from historical dolls to more contemporary dolls—which would allow them to release more product. Starting in 2001, the company began releasing Girl of the Year dolls, which were available for around a year before being archived forever. According to The Wall Street Journal, the dolls “debuts just after the holiday rush and in time for parents to rush back and buy yet more merchandise.” One doll, 2009’s Chrissa, was released with two friends dolls—the first and only time that’s been done so far.

21. THERE HAVE BEEN EIGHT FACE MOLDS.

The soft-bodied dolls have limbs and heads made of spun-cast vinyl, which leaves no visible seams. (Spin casting, according to the 3D printing company Stratasys, “uses centrifugal force to produce parts from a rubber mold. While spinning, casting material is poured into a mold, and centrifugal force pulls the material into the cavities.”) Over the years, American Girl has used eight molds to create the faces of its dolls. 

The most common is the so-called “Classic Mold,” which was used to create the original three American Girl dolls and many more since. Mold #2 was created in 1993 for Addy, while Mold #3 was used only for Just Like You Doll #4, then retired. Mold #4 was used for Josefina, and #5 for Kaya—the only mold that doesn’t create a face that shows two front teeth. According to The New Yorker, “American Girl almost literally broke the mold with Kaya, its first Native American doll; it had to create a new face shape to make her features more authentic.”

Mold #6 was created for Jess, the 2006 Girl of the Year, who was of Japanese and Irish descent; Mold #7 was created especially for Sonali, the “friend” character to 2009 GOTY Chrissa. The last mold, #8, was developed for Marie-Grace; because the doll was archived, the mold is no longer in use.

22. THERE ARE KEY DESIGN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PLEASANT COMPANY AND MATTEL DOLLS.

Mattel Felicity (left) and Pleasant Company Felicity (right). Image courtesy Never Grow Up Doll Guide.

According to collectors, there are a number of key differences between the dolls made before and after Mattel. Pleasant Company dolls—or PM, for pre-Mattel, as some call it—had softer vinyl parts, chubbier, softer bodies, thicker limbs, wider faces, and smaller eyes. Even their eyelashes were different; PM dolls had softer brown lashes, while dolls manufactured after Mattel’s takeover have stiff black lashes. According to Good Housekeeping, the dolls had “less color on their lips and cheeks, larger feet, and a chubbier (flesh-toned) body shape … Essentially, the dolls … have been Barbie-fied.”

The dolls are different internally, too: PM dolls, according to BAVAS International, had “high-quality individual joints ... The off-white elastic cord that holds the arms and legs to the body is quite thick and secured with one or more short, thick metal fasteners. Thanks to the squishiness of the vinyl, these dolls are much easier to restring.” After Mattel, though, “the elastic is a little less thick, often leading to loose limbs requiring restringing ... In what we can only guess is a cost-cutting measure, the newest of the new dolls are not secured with metal fasteners, but instead, just a knot in the cord. We’ve noticed that this can lead to some defects.” 

23. SOME HISTORICAL CHARACTERS HAVE BEEN ARCHIVED. 

There have been 17 historical dolls, and a number have been archived, including Kirsten (released in 1986, archived in 2010); Molly (released in 1986, archived in 2013) and her best friend Emily Bennett (released in 2006, archived in 2013); Felicity (released in 1991, archived in 2011) and her best friend Elizabeth Cole (released 2005, archived in 2011); Cécile Rey and Marie-Grace Gardiner (released in 2011 and archived in 2014); Samantha’s best friend Nellie (released in 2004, archived in 2008 after selling out); Kit’s best friend Ruthie Smithens (released in 2008, archived in 2014); and Julie’s best friend Ivy Ling (released in 2007 and archived in 2014). Samantha was archived in 2009, but was re-released as part of the BeForever line in 2014. According to the American Girl website, it’s an inventory decision: “Each historical character brings the past to life with lessons of love, friendship, and courage. To make it possible for girls to meet new characters and learn about additional periods in history, American Girl archives select characters.” But, Spanos told The Atlantic, the company “still considers the historical characters to be the heart of the brand.”

24. THERE HAVE BEEN OCCASIONAL CONTROVERSIES.

Even a beloved brand like American Girl can’t entirely escape controversy. In 2005, some conservative groups boycotted American Girl when they discovered that the company had a partnership with Girls Inc., an organization that “inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.” American Girl was donating proceeds from the sale of a wristband that read “I Can” to three specific Girl Inc. programs, which aimed to build girls’ science and math skills, develop leadership skills, and encouraging participation in athletics. What’s to hate about that? According to USA Today, the Mississippi-based American Family Association called Girls Inc. "a pro-abortion, pro-lesbian advocacy group." American Girl responded with a statement, saying that, "We are profoundly disappointed that certain groups have chosen to misconstrue American Girl's purely altruistic efforts and turn them into a broader political statement on issues that we, as a corporation, have no position.”

When Mattel began archiving historical characters and releasing more contemporary dolls, critics were not pleased. In an essay for The Atlantic titled “American Girls Aren’t Radical Anymore,” Amy Schiller wrote that “The original dolls confronted some of the most heated issues of their respective times … With a greater focus on appearance, increasingly mild character development, and innocuous political topics, a former character-building toy has become more like a stylish accessory.” And at The Washington Post, Alexandra Petri wrote, “Dolls Just Like Us. Is this really what we want? The image is embarrassing—privileged, comfortable, with idiotic-sounding names and few problems that a bake sale wouldn’t solve. Life comes to them in manageable, small bites, pre-chewed. No big adventures. No high stakes. … Yes, I know there are plenty worse toys out there. Still, it pangs. These dolls were once a stand-out.” 

Then, in 2009, the company released its Girl of the Year, Chrissa, with two friend dolls—and one, named Gwen, becomes homeless. While some applauded the company’s effort to bring attention to homelessness, others were not so pleased. Tanya Tull, president of Beyond Shelter, thought the dolls might send the wrong message to girls: "[I’m] afraid that they're going to pick up the idea that it's OK, that it's an accepted segment of society that some children are homeless and some children are not," Tull told CBS News. One homeless woman, who initially embraced the doll, changed her mind when she found out that American Doll wasn’t donating any of the proceeds from its sales to homeless charities. (The company later said it had given $500,000 since 2006 to HomeAid, a company that tries to find the homeless housing.) Time named the doll one of its Top 10 Dubious Toys—but the company stood behind its doll: “Our singular goal with these stories is to help girls find their inner star by becoming kind, compassionate, and loving people who make a positive and meaningful difference in the world around them.”

25. LOTS OF PEOPLE THINK THE DOLL YOU HAD SAID SOMETHING ABOUT WHAT KIND OF GIRL YOU WERE.

“Choose your doll, and show who you will become,” according to The Washington Post. Everyone from The New Yorker—“Felicitys were the horse girls. Kirstens had arts-and-crafty streaks. Addys were bossy and always decided which game we would play next. Mollys were cool nerds before that was a thing. Samanthas—well, Samanthas were bookish but outdoorsy, smart but not show-off-y, and loyal friends”—to Flavorwire—“Samantha girls: generally high-maintenance; Kirsten girls: sportier than their counterparts; Molly girls: bookworms”—has weighed in on this. If you want to know what American Girl doll you are, take this MTV quiz.

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

Amazon
Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

The 40 Best Christmas Television Episodes

Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey.
Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey.
Masterpiece on PBS

If the gifts, cookies, PTO, full-fledged trees indoors, license to wear ugly sweaters, and general sense of cheerfulness aren't enough to make you look forward to Christmastime more than any other time of year, there's one last selling point that just might make you change your tune to "Jingle Bells": the possibility of your favorite TV show airing a Christmas episode.

Watching characters you've come to know so well in other contexts navigate an emotionally-charged holiday atmosphere is not only extremely entertaining, it can also deepen your understanding of what the holiday is about—or at least give you a break from your own eccentric extended family to laugh at someone else's.

Settle in with a gallon of eggnog and gear up for this year's yuletide festivities by revisiting our top 40 Christmas television episodes of all time (listed in alphabetical order by series titles).

1. 30 Rock // "Ludachristmas"

With Christmas in New York City, family dysfunction, and unabashed partying, "Ludachristmas" is a 30-minute encapsulation of what the holidays are all about—the only thing missing from this 30 Rock episode is Ludacris himself. From Jack’s hilariously malevolent mother to Kenneth's painfully boring (but essential and meaningful) portrayal of Christmas to Liz's not-so-happy-after-all family, just about every audience member can relate to this. Christmas is the best time of the year! Just ask Tracy, who couldn't help but wildly celebrate and disobey his 30-day alcohol probation mandated by a judge. —Thomas Carannante

2. Alfred Hitchcock Presents // "Back for Christmas"

Alfred Hitchcock might not be known for holiday cheer, but the Master of Suspense did put his distinctively dour stamp on this yuletide installment of his long-running anthology series, and it's one of the few episodes he directed himself. In “Back for Christmas,” John Williams (not the composer) portrays Herbert Carpenter, a man who offs his wife Hermione (Isobel Elsom) in England and believes he can conceal her body in the foundation of their home. While relaxing in America during a holiday break, he receives distressing news from across the pond. His late wife’s Christmas gift to him was a wine cellar—one that will require excavating his basement floor. And now you understand why Hitchcock, despite his Santa-esque proportions, was considered less than jolly. —Jake Rossen

3. Arrested Development // "Afternoon Delight"

Don't disrespect President Gob in his $5000 suit or else you'll face the consequences, which the entire Bluth Company does at the annual holiday party when Gob mistakes some forced compliments from an employee as a roast. The only thing worse (and more hilarious) than that is Michael singing "Afternoon Delight" with his niece, Maeby, before realizing the lyrics are inappropriate for such a duet. Lucille is even more neurotic during the holidays; Buster enjoys his Christmas detour from Army at the arcade; Tobias's ruptured eardrum (thanks to Lucille's poking and blowing) forces him to miss a life-changing call from the Blue Man Group; and the locals continue their Christmas tradition of destroying the famed banana stand—COME ON! —TC

4. Black Mirror // "White Christmas"

No amount of seasonal cheer can alter the bleak outlook of Black Mirror, and its holiday special is no exception. Trapped together in a cabin with snow piling up outside, Matt (Jon Hamm) and Joe (Rafe Spall) discuss the circumstances that have brought them together. Matt was an expert in artificial intelligence and ruthlessly captured the consciousness of people to become part of a sentient personal assistant device; Joe admits he killed his fiancée’s father with a snow globe after an argument. The cabin seems like a prison, and both of their fates are intertwined. By the time Matt is wandering the streets, rendered unseen and essentially invisible to the outside world, and Joe is trapped in a purgatory of his own making, you’ll be wishing for the Grinch to help cheer you up. —JR

5. Cheers // "Christmas Cheers"

As is par for the course with Cheers, nothing about season 6's Christmas episode is remotely subtle—which, of course, is why we love it. From It’s a Wonderful Life playing on the bar’s television to Norm’s Santa suit (and Santa-suited friends), the whole episode makes you wonder if maybe you’d rather skip the big family shebang this year and spend the holidays in a cozy bar with a frothy pint instead. —Ellen Gutoskey

6. Community // "Comparative Religion"

“Comparative Religion” is hardly a canonical episode of Community. This is, after all, the show best known for its high-concept, over-budget homages. “Comparative Religion” has none of that, though it does feature an exceptional guest spot from Anthony Michael Hall. Instead, the episode focuses on building the characters of the study group, dealing out simple but hilarious jokes (“We're trying to get Jeff ready for the fiiiiiiiiiiiiiight,”), and giving the world the gift of Christmas Troy. —Noam Radcliffe

7. Community // "Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas"

Born of a vague, technical approval from an executive and a “screw-it” attitude, "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" is peak Community. With its striking stop-motion aesthetic, it earned the show its sole Emmy—for Individual Achievement in Animation—and sent director Duke Johnson on the path to 2015’s Anomalisa, but its real legacy lives in the simple fact of its existence. “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” does what only Community could, balancing studied homage, formal wanderlust, and unbelievable heart in an all-too-brief 23-minute package. —NR

8. Curb Your Enthusiasm // "Mary, Joseph and Larry"

Larry David’s holiday spirit is on full and awkward display in this seasonal episode that sees the comedian ruining Christmas for his wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) by accidentally eating cookies intended for a family nativity scene. Finding that the true meaning of Christmas involves not upsetting his in-laws, Larry goes in search of a solution and finds a live nativity that might be able to save the day. On Curb Your Enthusiasm, you can expect he’s likely to just make everything delightfully worse. —JR

9. Doctor Who // "A Christmas Carol"

Christmas specials are just as much a part of Doctor Who canon as regeneration or Daleks, which means there are several holiday-themed episodes from which to choose. But the 2010 edition, featuring Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, was a clever retelling of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol—which, when you think about it, is sort of about time travel anyway. Which fits perfectly into the series’ legendary sci-fi pedigree. —Jennifer M. Wood

10. Downton Abbey // "Christmas at Downton Abbey"

After two dramatic seasons of will-they-or-won’t-they-get-together storylines—plus one scandalous post-coital death, a miraculous recovery from paralysis, and a convenient case of Spanish flu that killed off a romantic rival—(distant) cousins Matthew and Mary Crawley finally seal the deal. Which, in this case means: Matthew proposes, Mary tells him he better do it properly (she likes things done properly), she says yes, the ASMR-inducing music swells, and they spin around in the snow to celebrate their newly betrothed bliss. Don’t knock it ‘til you watch it. —JMW

11. Friends // "The One With the Holiday Armadillo"

Whatever your feelings may be about Ross Geller’s questionable behavior as a parent, boyfriend, professor, doctor (of paleontology), or person in general, you must admit his histrionics as the holiday armadillo have earned him a place in the Christmas television hall of fame. In the absence of any available Santa Claus costumes, Ross dons a terrifying armadillo suit to teach his half-Jewish son about Hanukkah—but when Chandler appears dressed as Santa Claus, and Joey bursts in dressed as Superman, it turns into the weirdest Christmas pageant of all time. —EG

12. Futurama // "Xmas Story"

Futurama’s ability to be heartfelt and charming seconds after a sophomoric gag is a great strength, and this first Xmas episode strikes that strange balance. John Goodman as murderous Robot Santa is a treat, but Fry and Leela’s bond growing deeper over their shared loneliness—he as an unfrozen future man, she as an alien of unknown parentage—is a building block for what’s to come. Oh, and Zoidberg saves the day! Now, let us all sing "Santa Claus is Gunning You Down.” —Sam Dunn

13. Gilmore Girls // "Forgiveness and Stuff"

Gilmore Girls is rife with enchanting snowfalls, steaming mugs of coffee, and a general sense of coziness throughout, so a solid series binge come December is totally justified. If you only have about 45 minutes of free time, however, this episode from season 1 is worth a rewatch. Familial tensions run high when Richard suffers a heart attack, and we get to see all the characters (Lorelai and Emily in particular) at their worst, then best, then worst again, then best again, and so on. It’s not only classic Gilmore Girls, it’s classic “any family during the holidays.” Messy, relatable, and ultimately impossible not to love. —EG

14. Hey Arnold // "Arnold’s Christmas"

One of the first iconic tear-jerkers in this young adult series, Arnold gets lonely Vietnamese boarder Mr. Hyunh (long before he became a country star) in their household's Secret Santa drawing. His grandiose Christmas plan is to reunite the recent immigrant with his daughter Mai, whom he had allowed to escape on a helicopter 20 years prior. After many fruitless attempts, Arnold surrenders hope, only to watch Mai arrive on his doorstep anyway, thanks to his guardian angel, the head-over-heels Helga. We're not sure why one cartoon was legally allowed to make us cry so deeply and for so long. —Adam Weinrib

15. The Honeymooners // "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"

First aired on actual Christmas Eve 1955 (television used to be a smidge more magical back then), Ralph Kramden learns a lesson in generosity, courtesy of the Ghost of O. Henry (figuratively, not literally). After blowing his Christmas money on a bowling ball for himself, he then regrets it and sells the ball to buy his wife a real present. She then gifts him … a now-unusable bowling ball bag, leading to a tender moment and oft-remembered Kramden monologue about the real joy of the holiday. —AW

16. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia // "A Very Sunny Christmas"

What does the Gang want for Christmas? For Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Dee (Kaitlin Olson), it’s the respect of their father Frank (Danny DeVito), a selfish ogre who buys their most desired gifts then keeps them for himself. They attempt to course-correct by stuffing him into a couch so he can hear his old co-workers discuss what a terrible person he is. For Mac (Rob McElhenney) and Charlie (Charlie Day), it’s rediscovering the joy of the holiday after finding out Mac’s parents broke into homes to steal presents and that Charlie’s mom apparently traded sexual favors with Santa for gifts. That this all involves Charlie assaulting a mall Santa and Frank running around naked and gasping for air is par for the course on Sunny. In attempting to find the true meaning of Christmas, the Gang is that rare television holiday special oddity: They learn absolutely nothing. —JR

17. Lizzie McGuire // "Aaron Carter’s Coming to Town"

Basically, Lizzie, Gordo, and Miranda learn that teen pop star Aaron Carter will be filming a music video nearby and immediately start scheming ways to meet him. Using the classic Disney blueprint of sneaking into anywhere—head-stacks peeking around corners, really weak disguises, etc.—they finally find themselves in Aaron’s dressing room. Lizzie convinces Aaron’s less-than-pleased manager to let one of them meet the singer (because ’tis the season, am I right?). Next, Lizzie pulls the ultimate Christmas move by suggesting Miranda use this opportunity to further her music career. Cute.

But the true Christmas miracle happens when Lizzie “realizes” she “forgot” her tape recorder in Aaron’s room. She knocks on his door and that’s when it happens—that’s when Aaron Carter opens the door, asks “Is this yours?,” Lizzie goes “Yeah.” Then comes Aaron's iconic line: “Merry Christmas, Lizzie McGuire” (totally having had peeped her name on the tape recorder). Oh, and would you look at that? Lo and behold, Aaron Carter has mistletoe over his door, so he kisses Lizzie. If you, like 11-year-old me did at the time, are wondering how kissing a famous celebrity would change the plot of the remaining seasons? Don’t, because none of this is ever mentioned again. The episode ends with the gang joining Aaron Carter on stage to sing everyone’s favorite Christmas song: “I Want Candy.” A true Christmas classic. —Angela Trotti

18. Mad Men // "Christmas Comes But Once a Year"

It’s jarring even nine years later watching cowboyish Lee Garner Jr. emasculate Roger Sterling, he of the equal and opposite swagger, by forcing him to wear that Santa suit. Notably, this episode saw Megan begin to emerge; she’s almost Zen-like in her competence compared to the smoldering emotional wreck anyone too closely connected to Don Draper becomes. Dr. Faye gets hard-done here by that drunken black hole of sexy amorality, too, and we’ll never forgive holy-hell-what-a-lil’-creep Glen Bishop for doing weird things in Sally’s room. —SD

19. Mad Men // "Christmas Waltz"

In its fifth season, Mad Men gave us the best Christmas present money couldn’t buy: Don Draper and Joan Harris just hanging out and drinking. Sure, plenty of other stuff goes down in “Christmas Waltz”—Lane Pryce seals his fate by forging Don’s signature, Harry Crane gets it on with a Hare Krishna acolyte in his office, everyone ignores Pete Campbell getting a shot at Jaguar—but sometimes it’s the little things that feel the best. Don and Joan commiserating in a Midtown bar like the old friends they now are is a particularly heady Christmas magic. —NR

20. Mr. Bean // "Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean"

Rowan Atkinson is often referred to as "The Man With the Rubber Face," and much of that is due to his run as the largely silent but painfully expressive Mr. Bean. But he earned a new distinction with this Christmas episode: The Man With the Turkey on His Head (skip ahead to the 19:35 mark above). Yes, long before Friends made it a thing, Mr. Bean—who was always ahead of his time—was doing it. —JMW

21. Mystery Science Theater 3000 // "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians"

The best way to appreciate 1964’s low-budget bomb Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is through the lens of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which riffed on the movie in 1991. In the movie, Santa is kidnapped by aliens so he can dispense gifts to their children. In the margin of the screen sits Joel (Joel Hodgson), Crow (Trace Beaulieu), and Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy), who attempt to make sense of this misfire. By the time the gang is singing “A Patrick Swayze Christmas,” you, too, will believe in Santa and his ability to breathe unassisted in a Martian atmosphere. —JR

22. The O.C. // "The Best Chrismukkah Ever"

In this episode, Seth uses the Christmas-Hanukkah hybrid holiday he calls Chrismukkah to justify not having to choose between the two girls he’s dating simultaneously, and the pressure of the holidays drives Marissa to both shoplift and drink herself into oblivion. Did the showrunners turn down the dial on the melodrama in the spirit of warm and fuzzy Christmas feelings? No. Did we expect them to? Absolutely not. The endlessly soapy, can’t-stop-watching quality that makes The O.C. such an angsty teen classic is on full display here and, as it turns out, it’s even more fun with Christmas decorations in the background. —EG

23. The Office (NBC) // "Christmas Party"

Considering that the Dunder Mifflin employees all purchased gifts with specific recipients in mind, Michael’s decision to turn the Secret Santa into a Yankee Swap is equal parts disastrous and hilarious: Everyone vies for the iPod that Michael bought for Ryan, and Jim’s trinket-filled teapot for Pam almost ends up as Dwight’s nasal cleanser. Alcohol flows freely, emotions run high all around, and one unlucky regional manager ends up getting flashed by an employee. Does this sound like your office’s Christmas party? In the name of all that is holy, we hope not. —EG

24. The Office (NBC) // "A Benihana Christmas"

Though "Dinner Party" may be widely regarded as the best-ever episode of The Office, then “A Benihana Christmas” deserves honorable mention at the very least. In this hour-long Christmas special, Michael Scott cancels Christmas (and threatens to take New Year’s away) but ultimately ends up taking Dwight, Jim, and Andy to Benihana to get drunk before they return to the office for not one, but two dueling Christmas parties (one that starts at 3 p.m., and a “way more fun party” that starts at 2:45 p.m.) The episode’s soundtrack alone is worthy of a Grammy, featuring covers of classic hit songs like Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” by Kevin Malone and a 30-second preview of James Blunt's “Goodbye My Lover,” which Michael plays on a loop to mourn his breakup with his realtor Carol (played by Nancy Carell, Steve Carell’s real-life wife). “A Benihana Christmas” answers a lot of questions—for example, how does one correctly butcher a goose?—but also keeps viewers wondering … does Michael know how to ride a bike? —AT

25. The Office (UK) // "The Office Christmas Special"

More than a year after "Interview," The Office's season 2 finale, which initially felt like the series finale, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant returned to co-write and co-direct this two-part Christmas special that revisited the Wernham Hogg gang—past and present—and answered some truly burning questions, including: Why was there a documentary crew filming this office at all? What happened after the documentary series aired? How many copies of David Brent's cover of "If You Don't Know Me By Now" did Juxtaposition Records actually sell? How is Tim faring with Gareth as the new office manager? Did Dawn and Lee ever get married? And who does your tampons? Just like its two official seasons, The Office Christmas special mixes brutally uncomfortable humor with moments of true sentimentality—none more so than when Tim finally gets the girl. —JMW

26. Rugrats // "Chanukah"

Rugrats was one of the only depictions of a Jewish family on TV when it aired on Nickelodeon in the 1990s. The show made cartoon history when Tommy, Chuckie, and Angelica reenacted the story of Passover in 1995, and a year later, the Rugrats celebrated another Jewish holiday. "Chanukah" follows the same format as the Passover episode, with the babies playing characters in a retelling of the miracle. Grandpa Boris fighting with his rival Shlomo over who will play the lead in the synagogue's Chanukah play also makes for an entertaining B-plot. —Michele Debczak

27. Saturday Night Live // "Justin Timberlake/Justin Timberlake, 2006"

Though SNL always boasts underrated holiday vibes (even the set dressing always feels warm and highly wreathed), this episode features the most Bulk Christmas, in terms of modern classics. It opens with Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, and Maya Rudolph crooning "Santa's My Boyfriend," and prominently features the Emmy-winning, 16-bleep Timberlake-Samberg digital short that NBC execs called "Special Christmas Box" during their publicity push (the box, of course, contains a d***). Also noteworthy? Bill Hader and Timberlake singing the Alvin and the Chipmunks classic "Christmas, Don't Be Late" in the monologue. Don't forget. —AW

28. Scrubs // "My Own Personal Jesus"

The hospital on Scrubs always has a way of shaking the faith of at least one main character every episode, and when it finally happens to Turk—Donald Faison, the show's beacon of positivity—after a Christmas Eve shift beset by tragedy, it just hits a little harder. But Scrubs’s humor just wouldn’t be the same without some heartbreak to go along with it, and Turk’s despair is eventually rewarded with a Christmas miracle that restores his faith and gives us one of the best uses of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” you’ll ever see on TV. —Jay Serafino

29. Seinfeld // "The Strike"

Going home for the holidays can get a little dull by December 26, but at least our holidays all end. But n the Costanza household, no celebration—no matter how languid—is ever finished until George can pin his father to the ground, a process that could take days. It's all part of Festivus, the Costanza-specific holiday first explored in this late-season episode. This isn't even to mention that we're dealing with a rare Seinfeld episode where Kramer has a job; he returns to H&H Bagels after a decade-long strike for the holiday season, and swiftly uncorks a steam valve. —AW

30. Sherlock // "A Scandal in Belgravia"

Watching a nearly naked (and surprisingly strapping) Sherlock Holmes display all of his cheeky arrogance in Buckingham Palace is Christmas-themed in that it is the best gift many viewers have ever gotten. That aside, this episode also features an awkward yet heartwarming holiday party, during which Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock exhibits some mind-blowingly uncharacteristic behavior in the spirit of Christmas: After pelting Molly with a barrage of verbal abuse, he apologizes, wishes her a merry Christmas, then kisses her on the cheek. If that isn’t Christmas-y enough to qualify its inclusion on this list, I’ll eat my deerstalker hat. —EG

31. The Simpsons // "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire"

Marge loses the holiday spending budget when Bart’s tattoo requires removal and Homer’s work bonus doesn’t come through. An attempt to win it all back at the dog track flops, but they don’t come home empty-handed: Santa’s Little Helper is in tow. Watching this very first episode of The Simpsons can be jarring. The character designs aren’t dialed in, and their movement is gelatinous. But the core conceit of a family that loves one another despite their flaws is present. Homer’s brain may not be in the right place, but his heart is. —JR

32. The Simpsons // "Marge Be Not Proud"

In just 22 minutes of television, “Marge Be Not Proud” serves as a crash course in everything that made The Simpsons the premier comic institution during its golden years. First, you’ve got classic gags, like the deadpan brilliance of Lee Carvallo's Putting Challenge, Homer getting hoodwinked by an Allan Sherman record, and the introduction of “Thrillhouse”—or, more fittingly, “Thrillho.” But all of these sight gags and quotable moments wouldn’t still be remembered nearly a quarter-century later if not for the emotional sincerity of the story, which sees Marge and Bart rebuild their strained relationship after Bart gets caught shoplifting a video game at the local department store right before Christmas. If the show’s seventh season is remembered as its peak, then this is the absolute pinnacle. —JS

33. Six Feet Under // "It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"

On the first anniversary of their patriarch's death, the Fisher family reflects on their first Christmas without Nathaniel, as David stresses about bringing his new boyfriend home for the first time. This episode isn't all Christmas dinner and funereal tears, though; it opens with a Santa on a motorcycle getting hit by a car. Ta-da! —AR

34. South Park // "Red Sleigh Down"

“My children, you should know something ... I'm packing.” Thus spake Jesus, our half-Rambo, half-Blade dispenser of righteous violence, as he annihilated a legion of extremist militants. Bringing Christmas to Iraq—Cartman’s grand plan to get off Santa’s Naughty List—is harder than it looks, and the Messiah ultimately pays with his life, sacrificing himself to save Santa Claus and our boys in an outrageous mishmash of 2001’s Black Hawk Down and 1999’s Three Kings. But the topper? Kenny just kind of showing up after being dead for a calendar year. It's a Christmas miracle! —SD

35. Tales From the Crypt // "And All Through the House"

Based on the 1950s pulp comics of the same name, Tales from the Crypt was often more campy than scary, but for its Christmas episode, the HBO series went full horror. "All Through the House" follows a woman being terrorized by an escaped asylum patient dressed as Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. The terrifying tale is the perfect antidote to all the feel-good content clogging the airwaves this time of year. —MD

36. Veep // "Camp David"

As is often the case for Selina Meyer, things go horrifically awry in this particular holiday gift exchange. The always-callous Veep regifts the antique pen her daughter gave her during their family Camp David retreat to Chinese President Lu, then accidentally hands the robe she received to her daughter's partner, Marjorie, eventually leading to the terms of an illicit deal being very much scrapped. Don't you hate when Christmas regifting causes an international incident? —AW

37. Victoria // "Comfort and Joy"

It's 1843 and Christmastime has arrived at Buckingham Palace, where a pregnant (again) Queen Victoria is facing her first holiday without her beloved governess-turned-confidante Baroness Lehzen. So Prince Albert is determined to make it Victoria's best Christmas ever and goes about transforming the palace into a yuletide wonderland full of dangling Christmas trees, gifts galore (including an orphaned princess), and family members that no one really wants to deal with. Though Albert (incorrectly) gets a lot of credit for bringing a variety of German Christmas traditions to England, we'll let accuracy slide in this case because what the show recreates is a thing of beauty—and a reminder that donning a crown doesn't mean that you don't also have to deal with overbearing parents, dysfunctional siblings, and/or frustrating in-laws. —JMW

38. The West Wing // "In Excelsis Deo"

Every episode of The West Wing is actually a Christmas episode if you believe, as I do, that President Bartlet is just a very tan Santa Claus with southern-gentleman vibes (he’s from New Hampshire, which is technically south when compared to the North Pole). This one, however, has many other added elements of holiday cheer, including a scene where the President sneaks into a bookshop for some last-minute Christmas shopping—which he forbids anyone from telling the press about—a scene where Josh gives Donna a book with a heartfelt note inside (They hug! It’s important!), and a subplot where Toby organizes a military funeral for a homeless veteran who died wearing his coat. —EG

39. The Wonder Years // "Christmas"

Kevin doesn’t end up getting the color television he so badly wants in this episode, though he does learn that Christmas isn’t about the “tinsel and wrapping paper,” but about memory. Oh, sweet Kevin, it was never about the tinsel or wrapping paper—it’s about what’s wrapped in it. Anyway, given that the holidays are a time to gorge on the sappy, saccharine feelings that you try to bury for the other 11 months of the year so you can get some dang work done, this episode is definitely worth indulging in. —EG

40. The X-Files // "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas"

The ghosts that steal Christmas in this episode are a pair of lovers played by Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin who, after dying in a murder-suicide pact so they could spend eternity together, terrorize Mulder and Scully to the point where they practically can’t tell up from down. It’s trippy, it’s spooky, it’s tons of fun, and it’s all ultimately irrelevant when compared to the final scene of this episode, during which “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” plays in the background while we watch—through a frosted windowpane, no less—the will-they-or-won’t-they partners exchange Christmas gifts even though they had decided not to. —EG