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Every Friends Christmas Episode, Ranked

Festive cheer abounds in sitcoms, and "Friends" of course got in on the holiday action every season. Though it was well-known for its Thanksgiving episodes, "Friends" has also celebrated Halloween, New Year's Eve, and Valentine's Day over the show's 10-season run. The Christmas episodes, though, are almost as iconic as the Thanksgiving ones, as once a year the amiable New Yorkers got to deck the halls with skulls, Girl Scout cookies, dancing, and costumes.

The show gave us 10 Christmas episodes altogether — though one is technically more about New Year's Eve, it premiered in mid-December and is still set in the wintertime, so we'll take it. Surprisingly, the show doesn't revel in the classic New York City imagery of the Rockettes, Rockefeller Center, and a giant Christmas tree, and "Friends" instead usually just takes a straightforward story and dresses it up with sweaters, snow, and lights to remind us what time of year it's supposed to be. This way, the show resists many holiday-centric sitcom tropes, instead inventing many of its own trademark holiday antics like candy-making, everyone's favorite monkey, and, of course, the Holiday Armadillo. Often, these holiday episodes are bonafide classics on their own terms — not just good Christmas specials, but great "Friends" episodes.

"Friends" is titanic enough as a show that it's second nature by this point to know which episodes are iconic and which ones are duds. We've ranked the "Friends" Christmas episodes by not only how well-made and funny they are, but also by how much they capture the holiday spirit. And if you want to revisit any of the episodes for yourself — and enjoy the late Matthew Perry's great performance as Chandler Bing — the entire series is streaming on Max.

10. The One with Christmas in Tulsa (Season 9, Episode 11)

Season 9's "The One with Christmas in Tulsa" isn't just the clearly worst episode because it's a clip show. Clip shows are a time-honored television tradition, and certainly "Friends" had earned the right to mail it in a little around the holidays after nine years of revolutionary success. It's just not even any good as clip shows go. The premise is simply that Chandler has to work in Tulsa during the entire holiday break, because allegedly "we have all this paperwork that needs to be filed by the end of the year." This is in the year 2002, by the way, a year in which the internet, scanners, and fax machines all existed. Chandler really has to fly to Tulsa just before Christmas to supervise paperwork? Sensing that it's clearly hard to believe, the "Friends" team throws in a clear bit of ADR when Chandler says off-camera, "If I don't get it done I'll be fired."

Then while he's in Tulsa, he has to dodge the advances of an attractive coworker named Wendy (guest star Selma Blair), despite being happily married to Monica (Courteney Cox) by this point. The eternal immaturity of the relationships on "Friends" rears its head as Monica is by default suspicious that he's working alone with someone attractive, but it's presented as endearing because she turns out to be right? The only redeeming bit of this episode in the Christmas sense is the very beginning, when Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) recites "'Twas The Night Before Christmas" to Joey (Matt LeBlanc) and pretends to have written it herself, in classic Phoebe style. Otherwise, the episode contains a slight plot sandwiching two random clip montages (one of Christmas memories, one of Chandler/Monica moments) and is not worth the time it takes to watch.

9. The One with Ross's Step Forward (Season 8, Episode 11)

It's impossible to watch the latter years of "Friends" and not wonder: Did David Schwimmer offend the writers somehow? Granted, there's a degree to which all of the main characters got a little cartoony and neurotic as the show wore on, but Ross got by far the most consistently manic and ridiculous plots. Season 8's "The One with Ross's Step Forward" finds him, by now a grown man in his mid-30s, deathly terrified to have an honest conversation with his girlfriend of two months, Mona (Bonnie Somerville). When they take a good photo and she proposes sending out holiday cards together, he spirals to his friends about it for a week, panics when she wants to talk about how weird he's acting, and in desperation to avoid the topic gives her a key to his apartment. Again, this is a grown adult man with a child of his own.

Further knocking this episode down the ranks is the fact that the holiday card is the only Christmas element to the story, other than the lavish decorations on the set of Monica's apartment and Central Perk. Monica doesn't want to go to dinner with Chandler's newly divorced, boorish boss (Sam McMurray), so Chandler lies and pretends that they broke up and gets dragged to a strip club. Meanwhile, Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) is worked up sexually because of pregnancy-related hormones, so Phoebe brings home a random guy named Roger (Ashley Clark) for her to have sex with. Taken all together it's a bizarre episode where none of the main characters seem particularly like functioning human beings with recognizable emotions.

8. The One with the Inappropriate Sister (Season 5, Episode 10)

The best part of "The One with the Inappropriate Sister" is Phoebe's subplot, where she gets to be "one of those people collecting donations" for an unnamed charity. Her travails as she deals with New Yorkers who try to use the charity bucket to make change or to throw out their trash are delightful, and they highlight her traditional headstrong nature when she puts up multiple prohibitive signs and goes full Bad Cop in enforcing the rules. She's eventually moved to a less busy corner as she has to be restrained from giving an old woman the evil eye.

The rest of the episode is more or less forgettable. An unemployed Ross tries to get Joey to focus on writing a screenplay despite Chandler's childish influence, a subplot that's mostly memorable for the invention of "Fire Ball," and the clip in the opening credits where Joey psychotically brandishes a bowling ball and a blow torch. The title of the episode comes from an unfortunate plot in which Rachel finally goes out with a co-worker (George Newbern) only to find he has an uncomfortably close relationship with his sister (Julie Lauren).

7. The One with the Girl from Poughkeepsie (Season 4, Episode 10)

Season 4's "The One with the Girl From Poughkeepsie" takes place during the holidays but doesn't seem to mention Christmas at all. Ross is playing the field and trying to decide between a woman who lives just uptown or one who lives two and a half hours away in Poughkeepsie (he met her on the train). Exhausted from all the travel, he falls asleep on the train — and meets a third beautiful woman in Montreal who lives in Nova Scotia. Poor guy. Feeling lonely around the holidays, Rachel has Chandler play matchmaker for her with predictably bad results, and Joey helps Monica get some respect at her new job.

Where's Phoebe during all of this, you ask? Just busy writing her second most memorable song behind "Smelly Cat," a holiday tune that incorporates all of her friends' names. It's also apparently her gift to all of them, as per the lyrics "Went to the store, sat on Santa's lap/ Asked him to bring my friends all kind of crap/ He said all you need is to write them a song." In just one minute in the tag scene at the very end, Phoebe escalates this episode from forgettable to near the middle of the countdown with a classic jingle.

6. The One with All the Candy (Season 7, Episode 9)

In Season 7's "The One with All the Candy," we have the holidays intersecting with the personalities and histories of the characters on "Friends" in interesting ways. Ever desperate for approval, Monica puts up a basket on her and Chandler's door promising free candy for all of the neighbors they've never actually taken the time to meet. At first the rush of approval is welcomed when the candy proves to be a hit, but soon the entire building begins to demand more candy at odd hours and in greater volume than Monica's neuroses can drive her to make it. Joey hilariously joins the "mob mentality" and slips a threatening note under the door.

Elsewhere, it comes out that Phoebe's tragic, complicated childhood meant that she never had a bicycle of her own. When Ross buys her one, it's revealed further that she never learned to ride one either, leading to some antics in the park in a story that has the right balance of slapstick silliness and endearing holiday warmth. Rachel's subplot, which sees her nearly getting fired for dating her much younger assistant with the impossible name of "Tag" (Eddie Cahill), drags down an otherwise entertaining episode that tells a distinctly "Friends" Christmas story.

5. The One Where Rachel Quits (Season 3, Episode 10)

The holidays are often a time of transition, and Season 3's "The One Where Rachel Quits" sees a relatively momentous change when Chandler and Joey convince Rachel to finally move on from her job at Central Perk. Her story doesn't really have much to do with Christmas, although it does cause Phoebe to quote Tiny Tim's famous line "God bless us, every one" when Rachel gets a new job right away at the end of the episode. Ross accidentally injures a member of the Girl Scout-like "Brown Birds," Sarah Tuttle (Mae Whitman), who then needs his help to sell specialty holiday cookies. It's a decently heartwarming plot, but it's mostly an excuse to give the cookies names like "Cream-Filled Jesuses" and "Hanukkah Men-Oreos."

It's once again Phoebe's earnest and innocent nature that gives the episode the most Christmas spirit, as she goes with Joey to his job on a Christmas tree lot and is horrified when the older trees are put in a wood chipper. In a gesture worthy of a "Charlie Brown" special, her friends rescue the rest of the old trees and set them up in Monica's apartment, helping the trees fulfill their "Christmas destiny" after all.

4. The One with The Monkey (Season 1, Episode 10)

"The One with the Monkey" is a classic episode, featuring the introduction of Ross's pet monkey Marcel, who stands in our memories as the unofficial seventh "friend" despite only appearing in the first season. It also has a throughline story that connects all six main cast members together, as Chandler proposes they all make a "no date" pact for New Year's Eve, to avoid the pressure of having to find a date just to kiss at midnight. Of course, as the night gets nearer, everyone but Ross invites a date anyway.

In the classic ironic "Friends" tradition, it backfires on all five of the friends that break the pact: Chandler invites Janice (Maggie Wheeler) but breaks up with her again before midnight, Joey invites a single mom (Sarah MacDonnell) but is too nervous to kiss her when she brings her kids as well, Monica's ex "Fun Bobby" (Vincent Ventresca) isn't so fun as his grandfather just died, Phoebe finds out her new scientist boyfriend (Hank Azaria) is going to Minsk, and Rachel's boyfriend Paolo (Cosimo Fusco) misses his flight and she gets attacked by a woman trying to get the same cab. It's very strange how funny the episode seems to assume we'll find Rachel's bruised face and swollen lip, but otherwise "The One with the Monkey" does a fine job of exploring the pressure to enjoy yourself many of us often feel on the holidays, and the way trying to force them to be merry can backfire.

3. The One with the Holiday Armadillo (Season 7, Episode 10)

"The One with the Holiday Armadillo" is a delightfully broad episode of "Friends." It starts with a bang as Phoebe walks into Monica and Chandler's apartment and puts a human skull on the kitchen table, which apparently her mother used to remind people that "even though it's Christmas, people still die," and it gets weirder from there. Ross has his son Ben (Cole Sprouse) for the holidays and can't find a Santa suit on short notice to recreate the Christmas traditions Ben is used to. So instead, since he's been meaning to teach his son more about his Jewish heritage, he invents the patently absurd "Holiday Armadillo," Santa's friend, to teach Ben about Hanukkah with a ridiculous "Barney"-like deep voice.

It's one of the sillier visual gags "Friends" has ever pulled off, and it builds to a strange crescendo as first Chandler arrives in an actual Santa suit, then Joey shows up in a Superman costume, both somehow believing it will help. By the time Rachel and Phoebe show up, having settled a non-Christmas subplot about potentially living together again, the tableau is perfectly set for Rachel to deliver the immortal line "Wow, it looks like the Easter Bunny's funeral in here."

2. The One with Phoebe's Dad (Season 2, Episode 9)

Season 2's "The One with Phoebe's Dad" is full of holiday passive aggression, as Monica and Rachel's mailman and newspaper delivery man both take exception to being tipped in cookies for the holidays instead of money. And when their radiator breaks, the super (Michael G. Hagerty) also mysteriously can't fix it, and their holiday party has to take on a tropical theme. It builds to a clever double reversal as the super turns out to have loved the cookies, but genuinely couldn't fix the radiator — but then Joey somehow turns it off "from the bottom" and saves the day anyway.

The true strength of the episode comes courtesy of Phoebe recognizing her "father" as a stock photo model that comes with picture frames, and getting her real father's name and address from her grandmother (Audra Lindley). Chandler and Joey go with her for moral support and sit with her for hours as she's unable to knock on the door. They offer her encouragement even when she decides not to knock, despite missing their last chance to do their Christmas shopping while they wait. The final moments of the episode, when they enthusiastically give their friends terrible gifts they got at a gas station, make for one of the sweetest "Friends" scenes ever: It's full of the show's habitual irony, but everyone's excited about the crappy gifts because they're a result of deep love and support for one another.

1. The One with the Routine (Season 6, Episode 10)

The best "Friends" holiday episode is one of the all-time best episodes of "Friends": Season 6's "The One with the Routine." It has a quintessential Christmas subplot wherein Rachel and Phoebe convince Chandler to join them in snooping to find Monica's presents for each of them in advance. It's rooted in our knowledge of Monica as an exhaustively type-A people pleaser who must get super thoughtful presents, and Chandler has a whole speech about the meaning of Christmas that's wonderfully undercut by what his present from Monica turns out to be.

With the Christmas material covered, it's Ross and Monica's undying love for "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve" that makes this a classic. Their shared passion for a New Year's tradition that was already cheesy and dated when they were kids is hilarious, as Joey's roommate scores them an invite to be part of the pre-taped footage of people partying during the annual televised countdown to the new year. Their trademark Gellar intensity, hilariously wrought dance moves, and of course the titular "routine" they made up in middle school are total showstoppers, and they make for some of the most enduring images of the whole series.