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At the start of this year’s Every Simpsons Ever marathon, showrunner Al Jean revealed that he wanted to wrap the series exactly where it began: with the Simpsons arriving at Springfield Elementary for Bart and Lisa’s Christmas pageant. “Careful Homer!” Marge nags as Homer speeds to the school through a snow storm. “I have no time to be careful, we’re late!” He instantly slams into a small snow bluff. The show’s first full-length episode, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” commonly referred to as “The Simpsons Christmas Special,” debuted 25 years ago today. Until this night in 1989, The Simpsonsexisted solely in animated shorts on The Tracy Ullman Show. This Christmas special was initially intended to be the eighth episode of the series, but technical problems led to a last-minute reordering of the season. (The original first episode, “Some Enchanted Evening,” aired as the season-one finale.) Early Simpsons critics like George H.W. Bushderided the show for its presumed depravity. But this very first, still-funny episode shows that family values were always an intrinsic part of the show’s DNA.
There’s Marge, optimistic as ever, composing a year-in-review letter to friends and family. “Maggie is walking by herself. Lisa got straight As! And Bart…well…we love Bart.” Homer and Marge have spent the year saving money for Christmas gifts (Marge keeps it hidden in her hair). She drives the kids to the mall while Homer heads off to work, only to learn that there will be no Christmas bonuses for “semi-skilled workers” this year. “Thank God for the big jar,” Homer sighs. Meanwhile, at the mall, Bart has wandered off on his own and is in the process of getting a “Mother” tattoo when a terrified Marge yanks him out of the parlor chair. She drags him into a tattoo-removal center (conveniently two doors down) which only accepts cash. She stares longingly at the big jar on her lap. “Well, thank God for Homer’s Christmas bonus…”
Afraid of letting his family down, Homer secretly takes a part-time job as a Santa impersonator to make extra money, and he starts pinching every penny. Instead of buying a tree, he chops one down from private property and is chased by a gun-toting owner. At one point, he tells a kid on his lap, “Hey, I couldn’t afford lunch, give me a bite of that donut.” Watching from afar and oblivious to who’s really inside the suit, Bart jumps on Santa’s lap and yanks down his beard to discover his dad. Bart’s mischief instantly transforms into sorrow and admiration. “You must really love us to sink so low,” he says. Now, Bart and Homer have a secret, even a bond. It will continue for the next 25 years.
On payday (Christmas Eve), Homer is shocked to learn that the net total of his seasonal gig is a measely $13 bucks. Reluctantly, he listens to Bart and his drinking buddy, Barney, and they head to the dog track in a last-ditch effort to make money. Instead of putting it all on the 10-1 favorite, Whirlwind, Homer bets on a late scratch, Santa’s Little Helper, a 99-1 longshot.
They lose, of course. Homer and Bart scrape the parking lot in hopes of finding a winning ticket when Santa’s Little Helper is abandonded by his owner and leaps directly into Homer’s arms. They return home late Christmas Eve, where Bart interrupts Homer’s apology to the family, screaming about the news of a new dog. Lisa and Maggie are smitten. “God bless him,” Marge says, holding back tears.
Did President Bush miss this episode? He (and you) can stream it here.