Readers Digest
Magazine subscription Podcast
HomeCultureFilm & TV

13 memorable ghosts of Christmas TV past

BY Mandi Goodier

1st Jan 2015 Film & TV

13 memorable ghosts of Christmas TV past

Christmas TV is as much a part of the festivities as turkey and tinsel. We're taking a look back in time at some of the most enduring Yuletide television moments.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Del Boy and Rodney

Only Fools and Horses'Heroes and Villians', 1996

1996 was probably the most memorable Christmas Only Fools and Horses—it’s the year the Trotter brothers finally became millionaires. Split across three episodes (the third had us in tears of both joy and laughter as the Trotters witness their carriage clock fetch a whopping £6,200,000 at Sotheby's) it was the final episode that provided the most lingering laugh.

Del buys two tickets to a Republican fancy dress party and insists that he and his brother go dressed as Batman and Robin, from there things take several hilarious turns…


Dawn and Tim! Dawn and Tim!

The Office – Christmas Special, 2003

This two-parter involved some seriously clever writing from Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant; they managed to turn David Brent, the character we all love to laugh at, into someone we have deep empathy for. But it was Dawn and Tim’s kiss that will last in our memories.

After two seasons of will they won’t they, they finally did and the whole nation squeed in jubilation (warning, this scene still tugs at heartstrings).

The following video contains some strong language:


They’re singin’ in the rain

Morecambe and Wise – Christmas Special, 1976

Between 1969 and 1977 Christmas wouldn't have been the same without a Morecambe and Wise Christmas special. In it’s final year it drew an audience of 28 million—that would've been about half the population of the time.

In all that time it’s tough to pick the most memorable sketch. But our favourite has to go to one of the greatest parodies of all time: 'Singin’ in the Rain'.


Mr Bean stuffs a turkey

Mr Bean – 'Merry Christmas Mr Bean', 1992

No one stuffs a turkey quite like Mr Bean, just the preparing the turkey is enough to cause raucous laughter. But it’s what Mr Bean actually manages to fill the turkey with that gets the biggest laugh. And all to impress his lady friend.


David Bowie gets festive

The Snowman, 1982

Believe it or not, the best part of The Snowman isn't the joyous moment where the boy discovers his snowman is alive, nor is it the bit where they’re walking in the air, and it certainly isn’t its heartbreaking conclusion.

The best part of The Snowman is the original introduction by David Bowie. First 'Little Drummer Boy' with Bing Crosby, then this, who would have thought the rock 'n' roll legend has a huge soft spot for Christmas!

Ok, the rest of the film is pretty fantastic too, Christmas would not be the same!


Too many Christmas dinners

The Vicar of Dibley – 'The Christmas Lunch Incident', 1996

It’s her second Christmas in Dibley and Geraldine Granger has got to win over her parish with a great sermon, otherwise she’ll have “lost them to Satan till next December”.

Once the sermon is out of the way (with a little help from the Spice Girls), it’s onto the main event: Christmas dinner—all four of them…


Lost in lingerie!

Father Ted – 'A Christmassy Ted', 1996

Moving swiftly from a Church of England vicar to a mass of Catholic priests.

At such a holy time of year, clergy are expected to be on their best behaviour, keeping as far away from scandal as possible, so when eight priests find themselves lost in Ireland’s largest lingerie department, it’s up to Father Ted to get them out of there unnoticed.


The one with the Holiday Armadillo

Friends – 'The One with the Holiday Armadillo', 2000

There have been 7 Friends Christmas specials, but not everyone celebrates Christmas. In this episode, Ross tries to teach his son, Ben, about his Jewish heritage, but Ben is too distracted by the appeal of Christmas to learn about Hanukkah.

Thankfully, the Holiday Armadillo arrives to lend a helping hand.


The Simpsons gain a dog

The Simpsons – 'Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire', 1989

A historic moment for television, this Christmas special was the first Simpsons episode to be aired on television.

The episode centres around Homer’s struggle to provide a decent Christmas for his family having discovered he’ll not be getting a Christmas bonus. Homer moonlights as Santa Claus in the mall to raise some money for presents only to blow his wages on the dogs.

The present the family receives cost nothing and is loved by all.

The Simpson's best Christmas present
via 500daysofhomer


The most emotional bathroom scene in history

The Royle Family – 'Christmas with the Royle Family', 1999

The Royle Family never ceased to touch hearts in its two-year run, and still manages to provide a decent special every few years. It was the 1999 Christmas special that really secured its position in the nation’s hearts.

When Denise’s waters break, Jim is left alone to comfort his daughter in the bathroom.

"When your mum put you in my arms and I looked at you, and my God you were beautiful, and I knew I'd do anything for you. I'd do anything, and our Anthony." 

Jim and Denise bathroom scene


Hilda’s Coronation Street exit

Coronation Street, 1987

In Coronation Street’s 55 years on screen, they have provided some Christmas crackers.

During the early years, Christmas was a time for a light-hearted sing-a-long down the Rovers, the writers even managed to weave pantomimes into the plot. More recently, the street has fallen victim to a series of deaths around the Christmas period (no doubt to compete with Eastenders' typically traumatic Christmases).

We’ll take a good old sing-song over a catastrophic tram wreck any day. Here’s the beloved Hilda Ogden’s exit from 1987.


"Happy Christmas Ang!"

Eastenders, 1986

Unlike Coronation Street, Eastenders opted for dramatic Christmases from day one.

In 1987, while Hilda Ogden was preparing to leave the Mancunian cobbles via a pleasant sing-a-long, Arthur Fowler was trashing his living room in the midst of a nervous breakdown.

It was 1986 that really drew in audiences, the year Dirty Den handed Angie their divorce papers. Over 30 million viewers tuned in, making it one of the most watched TV moments of all time.


Linus reminds us all of the true meaning of Christmas

A Charlie Brown Christmas, 1965

Alright, this one wasn’t aired in the UK, it was aired in the US. But it has managed to become a cult classic here too. With 2015 being its 50th anniversary, it's the perfect time to watch it again, or for the first time.

Great American shows that didn’t air over here, but managed to make it into the British conscious include 1966’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and the Seinfeld episode, ‘The Strike’—the birth of the ‘Festivus’, an alternative holiday celebration. 

This is the heart-warming moment that really makes Charlie Brown’s Christmas special a treat.


What Christmas moments did we miss?

Let us know your favourite Christmas TV moments in the comments below.


This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you. Read our disclaimer

Loading up next...
Stories by email|Subscription
Readers Digest

Launched in 1922, Reader's Digest has built 100 years of trust with a loyal audience and has become the largest circulating magazine in the world

Readers Digest
Reader’s Digest is a member of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (which regulates the UK’s magazine and newspaper industry). We abide by the Editors’ Code of Practice and are committed to upholding the highest standards of journalism. If you think that we have not met those standards, please contact 0203 289 0940. If we are unable to resolve your complaint, or if you would like more information about IPSO or the Editors’ Code, contact IPSO on 0300 123 2220 or visit