Feeling too old for Christmas movies? Have you watched Elf repeatedly with your nieces and nephews and need something more adult? This The West Wing Christmas episode guide is for you.
There’s never a dull moment when a holiday comes around in the Bartlet White House. While the politicking never stops for the staff, we do get some really wonderful moments of togetherness, introspective looks at what the holiday season means for each of the staffers, and some truly incredible White House festivities.
The West Wing has a unique ability to make Christmas episodes in which the main plot continues to trudge forward, but it does so with the set covered in twinkle lights and garland. I love imbibing The West Wing‘s holiday episodes every year, whether it’s re-watching “Shibboleth” and “Indians in the Lobby” at Thanksgiving, “Jefferson Lives” on the Fourth of July, or any of these wonderful episodes to help get me in the Christmas spirit.
‘The West Wing’ Christmas episode guide
Season 1, episode 10: ‘In Excelsis Deo’
This episode continues to spell bad things for Leo as Josh and Sam prove they will go to any lengths to defend their boss from the avalanche of bad press headed his way if news of his treatment for drug addiction hits the press.
Meanwhile, the President goes Christmas shopping at an antique book store, Toby honors a deceased homeless veteran with an honor guard and a funeral, and CJ finds Danny’s continued date proposals harder and harder to turn down.
This one isn’t my favorite of the Christmas episodes, but a pretty solid entry from the stunning drama’s first season. Toby doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to be unswervingly gentle and kind to people, so his treatment of the deceased veteran’s brother is especially poignant.
Season 2, episode 10: ‘Noel’
In one of the show’s most significant and moving episodes, we see Josh meeting with a trauma counselor. It seems that Josh has been reliving his traumatic experience, but hasn’t been able to recognize it in order to pull himself out. Enter Leo and his life experiences.
Of course, as Josh looks back on the Christmas week that stirred this reliving of his worst experience, we get to see the White House at its most cheery. It is especially heartening that Toby has organized a steady stream of musical guests to play in the lobby including a brass quintet and a gaggle of bagpipers. We later learn the significance of the musicians, but it’s tons of fun to see Toby try and prove his holiday spirit.
This episode also features CJ restoring a beloved painting to its rightful home alongside a snobby, critical White House employee. While not a huge story point, it is a lovely illustration of how CJ’s dedication to her job sometimes has wonderful results.
Season 3, episode 10: ‘Bartlet for America’
This episode is less Christmas-y, as it has an important role to play in the season’s ongoing storyline, but, honestly, just watching a normal episode take place amongst the colorful lights and decorations festooning the West Wing is downright lovely.
Anyway, Leo is on the Hill answering questions regarding the President’s failure to reveal his MS to the public. This testimony opens him up to unfair questioning regarding his past drinking problems, so Josh spends the majority of the episode trying to get a specific man out of the room to try and shield Leo from having to answer those kinds of questions on the record.
This episode reminds us that Cliff Calley is not a villain, as he sees what is going on and steps in to try and stop it. He may not be one of our favorite staffers, but he’s a damn good man.
The President also has a storyline in this episode about a rash of threats made against black churches in Tennessee. This one has a very happy ending, and features a guest appearance by Clark Gregg.
Season 4, episode 11: ‘Holy Night’
I always remember the opening sequence of this one, though, as it features Toby’s father going about his duties as an employee of Murder, Inc.
“Holy Night” is one of those episodes that fills a lot of holes in the ongoing plot, but doesn’t necessarily stand out as a whole episode all on its own. You see the President and Leo both talking with that same trauma counselor Josh saw in “Noel.” You see Zoe introduce her new boyfriend, Jean Paul, to her father in an attempt to convince him to let her bring him to Christmas celebrations in New Hampshire. And then there’s Danny…
While it’s wonderful to see Danny Concannon back, he brings with him a story from a Bahamian airstrip employee who was unable to get to his locker on a very specific day. Danny’s excellent reporting is about to cause the White House a series of unbearable headaches.
Oh, and also: Whiffenpoofs. *smiles unbearably big*
Season 5, episode 9: ‘Abu el Banat’
The first of these to not be written by Aaron Sorkin, “Abu el Banat” is full of Christmas festivities… as well as bigger stakes. All the President’s daughters have been summoned to the White House for Christmas. Ellie is busy and might be late, Liz has ulterior motives for being all gung-ho about heading to Washington for the holidays, and Zoe is still recovering after her kidnapping ordeal from earlier in the season.
In addition to all the Bartlet family drama, Christian missionaries have been arrested in Sudan for proselytizing, and the DEA has overreached a bit when it tries to bring federal charges against a doctor in Oregon who assisted in a terminally ill patient’s death.
It is really great to see all the Bartlet girls together for an episode, and to see how dysfunctional even the first family can be at Christmas. I especially love when Zoe steps in for a tantrum-ing nephew and goes with her dad to flip the switch on the decadent White House Christmas tree.
Season 6, episode 9: ‘Impact Winter’
Last, but most certainly never least, is “Impact Winter.” Decidedly less Christmas-y than some that came before, this episode is all about China and the President’s MS. There’s a bit about ear pulling and a top secret rendez-vous between President Bartlet and Chinese President Lian in which he manages to salvage this trip after all the shenanigans.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, Donna is trying to get Josh to sit down with her for a few minutes to talk about her future, but Josh is more interested in shopping for his own candidate to succeed President Barlett.
Oh, and an asteroid is headed toward Earth. Just a normal day at the White House.