[7.5/10 on a post-classic Simpsons scale] I didn’t have fond memories of this one, but I ended up quite enjoying it! Maybe it’s just watching the other post-classic episodes, which sink far far below this one that makes it shine by comparison. Regardless, this one uses the show’s “three stories” approach for the holiday season, and comes up with a trio of laugh-worthy segments, which is all you can ask for.
The first is a comical retelling of Jesus’s birth. There’s nothing terribly clever about the “casting” -- Bart is baby Jesus, Marge is Mary, and Homer is Joseph -- but the gag work is good! Prof. Frink regifting mir is amusing; Homer/Joseph doing old Three Stooges routines with Skinner to entertain Bart works better than it ought to, and I particularly like the sort of beleaguered take on Lisa as God’s messenger angel. The first Xmas tree bit is a little silly, but it works as the sort of story Homer would tell, replete with a fun Paul Harvey joke. There’s a minor throughline about Joseph earning his place as Jesus’s father even if he’s not the bio dad, and the laughs are plenty.
The middle story is probably the craziest, featuring Grampa getting stranded on an island with Burns, and eventually Santa Claus, during World War II. But it too has enough fun bits to make weight. Burns’ usual selfishness, various 1940s-isms, and reindeer as fighter jets all make for some good humor. Things get a bit goofy, but as with the first story, you can chalk that up to Grampa as an unreliable narrator.
The third segment is theoretically a Nutcracker Ballet homage, but is more of a grab bag of random holiday bits. It’s the weakest of the three segments, both because of that and because of the tiresome run of Moe suicide jokes. Still, there’s a lot of good stuff here, with lyrics added to the Tchaikovsky classic that earn a few laughs and provide excuses to use the rest of the town. I particularly like the last mini-portion of it, which ends the episode on a sweet note of Marge getting Homer a gift to give to her as the perfect Xmas present. It’s the right sort of holiday sap.
Overall, this is one of, if not the best post-classic Xmas episodes of the show, and a breath of fresh air after some other, not-so-great outings.