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Do They Know It's Christmas Time?

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"Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
This bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time."
Marcellus, Hamlet

What happens when Status Quo Is God smashes into a Christmas Episode. Perhaps no one ever goes to church or mentions a deity the rest of the year, but every now and again, around Christmas, our heroes will be shown the True Meaning of Christmas (it's never presents — well, not usually) and caring, and realize just how lucky they really are. They may even go to a Christmas church service, probably midnight mass on Christmas Eve. At the very least, they attempt to be kinder and more charitable toward those around them, embrace the brotherhood of humanity, and so forth.


Next week: back to the usual whining, angst, arguments, adultery, and code-breaking.

Common plotlines are the "Gift of the Magi" Plot, Yet Another Christmas Carol, Away in a Manger. But then again, perhaps You Mean "Xmas".

The title of this trope is taken from the Band Aid song, "Do They Know It's Christmas?"—although that particular number really belongs under Charity Motivation Song (or, to the more cynically inclined, White Man's Burden).

Compare and contrast with Santa Clausmas, Everyone Is Christian at Christmas, Did I Mention It's Christmas? and Twisted Christmas. Averted by The Grinch.



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     Anime and Manga  
  • The Love Hina Christmas special focuses on Keitaro and Naru trying to meet up with each other while it is still Christmas Eve. does the Marmalade Boy Christmas episode.
  • Super Dimension Fortress Macross both upholds and subverts the trope, as the protagonist and his ladylove use the holiday as an excuse to kiss over a Christmas cake, while there are scenes of the religious aspect — a priest and a (very obviously Christian) church are highlighted in one sequence, implying that people in the city were taking in Midnight Mass just before the Humongous Mecha attack launched by Kamujin.
  • On Vandread, Hibiki gives Dita the gift of Christmas snow, despite their position on a ship in deep space, by grabbing a chunk off a nearby comet with his Vanguard mecha.
  • In Kimagure Orange Road the Christmas episode involved Kasuga time traveling three times in order to create a Christmas Eve meeting that didn't leave either Hikaru or Madoka furious at him, due to the Serious implications of a Christmas Eve Date.
  • The Big O episode "Daemonseed" takes place on "Heaven's Day", a day of gift-giving whose origins have been lost to the amnesiac residents of Paradigm City. At the end, Alex Rosewater says, "Tell me, Chief, do you know the real meaning behind Heaven's Day? It's the day God's son was born." Also, a Humongous Mecha fights a mutant Christmas tree. This could be a subtle subversion, as later revelations about Rosewater indicate he was probably talking about himself.
  • More than once in the Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch manga, although in the anime, these episodes were all altered to remove the Christmas element. Oddly, the anime still put out Christmas merchandise with the girls in Santa suits.
  • Tokyo Mew Mew had a Christmas episode where Ichigo tries to give Masaya a magical piece of jewelry she got from Zakuro. He ends up in the hospital after being hit with an exploding Mew Aqua, setting up a plot point that was left unexplained in the manga, so this Christmas episode actually means something.
  • A character working his behind off to buy his significant other the perfect Christmas or other holiday gift (which is far outside his normal means) is a standard anime plot. Examples include Ah! My Goddess and Ai Yori Aoshi.
  • Ranma ½ has one of these. Genma and Soun are grumbling about how, in their day, everyone was still Buddhist and didn't celebrate Christmas. Kasumi comes in and asks if everyone is ready for a Christmas ham, leading Genma and Soun to cry, "Hooray for Christmas!" Similarly, in the original manga version of Dominion Tank Police, Al gives Leona a Christmas gift, which she gladly accepts, though she mentions if her devoutly Buddhist grandfather ever got wind of it, he'd smack her with his boukken.
  • Tokyo Godfathers, of course, for a unique Japanese Christmas story. It even opens with two of the main characters attending Mass and watching a Nativity scene, and there is a surprising number of allegories to the birth of Christ in itself —the most obvious being the Three Magi.
  • Kamichu! subverts this when the rather jingoistic and culturally supremacist Miko Matsuri would rather it not be Christmas Time.

     Fan Fiction 
  • In Discworld Hogswatch-time fic Il se Passait au nuit de Pere Porcher, where a lot of Christmas conventions and clichés are gleefully sent up, the final chapter is called Do They know It's Hogswatchnight in Howondaland? The titular Band Aid song is spoofed in a Discworld context, through the agency of a character from "Rimwards Howondaland" who is asked this very question. She is from a farming family, and replies using the lyrics of the song... and in subsequent fic gap Year Adventures, visiting Wizard Ponder Stibbons is asked, indeed just before Hogswatch, if he can apply a little practical water-divining to an area of Bush scrubland where, hitherto, neither rain has fallen nor water has flowed.

     Film — Animated 
  • At the end of An All Dogs Christmas Carol, an open-hearted car face shows up at the Christmas celebration the protagonists are hosting with gifts for the puppies (in addition to returning the presents he stole) and fills the tin can used to hold donations supporting Timmy the lame puppy's medical care with money. She tells the protagonists that his good behavior won't last, as he still has a business to run.

     Film — Live-Action 
  • Averted in Babe: a bunch of thieves steal half the sheep flock on Christmas Day.

  • Discworld
    • The novel Hogfather spoofs the everloving hell out of this one. Most notably, when Death announces that, as the stand-in Hogfather he can teach people "the real meaning of Hogswatch", his assistant Albert helpfully lists the more unpleasant aspects of pagan solstice ceremonies. Death instead resolves to teach people "the unreal meaning of Hogswatch".
    • In the novel Sourcery, Small God's Eve, when the Archchancellor is elected, is the one day in the year when wizards are not actively trying to kill brother wizards.
  • In The Famous Five book Five Go Adventuring Again, the Five are spending Christmas at Kirrin Cottage. George spends most of the book sulking because nobody will share her intense dislike for their tutor Mr Roland. She has never had a Christmas tree before, and looks forward to it, but it is spoilt for her because Mr Roland buys all the things that make it look beautiful. The others plead with her not to spoil Christmas; she compromises by being civil on the day itself, and stiffly thanks Mr Roland for his present to her, before reverting to her stubborn self the following day.
    Live-Action Television 
  • Our Miss Brooks: Our Miss Brooks had several Christmas episodes, although religion was rarely mentioned at other times (the program also had two Easter episodes and two Thanksgiving episodes):
    • "The Magic Christmas Tree" sees Miss Brooks prepared to spend Christmas Eve alone with Mrs. Davis' pet cat Minerva. Hilarity Ensues.
    • "Christmas Show" features the frantic exchanging of Christmas gifts . . . before Christmas.
    • "Department Store Contest" sees Miss Brooks' childhood letter to Santa Claus inadvertently entered into the titular contest.
    • "Christmas Gift Returns" sees more trouble from the exchanging of Christmas gifts.
    • "Music Box Revue" sees Miss Brooks buy a magic music box that she'll only hear play if she's in the proper Christmas spirit.
    • "A Dry Scalp is Better Than None" and "The Telegram" see Miss Brooks and company throw Christmas in July parties for Mrs. Davis' sister Angela and Uncle Corky respectively.
  • The episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer "Amends," which ends with the heroic vampire Angel being saved from his Christmas morning suicide attempt by a miraculous snow storm (in southern California, for those of you wondering why it's miraculous). Subverted, as the people gods that caused it, called the Powers That Be are an important thing on his own show.
  • Double Subversion in Scrubs, where Turk, who becomes suddenly very religious, vows to show the more cynical doctors the true meaning of Christmas... which, for doctors, turns out to be working all of Christmas Eve on call, treating victims of alcohol-fuelled violence, car crashes and suicides. Then, just when all hope is lost, a Christmas Miracle! A star falls from the sky, allowing Turk to find the pregnant teenager who ran away earlier just before she goes into labour and everyone gathers round in the snow as Turk delivers a candy-cane sweet Golden Moment. Awww...
  • EastEnders is infamous for subverting this trope most years, by turning the usual tone of the series up a notch.
  • As a radio show, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy almost did a Christmas special in which Marvin would have been both figuratively and literally the star (of Bethlehem), and by participating in a nativity scene would be cured of his depression. This concept was What Could Have Been; the episode broadcast instead on 24 December 1978 was the pilot for the second series.
  • Parodied to the max in the Brit Com Nightingales. In the Christmas special, three security guards are attempting to celebrate Christmas when they are approached by an unmarried, highly pregnant girl called 'Mary' for a room for the night. They let her stay, only if she promises NOT to be an allegory for the true meaning of Christmas. She later gives birth, but to a stream of unlikely objects (such as a goldfish, a set of golf clubs and a toaster). At the end of the episode, she reveals that in fact, it WAS an allegory all along and mocks the guards for not noticing how she was showing that Jesus had been replaced with a stream of consumer goods. The episode ends with The Pope and Harold Pinter leaving on a trandem.
  • At the end of the TV movie The Hebrew Hammer, the titular Hammer brags to his mother that he's saved Hanukkah, and she isn't at all impressed - it's not like he saved one of the high holy days.
  • The Brady Bunch had a Christmas Episode in one of the earlier seasons. Carol developed laryngitis, and Cindy pleaded with a department store Santa Claus to give her back her voice so she could sing the solo at church on Christmas Day — which of course is exactly what happens. It was the only instance in the entire series where the family attended church or mentioned religion at all.
  • The Christmas episode of My So-Called Life has this. Especially blatant in that it's the (otherwise irreligious) teenage kid and not the parents who insists that everyone attend Christmas Eve mass.
  • Subverted in the Community episode "Comparative Religion". Shirley plans an overtly religious Christmas party for the group, but learns that the others are all non-Christian. In the end they share a decidedly secular, inclusive holiday together. By attempting to beat the crap out of a bully and his friends.
  • On Wonderfalls, the "twice-a-year church attendance" trope is referenced and spoofed when Jaye's former classmate, who has converted to Judaism in order to marry her husband, demonstrates some ignorance of the basic tenets of the religion and then cheerfully informs Jaye, "I'm more of a Christmas and Easter Jew."
    • Later on, when Jaye befriends a Catholic nun (well, former nun), her family reveal themselves as actual Christmas and Easter Protestants when they try to drag her to church, to her bewilderment.
    Jaye: Is it Christmas? Because if it is, it snuck up on me and nobody is getting any presents!
  • Although the only religious background shown in Warehouse 13 is Arty and family being Jewish, the show still had a Christmas-themed episode that had a Santa Claus themed villain-artifact creation, but brought everyone together and celebrated the theme of 'family togetherness'.
  • Averted in Misfits. The typical idea of the Christmas spirit does not include killing Jesus (or at least, the man pretending to be him.
  • Roswell's Christmas episode had Max saving a ward of young cancer patients because he was being haunted by the ghost of a man he didn't save. Yeah. He ends up at Mass with - well, everyone.
  • Glee's Christmas episode of the third season had Rachel, who is vocally Jewish, greedily demanding Christmas gifts from her boyfriend and eventually learning the "true meaning of Christmas" after having a bible verse about Jesus read to her during a Christmas special the Glee club is shooting. Her Judaism is not mentioned until literally the last second of the episode, as the camera is pulling away and Rachel throws out a "Happy Hanukkah" that is essentially lost in the shuffle of the other noise going on.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's one-hour Christmas special features a very rare upbeat ending for the gang. Although they didn't achieve their goals, they are brought closer together, and the episode ends on a note of friendship.
  • Power Rangers Megaforce has Robo-Knight wondering what Christmas is about and Noah says all he has to do is stand still for 24 hours to get a better understanding. Unfortunately for Noah and the other Megaforce rangers, they didn't note that Robo-Knight was standing in an area for toys to be donated to Africa. Thus the poor robot gets shipped with numerous presents donated for charity.
  • LazyTown Season 2 has villain Robbie Rotten attempt to ruin the main characters' Christmas party, but he changes his mind after finding a present addressed to him. In The Stinger, it is shown that Robbie hates his gift, and he decides to go back to villainy.

  • The Trope Namer is "Do They Know It's Christmas?," a charity song by Band Aid. It is certifiably catchy, but it really doesn't have to do much with the trope; the question is whether the poor and starving children in Ethiopia (which was having a famine at the time) knew about the joy and happiness that was their due on Christmas Day. Of course, while their hearts may have been in the right place the Western-centric overtones of this premise was not lost on younger listeners (For instance, while most Ethiopians are Christians, they don't celebrate Christmas the same way, and, being Orthodox, it falls on 7 January; to say nothing of the Unfortunate Implications of a line like "Tonight thank God it's them instead of you"), and so the song was parodied and its premise subverted by "Do They Know It's Hallowe'en?," which is what happens when a bunch of (mostly Canadian) indie rockers get their hands on something like this. That said, the Unfortunate Implications were deliberate - the line was there to shock people into realizing that attitude, breaking out of it, and giving. By all accounts, it worked.
  • Tom Lehrer mocked this trope with his song "A Christmas Carol", from An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer:
    On Christmas Day you can't get sore
    Your fellow man you must adore
    There's time to rob him all the more
    The other three hundred and sixty-four.
  • A version of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" first popularized by Pete Seeger and the Weavers makes note of the love and goodwill that predominate during the holiday season, then rhetorically asks, "Why can't we have Christmas the whole year around?"
  • The music video for the Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" starts with a couple bickering, but then their mood lightens as the song plays and they're treating each other lovingly as the song comes to an end. But then, after the song is over, they start arguing again.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • An Easter Sunday strip of For Better or for Worse from The '80s calls attention to this very trope. The Pattersons get dressed up and go to church, where young Michael is somewhat fascinated by the choir and stained glass windows and such. He asks his mother if the church is always open and she tells him yes, it's open every Sunday. In the final panel, to the amusement of the nearby preacher (and the chagrin of his parents), he innocently inquires, "Then how come we only come here twice a year?"
  • Huey Freeman of The Boondocks is an inversion, as he is seen to become even more cynical and cold around the holidays due to knowledge of the origin of all of the secular traditions and how bastardized the holiday really is.
  • From a Christmas 1965 Peanuts strip:
    Lucy: At this time of year I think we should put aside all of our differences, and try to be kind.
    Charlie Brown: Why does it have to be for just this time of year? Why can't it be all year 'round?
    Lucy: What are you, some kind of fanatic or something?

    Web Original 
  • In the Whateley Universe, the story "Ayla and the Grinch". Except that Ayla and her big sister can't go to the Christmas Eve church service because of what they are.

    Western Animation 
  • While it was done quite plainly in the rest of the episode, one plot-line of the Justice League episode "Comfort and Joy" involved an alien bar fight. That is how Hawkgirl celebrates her holidays.
  • Subversion of the parenthetical note above: Dexter's Laboratory had a Christmas short that ended with Dexter and Santa discussing what the holiday's really about. Dexter argues with the usual (family and things like that)... surprisingly, Santa says "No, (it's about) presents." This is the same conclusion reached by the kids in "The Spirit of Christmas," as seen below.
  • South Park
    • The show also subverted the trope in the "Red Sleigh Down" episode; Santa Claus is taken prisoner in Baghdad and Jesus leads a commando mission to rescue him. Santa makes it out alive, but Jesus is shot and killed during the escape, which prompts Santa to give a conclusory speech about how Jesus died for him.
    • Also parodied in the first Halloween episode. At the end of said episode, Stan says he learned that, "Halloween isn't about costumes, or candy. It's about being good to one another, and giving and loving." He is then told by Kyle that it actually applies to Christmas and that Halloween is about, in fact, costumes and candy.
    • Going even further back, "The Spirit of Christmas," the original South Park short, concludes with "Christmas is about presents."
  • In American Dad!, the Christmas episode "For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls," is where Steve accidentally shoots and kills Santa Claus, only to find he was revived at the North Pole. Santa then goes on a commando raid to kill the main characters, complete with machine guns and homicidal elves.
  • The final episode of Invader Zim entitled "The Most Horrible X-Mas Ever" is a highly absurdist Christmas episode, ending millions of years in the future with a monstrous spider-like Santa Claus who returns to Earth having gathered power from being shot out into space by the show's protagonist.
  • Subverted on Arthur. Arthur Read and family attend church. The episode also mentions Jesus by name.
  • On Dora the Explorer, there's a Double Subversion. Boots asks Dora if Swiper would swipe on Christmas; Dora tells Boots not to let his guard down. She turns out to be right, but once Swiper is told that he just swiped a present meant for Santa Claus, he gives it back and scampers off in peace.
    Dora and Boots: *Sincerely* ¡Feliz Navidad, Swiper!
  • Spoofed in the two Christmas episodes of Futurama, "An Xmas Story" and "A Tale of Two Santas", in which everyone is terrorized by a robotic Santa Claus who judges everyone as naughty and attempts to kill them. At the end of the second, Fry comes to the conclusion that Christmas does bring everyone together... through fear of death.
  • In the show Clone High, Christmas had been replaced by the highly-secularized "Snowflake Day", with "traditional gifts" of hot sauces and a pirate mascot. Joan of Arc learns the True meaning of Snowflake Day from what she suspects was an angel Mandy Moore, but was really a homeless person whose buddies looted her house. (I would recommend not watching the episode if you are offended by gratuitous amounts of blood.)
  • Static Shock had a Christmas episode which dealt with homelessness - Virgil is forced to constantly miss holiday celebrations over a Bang Baby with the power to cause snow storms. Following the advice of his preacher, he tries to see the Bang Baby as a person and realizes that she's just a scared, anguished, homeless girl who never meant to hurt anyone. It all follows up with Virgil, Richie, and their families attending a massive Christian/Jewish/Islamic celebration at the local church. Very touching, although the Hawkins family already was shown to put massive amounts of time and energy into community service and helping others, so yeah...
  • Subverted in The Spectacular Spider-Man when Spidey tries to use this on Sandman and Rhino.
  • Done intentionally as a plot point on Danny Phantom. The villain Ghostwriter is out to get Danny on Christmas and intentionally drops him off in the Ghost Zone right in front of pretty much every foe he's ever faced at once. The bad guys slap a Santa hat on Danny's head and tell him they all put their differences aside on Christmas and have a party (Though remind him that come tomorrow, they'll all be out for his blood again). Danny defeats Ghostwriter by pointing out to the others that he broke the truce, sending all the bad guys to curb-stomp Ghostwriter for him.
  • Surprisingly pops up on a Christmas episode of Animaniacs, with Yakko, Wakko, and Dot (who, frankly, often come across as Ambiguously Jewish) time-traveling to Bethlehem in the year 6 B.C. to visit the Baby Jesus - and ultimately perform a 1940s swing version of "The Little Drummer Boy." Very strange, since in the episode where Wakko temporarily "died," he found himself banished to a very lonely, barren underworld unlike anything described in Christianity.
  • Parodied in It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown, when Linus basically emotionally blackmails Lucy with this trope.
    Lucy: Alright, get up! I wanna sit in that bean bag!
    Linus: Remember last Christmas when we were opening our presents? That's when you said it!
    Lucy: Said what?
    Linus: It was beautiful! You said "how come we only have to be nice to each other on Christmas? Why can't we be nice to each other every day?"
    Lucy: (leaving furiously) You drive me crazy!
    Linus: (casting an Aside Glance) Joy to the world!
  • On the first Christmas Episode of The Fairly OddParents, a mailman and an angry dog treat each other nicely on Christmas. At the end, when Timmy's Christmas Every Day wish has ended, they're happy to go back to being enemies. Subverted with Vicky, who's as rotten as ever.

    Real Life 
  • Anyone who's seen an otherwise sparsely-attended church fill up for Christmas Eve services can attest that this is very often Truth in Television. Easter Sunday is prone to this as well.
  • Charity drives are another real-life example of just how seasonal the spirit of Christmas is.
  • Subverted by retailers everywhere, which make sure to remind people months ahead of time that Christmas is coming... because they know they'll make money.
  • Probably the most dramatic example is the Christmas Truce during WWI.