Santa's Been Kidnapped! — The heroes must rescue Santa; usually they gain friends along the way and teach the villain the True Meaning Of Christmas!
Sabotaging Saint Nick — Some villain tries to sabotage Santa's operation (either by trashing his workshop or by abducting Santa), and it's up to the good guys to fix things. Said villain usually repents by the end, having learned the True Meaning Of Christmas.
Taking Over Christmas — In this variation, the villain wants to become the guy the kids write to for presents, or perhaps just the source of said presents. This would leave Santa out in the cold, so to speak. Often the villain intends to make money off of the venture.
Fake Ultimate Santa — Someone's replaced good ol' Kris Kringle, and he's not so jolly. May overlap with the Bad Santa, except that the heroes have to get the original back.
Santa's Sick! — Santa is otherwise indisposed, and the heroes must try as best they can to substitute him. Can they measure up and lead the sleigh? An extreme take on this is that Santa is DEAD - such as in The Santa Clause.
The Sleigh is Broke — A variant has his sleigh, reindeer, or helper elves be damaged, sick, or on strike. The heroes have to help fix, cure, or replace them.
Santa's in the Slammer — Because Adults Are Useless, they caught Santa and put him in Jail! The kids have to help free him or clear his name.
Santa'sOrigin — Who was Santa before he became, well, Santa? These stories tell not just how, but why Santa took up the mantle, and the obstacles he overcame.
Legacy CharacterSanta — The job and title of Santa Claus is passed down over the ages, and it's time to pass the torch. It can be either a family member or a deserving stranger, but expect some drama in the process, with the future of Christmas at stake. If it's a stranger, they will be an adult who no longer believes in Santa and thus will need a lot of convincing.
Visit the North Pole — The kids don't believe in Santa, or want to make sure he gets their letter. They travel through an (thankfully) imaginary and short distance to the North Pole. They may even get to ride the sleigh!
Santa Needs Children's Faith — The unobtanium fueling Santa/his sleigh/the North Pole in general runs on children's faith in him, and it's running dangerously low! Santa has to bring the spirit of Christmas into the hearts of children.
Santa'sTest Of Character — The heroes encounter a nice old man/suspicious character/crazy bum, he seems somewhat like Santa and/or repeatedly claims he is Santa. He eventually leaves and the truth is revealed that he wasn't Santa. Or was he?
The Naughty and Nice Lists — Alternatively, Santa might be disgruntled with humanity's naughtiness - especially greed and/or disbelief - and consider giving up on them and the holiday. The heroes have to convince him that Rousseau Was Right.
Personal Santa — The most mundane version, common in Sitcoms, involves financial problems or a minor disaster ruining the holiday celebrations on a personal or local level. Luckily, if the characters show the True Spirit Of Christmas, Santa (or a plausibly deniable representative thereof, see Secret Test of Character) will give everyone a special gift. Maybe not what they wanted, but what they need or deserve.
Santa's Cousin, Twice Removed — Take one of the above stories, but make the protagonist Mrs. Claus, the Elves, the Reindeer, his brother, son, daughter, (deep breath) or accountant. They usually start by having a crisis of faith (not in Santa, but their own utility) then the situation arises where they have to step up and help Santa a la Rudolph.
Everyone's Naughty — A person gets jealous of other people being Nice and not him/her, so he/she tricks Santa into thinking everyone's Naughty. The hero must prove to him that those people are nice.
Kyouran Kazoku Nikki had its Christmas-saving episode done in its usual wacky fashion. Though Kyouka did shoot Santa down with a bazooka first, so it's her fault that it needed to be saved to begin with...
Pokémon's episode, "Holiday Hi-Jynx", has the characters going to return Santa's lost Jynx to the North Pole. The Team Rocket trio follows them and tries to steal all of Santa's presents because Jessie wants to get back at Santa for stealing her dolly. This turns out to be a misunderstanding; Santa's Jynx took the broken doll to be fixed and couldn't bring it back because Jessie no longer lived in the same place.
The first season Ojamajo Doremi had one of these aired as a Christmas special.
One Looney Tunes comic had Santa break his leg at Daffy's house, forcing him and a visiting Bugs to take over.
The Norwegian comic book Truls og Trine Redder Julen (Truls and Trine Saves Christmas follows the conventions of this trope to a T. Christmas is ruined because someone stole Santa's sack of gifts? Check. The thief is a gruff monster (in this case, a troll with a Freudian Excuse? Check. The monster reforms when innocent children show him a little bit of kindness? Check.
This is a popular premise for Axis Powers Hetalia fanfiction, since in that universe, Finland is Santa Claus.
Calvin & Hobbes: The Series: "A Calvin and Hobbes Christmas!" has Calvin trying to clear his name by traveling to the North Pole, only to find himself having to deliver the presents himself (which he barely pulls off with the help of the Time Pauser).
A Kenya Starflight fanfic, A Merry Autobot Christmas, has the Autobots having to deliver the toys after Megatron and his troops attack the North Pole and injure Santa. (Apparently, it's an annual tradition of his to try to ruin human and Autobot morale by attacking around Christmas.)
The "Jewsploitation" film The Hebrew Hammer centers around a plot by Santa's betraying son, played by Andy Dick. He assasinates his father, becomes Santa, and launches a worldwide campaign to eliminate all other December holidays. Only "The Hammer" can save Channukah. See note at Do They Know It's Christmas Time?.
The movie The Nightmare Before Christmas plays the Sabotaging Saint Nick plot straight, but with a subversion of the hero's role in the plot. Jack Skellington, the King of Halloween and the protagonist, takes over Christmas by kidnapping Santa Claus, just because he's looking for a change of pace, but botches the big night. He then has to save Santa from his (Jack's) own badly-monitored henchmen.
And he really had no malicious intent toward Santa Claus, either. He looked at it more as him (forcibly) giving Santa an opportunity to get a chance to take it easy while good old Jack Skellington does all the hard work for him than kidnapping him to get him out of the way while he filled the role. He even told his henchmen to make sure that Santa is comfortable, but unfortunately, said henchmen had their own plans for Santa...
A particularly horrible (in a good way) portrayal is in The Proposition, when Morris and Martha Stanley's Christmas dinner is beset by outlaw Arthur Burns and Side Kick Sam Stote, who have come to rape and murder. Arthur's brother Charlie arrives just in time to save Christmas.
The Santa Clause features Tim Allen as a divorced man who must become the new Santa when the old one is killed falling off the roof of his house. It's a slight variant: he has an entire year to transform.
The Santa Clause 3 has the other kind of Santa flavour: Santa is betrayed by Jack Frost, who proceeds to turn the North Pole into a theme park and hotel.
Santa Claus The Movie (1985) was made by the producers of the live-action Superman films and critics noted its similar structure: it first presents an origin story, then moves on to Santa trying to save Christmas from being co-opted and sequelized by a Corrupt Corporate Executive who is solely interested in making money off the holiday (as opposed to Santa just giving stuff away).
Ernest Saves Christmas was probably the first film to use the Legacy Character Santa plot; Ernest is helping the current Santa contact his successor. It also involves Santa getting sent to jail. Ernest has to break him out, worrying what will happen to him, locked in a cell with a bunch of hardened criminals. Ironic Echo Cut to Santa leading the hardened criminals in singing "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
Also contains one of the most badass lines ever said by Santa:
Santa Claus: The name... is Santa Claus.
Olive the Other Reindeer. One of Santa's reindeer is injured and can't make the Christmas run. Santa gets on the television and pleads for "all of the other reindeer" that can fly to come and try to replace him. A dog named Olive mishears him and is convinced that she's actually a reindeer, so she strikes out for the North Pole to try and save Christmas.
Matt Groening executive produced and Michael Stipe shows up for a musical number.
Olive is an interesting case, actually, because it has two varieties of the Saving Christmas plot. In addition to the injured reindeer, there's a disgruntled postman trying to "cancel" Christmas because of both the extra work the Christmas season creates for the post office and his own long-standing personal grudge against Santa.
In the last third of Elf, the engine on Santa's sleigh falls out, and Buddy and his family must make Manhattan believe in Santa (without a sighting) in order to re-power the sleigh.
In A Country Christmas two children must help the public believe in Santa Claus again or he'll vanish forever.
In The Santa Trap a girl captures Santa to prove he exists, but ends up getting him sent to jail.
Rise of the Guardians has a rare variant where the gang has to save Easter. Of course, Santa and other folklore spirits have tagged along, and the existance of all of them (including Christmas) is at risk.
Older Than Radio, possibly Truth in Television: Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol was written at a time where Christmas was going out of fashion as a holiday. Many scholars believe that this showed Christmas in a new light and many people returned to the holiday.
In Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel Hogfather, the titular Hogfather (the Discworld equivalent of Santa Claus) is assassinated (for want of a better word, since the Hogfather is a sort of immortal quasi-deity), and Death is the one to stand in for him. Meanwhile, Death's granddaughter Susan (it's a long story) tries to find out what happened to the Hogfather and fix things. This being Discworld, it gives a philosophical reason why the celebration needs to be saved, goes over some of the origin myths behind it, and visits several other classic Christmas tales in a very tongue-in-cheek way.
An early example is J.R.R. Tolkien's The Father Christmas Letters, written as "replies" to his children's letters to Father Christmas in the 1920s and 30s. In the early letters a running theme is that Father Christmas' assistant the North Polar Bear (Karhu) keeps accidentally screwing up Christmas at the last moment (e.g. by 'snapping the North Pole'), and everything is only put right again through hard work. In later letters, matters evolve to make the NPB more of a heroic figure, and he helps fight off invasions of goblins that supposedly parallel the real-life events of World War II (and may have been an attempt by Tolkien to provide reasons for his children why the war was making Christmas grimmer than usual).
Another children's book, Cops And Robbers by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, has the robbers stealing presents from homes on Christmas Eve. Luckily the good old cops are onto them.
Live Action TV
Very few series that are a so-called Julekalender do not feature this type of plot to some degree. Some are more subtle than others, though. In some series, the characters will directly state that they have to save Christmas from day one, while others may only feature "saving an aspect of Christmas" as a side-plot. The exception, however, is most "Voksenjulekalendere" ("Grown-Up's Christmas Calendars") that take place at Christmas and has several Christmas elements, but essentially are episodic comedy series that often parody something entirely non-Christmas-related.
A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift Of All plays with this trope by having Stephen trapped in his mountain cabin by a bear. He laments:
I've got to get to my studio to do my Christmas special! That's where Santa brings my presents every year! If I don't, then Christmas won't come! ...for me!
The Stroker and Hoop Christmas episode combined the first two variations on this type with a subverted Yet Another Christmas Carol set-up. Talking car Carr was the Santa substitute, and Stroker saved Santa's life by exploiting the Time Travel powers of the three spirits.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch more or less had to save Christmas once a year. In one instance, she accidentally injures an old friend of her aunts', who turns out to be a clean-shaven Santa, having shed his winter pounds, and must fill in for him. In another, a magical remote control erases Christmas from existence, and she must engender enough Christmas spirit to restore it before time runs out. Santa is again a key factor in this one.
Saturday Night Live did a "Santa is sick" parody Christmas special, "The Night Hannukah Harry Saved Christmas".
The straight-to-video Sesame Street film, Elmo Saves Christmas, which is actually a double-subversion, because the initial saving happens in the first twenty minutes; the rest involves Elmo's wish — for it to be Christmas every day — almost destroying Christmas again, but luckily he is shown in a Wonderful Life style series of Flash Forwards how things would pan out in the long run, and he ultimately saves Christmas again by taking back his wish.
Completely averted in "A Very Supernatural Christmas." Sam and Dean think at first that they're fighting a creature called "the Anti-Claus," like Black Peter, who punishes naughty people. In one scene, Sam points out how Christmas is just a bunch of pagan rituals smashed together with a Christian excuse for celebration, much to Dean's dismay. It turns out that they're up against a (married) couple of elderly Stepford Smiling pagan gods, whom they kill with Christmas tree branches. They saved innocent lives and maimed and mangled Christmas traditions while they were at it, but Christmas itself was never actually in danger.
The TV movie The Night They Saved Christmas combines a visit to the Pole with the sabotage plot. The sabotage is unintentional on the part of oil prospectors who are dynamiting the nearby area and don't know/believe Santa and the gang exist, so the family of a company employee is brought to "North Pole City" so they can understand the problem and prevent the city from being destroyed.
One episode of Adam-12 revolves around various Christmas shenanigans, including an overly jolly drunk driver, detectives complaining about not being able to make it home for Christmas, family disputes, and recovering a stolen car containing Christmas presents.
Sufjan Stevens' Songs For Christmas box set includes a comic strip by Tom Eaton, "It Was the Worst Christmas Ever!", in which Santa is suffering from winter depression, and Sufjan is called in to cheer him up with music. And completely fails. Just when it looks like Santa's depression will force everyone to cancel Christmas, Sufjan hits on the solution of feeding chocolate to Santa until he gets hopped up on sugar and caffeine.
Relient K's song "Santa Claus Is Thumbing to Town" subverts this by setting up a scenario where Christmas clearly needs saving, desperately... and then it just ends.
Many of Trans-Siberian Orchestra's albums have a Saving Christmas theme, but it's on a much more personal level than other examples.
One of Stan Freberg's Dragnet parodies involved Joe Friday taking a Scrooge-esque character named Grudge to the North Pole, to demonstrate to Grudge that Santa is real (despite there being no law that says one must believe in Santa). Once Grudge believes, he gets all the presents that were piling up for him during his time of non-belief.
Kingdom of Loathing has done this, to varying extents of actually saving the holiday, with its special Crimbo events. Since 2005 Crimbo has needed saving from, in various years, a workers' strike, a takeover by the Queen of Halloween, assimilation by the Crimborg, radiation-induced mutations, the Penguin Mafia, bland and inoffensive corporate culture, a candy trade embargo, a Humongous Mecha, and heavily-armed bears.
In EverQuest, there are a number of quests to save Santug Claugg, the red suited ogre who gives out presents on Frostfell.
And it goes Up to Eleven in 2001's The Island of Misfit Toys where he must stop the Toy Taker.
Really, just about any series will have a " Saves Christmas" special these days, where is the name of characters in that series. Case in point, "Billy and Mandy Save Christmas".
Von Ghoulish: I've always wanted to save Christmas, ever since I was a boy!
Grim: I always wanted to save Christmas with a vampire sidekick, ever since I was a little boy!
Cue (intentionally) cheesy musical number
Camp Lazlo: Santa wants to cancel Christmas to take a vacation, but Lazlo convinces him to take a short vacation at summer camp and return in time to finish the presents. Christmas is saved...right? Nope; Santa doesn't want to leave camp. Laz finally convinces Santa to go home. Saved! Except, while Santa was gone, Lumpus hijacked his home and servants. An epic battle ensues, with Lumpus armed with a walking lawn chair and Santa a tether ball. Lumpus is hit by a meteor at the last second, and Christmas is saved.
The first one is where Timmy wishes for Christmas everyday, ending in an overworked Santa, powerless fairies (they give most of their magic to Santa) and peeved mascots of the other holidays. Timmy has to save Santa from the wrathful folk before convincing the other kids to wish for the day after Christmas.
In "Merry Wishmas" Timmy ends up replacing Christmas with Wishmas after giving every one a "one wish coupon", leaving Santa out of business and replaced by Jorgen, Cosmo and Wanda. Now Timmy has to find a way to revive Christmas and get Santa to leave his house.
In the episode "Road to the North Pole", Stewie and Brian attempt to do this, because Santa is exhausted to near death due to the increasing demand for presents. Predictably, they fail catastrophically.
They may have failed at taking Santa's place, but in a way they did save Christmas next year by convincing everyone in the world to ask for only one present.
Peter brings up a Noodle Incident about saving it himself in "Bango Was His Name Oh".
The first Christmas episode of The Flintstones had Fred chosen to stand in for a sick Santa. The plot was repeated for a later TV special where Santa is injured at Fred's home, forcing Fred and Barney to complete his deliveries while Santa guides them at Fred's house by radio contact.
Subverted by Futurama, where the Planet Express gang tried to deliberately incapacitate the future's evil robotic Santa so everyone could have a normal ChristmasXmas instead.
In The Worst X-mas Ever of Invader ZIM fame, Dib makes an attempt at this. Not saving Santa, mind you, just Christmas. He fails spectacularly.
One Johnny Bravo episode had Santa force Johnny to take his place after Johnny mistook him for a burglar and broke his arm. Another one featured Johnny rushing to the North Pole after forgetting to mail off his and his mother's letters to Santa.
The second has a Continuity Nod when Johnny tells him how he accidentally hit him last Christmas. Santa claims that he doesn't remember, but he gives him a punch in the face anyway since it sounded like he deserved it.
Technically, Santa isn't abducted. Dalong Wong assaults the north pole workshop and the Chan Clan has to intervene before Wong can bust in and murder Santa.
Codename: Kids Next Door did this in "Operation: NAUGHTY", when the Delightful Children from Down the Lane stole Santa's toy-making equipment and framed the KND for it. Then the whole thing degenerates into a parody/homage of Marvel Comics' "Dark Phoenix Saga", with Numbah Three as Jean Grey, Santa Claus as Professor X and the elves as the rest of the X-Men.
Kim Possible's "A Very Possible Christmas" used a unique twist. Plucky sidekick (and good Jewish boy) Ron sets off to save the world on Christmas Eve, by himself, to give Kim her favorite night of the year with her family. It doesn't go too well, but the Possibles all go to rescue him from a crash landing near the North Pole, and spend Christmas together after all.
Powerpuff Girls, "Twas The Fight Before Christmas": Princess rewrites Santa's "naughty" and "nice" lists to make it look like she's been the only nice child this year, getting her the superpowers she's always wanted while the other kids of Townsville get coal, and the Powerpuff Girls rush to inform Santa of the mistake.
A bit of a variation occurs in The Real Ghostbusters episode "X-Mas Marks The Spot" where the Ghostbusters go back in timeinto the events ofA Christmas Carol and accidentally capture the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future before they can reform Ebeneezer Scrooge. Upon return, the present has been changed to a very grim place. This forces some of them to go back and take the spirits' place for Scrooge, while other members go into their ghost containment unit to rescue the Spirits.
A Christmas episode of Ben 10 (yes, it takes place during summer vacation) has a variant: the Tennysons must make and deliver Christmas presents or be trapped in a bizarre time-defying Christmas dimension forever. Grandpa Max dons the beard and drives the sleigh, complete with a suspiciously stinky flying "reindeer".
In one episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, after Ghost Planet exploded, fades to black. A line of text then appears, saying "Later... at camp", and then cuts to to Space Ghost, surrounded by a group of (live action) children, and says: "And so that kids is the story of how I saved Christmas". He then yells at them to get back to work. Then the episode ends.
X-Men had a truly bizarre episode: "Have a Very Morlock X-Mas", where Storm, Wolverine, and Jubilee encounter some rampaging Morlocks while they're Christmas shopping—and then discover that the Morlocks just wanted medicine because one of them was deathly ill. So Storm and Wolverine rush off to get the medicine, and Jubilee tells the ill Morlock girl that, yes, she believes in Christmas miracles.
Merry Madagascar begins when Santa and his sleigh crash-land on the island, giving the jolly gentleman a case of amnesia. So it falls to Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria — along with the ever-inventive Penguins — to deliver the presents and save Christmas.
In the Brandy & Mr. Whiskers episode "On Whiskers, on Lola, on Cheryl, on Meryl" Brandy and Whiskers have to take over the gift run after causing Santa's sleigh to crash.
Phineas and Ferb had Doofensmirtz use a device to make it so everyone in Danville was deemed naughty on Santa's list. Not only do the kids go out to prove everyone wrong and eventually fill in for him, but it turns out the whole thing was planned by Santa so everyone's wishes came true. In a hilarious subversion, Doofensmirtz is completely ambivalent to Christmas ("I have an intense, burning indifference!") In fact, he probably would have left it alone (going against all tradition) if he hadn't gotten a perfectly good plan as a gift (from Santa) and a bunch of carolers hadn't barged into his house and refused to leave until they got figgy pudding. (For those who are wondering, Doofensmirtz also got his wish, which was to hate Christmas.)
Heck, at the end, Santa explains that the main reason he caused it all to happen was that Phineas said his greatest wish was to be like him, so Santa gave him that very chance.
In the Jimmy Neutron Christmas episode, Jimmy accidentally puts Santa out of commission and has to fill in for him by delivering the presents from his rocket. The warp drive conks out just before he can finish the deliveries, but Santa shows up at the last minute to finish the job.
The Earthworm JimChristmas Episode used the "Santa's been kidnapped" variation. As listed on the quote page, Peter Puppy at one point lampshades the overuse of this trope.
The South Park episode "Red Sleigh Down" had the boys and Jesus rescuing Santa after he had been shot down over Iraq.
Sonic Christmas Blast, the last episode of The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, had Sonic and Tails racing to save Santa and Christmas from Dr. Robotnik, who had kidnapped the jolly old elf and had convinced Mobius to give HIM presents.
The Smurfs episode "Baby's First Christmas" involved the Smurfs working to save Christmas after their Santa Expy Mr. Nicholas had his heart poisoned by hate when Chlorhydris the evil witch kissed him under mistletoe that was used with an evil spell.
In Grift of the Magi, Homer reviews his Christmas record in a series of Noodle Incidents:
Homer: Let's see, that's three Christmases I've saved, verses eight I ruined...two were kind of a draw.
The Looney Tunes Show: In "A Christmas Carol", Lola attempts to restore the town's Christmas spirit by staging a production of A Christmas Carol, while Foghorn Leghorn attempts to save Christmas by installing a giant fan at the North Pole (It Makes Sense in Context).
Regular Show has a good one in which Mordecai, Rigby and the others must destroy a gift able to grant anyone their hearts desire. However, it was created with black magic and brought out the worst in people. All while having a badass Santa give it to them when he was wounded and saving them from the elf who made said gift.
Unusual examples in Sluggy Freelance, with Santa being infected by alien spores and his elves having to prevent him from ruining Christmas by adding same spores to all the presents.
A variation in Clock Suckers where the main characters have to keep Santa and Mrs. Claus' marriage from falling apart. Mrs. Claus goes on to have sex with the Grinch, but Santa kills him with a baseball bat and they go back together.
Somewhat subverted in Amateur Surgeon: Christmas Edition when moronic surgeon Alan Probe causes the destruction of Xmas when he collides his private jet with Santa's Sleigh, further crashing into the North Pole. Alan goes to save the holiday by fixing his mistakes with, you guessed is, back alleysurgery.
Back when the M&Ms official website featured skits starring the M&M characters, one story had Red and Yellow briefly assuming control of Santa's sleigh during his fainting spell (as seen in the TV commercial the story was a follow-up to).