As anyone who knows me can attest, I'm a pretty big fan of Christmas, and this time of year, I start going through my set of holiday traditions. There's the usual ones, of course, like decorating the tree and opening the Advent Calendar, but I've also got a few of my own, like the traditional Christmas Eve slice of pie at the Waffle House.

But the ones I look forward to most of all are the round of Christmas specials I watch every year. The centerpiece, of course, is a 1967 episode of Dragnet called "The Christmas Story," where Joe Friday investigates the theft of a statue of Jesus from a church on Christmas Eve, but for me, the Christmas season just isn't complete without a viewing of the Xena: Warrior Princess episode "A Solstice Carol."

You know, the one where Xena meets Santa Claus.



That's right: They managed to have a Christmas episode on a show that was ostensibly set 1200 years before there was a Christmas to have an episode about. And honestly? That's the least of the craziness.After all, nitpicking the timeline of Xena: Warrior Princess is the surest way to madness. I mean, this episode comes smack in the middle of a season where Xena meets both David (as in "And Goliath") and Julius Caesar, and which also involves an episode that flashes forward to the 1940s so that the cast can be reincarnated to fight Nazis. In other words, there's a chronological margin of error at work here so wide that I'm pretty sure the only reason they didn't have her fight Blackbeard was because the producers were saving him for an episode of Jack of All Trades (starring Bruce Campbell!) where he kidnapped Ben Franklin. And that's a pretty neat trick, considering Blackbeard died when Franklin was 12.

So really, having Santa knocking around a couple millennia before St. Nicholas dropped coins into children's shoes is pretty much par for the course. And what a course it is.

The whole thing kicks off when Xena and her sidekick/lesbian subtext provider Gabrielle arrive in a town that, as tends to be the case with towns in Xena: Warrior Princess, is being ruled by an evil warlord. In this case, the offender is King Silvus:



In addition to being a passable Angus Scrimm impersonator, Silvus is keen on overtaxing the peasantry and having them thrown in jail when they can't pay. What's more, he hates Solstice! The whole Solstice season!

In other words, he's a miser who hates the holidays, and at this point, 1 minute and 21 seconds into the episode, you can probably see exactly where this is going. But while most shows would've been happy to focus on one plot, Xena had 44 minutes plus commercials to fill, and needed a few more to be getting on with. Thus, we are introduced to the Bob Cratchit of our ersatz Dickens tale, a mild-mannered clerk in Silva's court named Senticles.

Get it?

Yes, despite the fact that he looks less like Kris Kringle than he does the late Sam Kinison...



...he'll eventually be stepping into the role of the Jolly Old Elf. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

As it happens, Silvus hates the Solstice holiday so much that he's essentially become the Ancient Greek equivalent of Burgermeister Meisterburger and outlawed any and all celebrations of it. This becomes abundantly clear when a standard-issue street urchin steals Xena's Death-Frisbee. He ends up leading Xena back to an orphanage where it's decorating a Solstice tree...



... just in time for Xena to see Senticles show up and announce that the orphanage is going to be closed and its attendant orphans evicted that very night.



Oh, and also he used to be a toymaker before Silvus outlawed fun.

So to review, at this point, four minutes into the episode, before we even hit the opening credits, we have:

  • A miser who needs to be shown the error of his ways.
  • An orphanage in need of saving from same.
  • A secret toymaker whose name sounds like "Santa Claus."

The signs are all here. Clearly, Xena has to save Christmas.

In the spirit of the season, Xena decides not to go with her usual tactic of just cold beating the crap out of the local authorities until everyone agrees to play nice and instead goes with a plan built around breaking and entering, psychological torture, and hallucinogenic drugs. To that end, she pokes around a room Silvus has had locked off and discovers that he hates the Solstice because that's when his wife, Analia, died thirty years prior, a bit of information that comes in the form of a handy, albeit suspiciously medieval looking, painting:



Meanwhile, Gabrielle buys a donkey. Believe it or not, this will actually be important later.

Thus, in true Dickensian fashion -- only with the actual addition of orphans -- Xena starts a-Scroogin', with her plan being to visit Silvus as each of the three Fates in order to get him to lighten up. First up is Clotho, who is apparently the Fate of Totally Having Crazy Person Eyes.



"Clotho" takes him to "the past," which in this case is a dusty room where Gabrielle hangs from the ceiling in disguise as Analia, getting things wrong about their relationship. Namely the fact that Analia is not actually dead, and rather just walked out on him.

At this point, one would be inclined to wonder why Silvus doesn't see right through the deception, but to be fair, in the world of Xena: Warrior Princess, it's actually extremely likely that the personification of an abstract concept would show up offering dubious proclamations. It's essentially Occam's Razor by way of syndicated adventure shows.

Next up is Lachesis, who takes Silvus out to the orphanage to see what The People actually think about him, but since we're blowing through the Christmas Carol homage a little too fast, we instead turn to Senticles and his extremely creepy room full of dolls:



Despite assertions that he's not a hero and a emphatic fear of going to prison that is second only to Tom Dubois from the Boondocks, Senticles agrees to slap on a fake beard and hand out his cache of toys to the orphans. Of course, this is only after Gabrielle gives him a speech about how he's afraid of small spaces, but he's in a metaphorical small space already.

As inspirational speeches go, it's sure as hell no "in a way, we all have our own El Guapo to face someday," but it's still a few steps above Green Lantern telling the Flash how might run fast, but he's always slowing down, so I guess it's a wash.

Unfortunately, they get to the orphanage just after the town guard has shown up to throw everybody out, essentially laying siege to the place. As a result, Senticles has to sneak in by way of --- as you might expect --- the chimney, thereby conquering the El Guapo that is his claustrophobia.

At that point, it's time for a fight scene, and with Xena still wanting to preserve the nonviolence of the holiday, they opt to do battle with toys. Xena, of course, uses tree ornaments as ninja stars...



...while Gabrielle opts to just straight up start hula hooping:



That .gif is my Solstice present to you, 14-Year-Old Me.

Anyway, this tactic works out, but unfortunately, Silvus himself remains firmly Scrooged, until he finally comes face to face with the last Fate, who turns out to be the matron of the orphanage, who turns out to actually be Analia, his estranged wife. Thus, the miser changes his life for the better and is reunited with his lost love, the orphanage is saved, and Senticles starts delivering toys dressed up in a red suit.

That would be enough complete and utter holiday insanity to make this episode memorable, but that's not where it ends. It actually ends with Xena meeting these friendly folks:



Mary, Joseph and their newborn baby Jesus, who had been born during an episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys that originally aired on the same day, in which Kevin Sorbo led the Three Wise Men to the manger. Seriously. That is what happened in these episodes.

So, in an act of charity, Gabrielle gives her donkey to the new mother, which means that in one day, Xena met Santa Claus, Jesus, and Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.

And that, my friends, is how you do a Christmas Special.


This article was fiirst published December 9, 2010.

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