What makes a good Christmas episode for a television show? A touch of drama that gets resolved happily, and a heartwarming message that makes everyone feel good? Good guys winning, bad guys being thwarted, family coming together and forgetting our differences? For the most part yes, unless you live in Albert Square or your surname is Winchester.
At the time of writing, there’s only been one Christmas themed episode of Supernatural, (Rowena’s (Ruth Connell) weird dream in season eleven doesn’t count), and that was the mid-season finale of the third season. Set right in the middle of Dean’s (Jensen Ackles) final year on Earth, due to him selling his soul to bring his brother Sam (Jared Padalecki) back to life, it deals with the festive season in its own unique and terrifying way.
Focusing on the darker side of the Christmas myths, someone or something is killing people in the lead up to the holiday, or more accurately dragging them from their homes in a very Krampus-like way. The major amusement value in this episode comes from discovering that the wholesome suburban couple Spencer Garrett and Merrilyn Gann) are, in fact, two Pagan Gods trying to blend into human society and who have limited themselves to a few sacrifices each year. During the scene in which they are attempting to conduct the sacrificial ritual on Sam and Dean, they take offence at Dean’s bad language but still remain insufferably pleasant when pulling out one of Sam’s fingernails with a pair of pliers. It’s like being tortured by Mr. Rogers.
The Pagan Gods aren’t the only focus of this episode though. We also see Sam refusing to celebrate Christmas with Dean because he doesn’t want to believe this could be his brother’s last one. There are flashbacks to 1991 in which we see a younger Sam find out the truth about how there are monsters in the world and his Father hunts them. The boys are stood up by the Father, who isn’t there for them on Christmas Day, but Dean, always looking out for his little brother, has gone out and stolen presents for Sammy. In return, Sam gives Dean the present he’d intended to give to his Dad – an amulet. Lovingly known by fans as ‘the Samulet’, the item remains important as it is brought to the forefront several times throughout Supernatural.
It ends on a bittersweet moment, with the two brothers enjoying Christmas, despite the fact that the clock is ticking and Dean has roughly only five months left to live and Sam is no closer to saving him.