The holidays are nearly here, and that means yearly Christmas episodes of your favorite TV shows. Get ready for winter vacations, iconic characters donning Santa hats, and homages to the most popular films of the season, including a few A Christmas Carol nods here and there—at least, from the shows that don’t go on hiatus entirely when it’s time to unwrap presents and spend time with family. For many, these holiday-charged episodes are one of the best things about the “most wonderful time of the year.” Just like people look forward to Halloween specials of The Simpsons every year, there’s also a certain glee in watching a heartwarming Christmas episode.
But what goes into making festive episodes of shows you already love more than a chintzy, regurgitated mess? There are several factors that go into taking your average episode and imbuing it with just the right amount of sincerity and intrigue that both feels right for the particular show you’re watching and the franchise as a whole. As such, it’s a difficult process to perfect. There are several components that make memorable episodes, or at least the ones that we look back on fondly enough that we want to see them again at some point.