Mad Men: “Christmas Comes But Once a Year”

This episode kicks off the “Francis family” looking at Christmas trees. As the rest of the family walks off, Sally hears a familiar voice calling out to her: Glen, the neighborhood kid with whom Betty has had an… “interesting” relationship. Glen’s mother has gotten married, and he gives her advice about dealing with her new family.

The next morning, we see Don typing away when his secretary, Allison, comes in with the mail, which includes a “Santa Claus” letter from his kids. She reads the letter to Don, and at first it’s your typical, light-hearted letter to Santa Claus. But things become emotional near the end, when Sally says the thing she wants the most is for Don to be home for Christmas. Don gives Allison some money to buy the kids gifts, then tells her that Lane’s cost cutting prevents her (or anyone else) from bringing guests to the office Christmas party.


Meanwhile, Roger welcomes the newly-sober Freddy Rumsen into his office. Freddy says that he’s left JWT and can bring SCDP the Pond’s Cold Cream account, a $2 million deal. When Roger asks how, Freddy only says that he and the Pond’s contact are “in a fraternity together”. Freddy’s only condition is that Pete, who got him fried from Sterling Cooper, not me let anywhere near the account. Roger agrees, then takes him to Don’s office. Peggy welcomes him back with open arms.

Later that night, the phone rings at the “Francis house”. It’s Glen, calling Sally whilst pretended to be a classmate called Stanley. He asks why she’s still living at that house, and Sally says she doesn’t know, but she hates it because she’s always expecting to see Don. Glen says that Betty and Don won’t get back together, but they’ll eventually move to some other house.

The next day, Lane introduces the seniors of SCDP to representatives from Motivational Research Group, a consumer-research company. One of the female members of the MRG team, Dr. Faye Miller, asks the SCDP employees to fill out a questionnaire. Don, either disliking the company’s scientific approach or resentful of being ordered around by a woman, makes up an excuse and leaves.

The next morning, Don is rudely awakened by some hammering. He gets up to see a neighbor, a nurse named Phoebe Bennett, putting Christmas decorations on her door for an office Christmas party. Phoebe looks like a mischievous pixie, and when Don complains about having to go to work, Phoebe says that he should thank her for waking him up.

At the office, Peggy and Freddy argue over the direction of the Pond’s account. Freddy suggests using older stars like Tallulah Bankhead in testimonial roles. Peggy suggests that perhaps Pond’s would prefer to go after younger women, who wouldn’t look to Bankhead for beauty tips. Freddy insists that he knows what the client wants, but Peggy says that the agency’s reputation is on the line, too. Roger then walks in from lunch with the Pond’s client. Roger is obviously drunk, so a worried Freddy calls his friend and arranges to meet him at a church.

Roger, who has been lying down in his office, is awakened by a call from Lucky Strike’s Lee Garner, Jr., who is in town doing some Christmas shopping. When Roger mentions the office Christmas party, Lee invites himself. Lane rushes to Roger’s office, where Roger says that the office party must change from “convalescent home to Roman orgy”.

Later that night, Mark shows up at Peggy’s apartment. He tries to sweet talk her into sex, but she refuses and asks him to leave. Meanwhile, Don stumbles home from work, drunk, as Phoebe is cleaning up the hallway after her party. Don mumbles that he hates this Christmas, while Phoebe helps him into his apartment and into bed. He tries to get frisky, but she rebuffs his advances as only a well-trained nurse can.

The next day, we see Joan leading the troops in getting the office ready for the party. Meanwhile, Freddy and Peggy go over ideas for the Pond’s account. After reading off a list of older actresses, Peggy ask why they aren’t targeting younger women with the ads. Freddy misinterprets this as Peggy wanting to aim for younger women wanting to get married. Peggy, frustrated, calls him “old fashioned”. Freddy gets up and leaves her office.

Later that night, we see Glen calling the Francis house, but no one answers.

At the office, the party begins. Pete and Trudy, Roger and Jane, Harry and Jennifer, and Don discuss their holiday travel plans, while Bert, Lane and the folks from MRG discuss the future of politics. Joan suddenly calls everyone to “battle stations” as Lee Garner shows up… drunk.

Back in Ossining, Glen breaks into the Francis home and vandalizes it with a friend by emptying the refrigerator all over the house.

At the party, Lee cajoles Roger into putting on the Santa suit. Lee then humiliates him, saying he doesn’t want him to have a third heart attack by carrying the bag of gifts. Roger ignores him as best he can while handing out cartons of Lucky Strikes to SCDP employees and a Polaroid camera to Lee.

While the rest of the Francis home is trashed, Sally’s room appears to be untouched. She even finds a gift on her bed: a lanyard like the one Glen had at the Christmas tree lot.

Back at the office, Faye confronts Don as to why he left her presentation. Don says it’s not personal, that he “doesn’t feel you can learn much about people that way”. He then says he doesn’t understand how knowing about someone’s childhood can help sell floor wax. The two have a flirty conversation about the ad business, and Don invites her to dinner. She turns him down, but says that he’ll be remarried within a year. When Don asks her what she means, she says “”I always forget… nobody wants to think they’re a type.”


We then see Don walking in the hallway towards his apartment… only it seems that he’s forgotten his keys. He walks to a payphone and calls Allison, who finds them on the floor. She brings them to him… and the two end up having sex. A giggly Allison straightens up her dress and leaves afterward.

The next day, Peggy and Freddy make up after their tiff from the day before. Peggy admits that she wants to get married. Freddy suggests that she work less and find someone. Peggy says that she has a boyfriend, but she’ not very enthusiastic about it. Freddy says that she can’t sleep with someone she wants to marry, as the men won’t respect her. But he also says that she can’t lead hm on, either as that’s physically uncomfortable.

We then see Don walking in the office. He sees Allison at her desk and takes another route, where he runs into Roger. The two joke about last night’s party by comparing Lee Garner to Hitler. Don then faces the inevitable and walks up to Allison. He tells her to come into his office, where she’s stacked all the beautifully wrapped gifts for the children. He thanks her, and then turns all businesslike. He ignores the elephant in the room by thanking her for bringing him his keys. He then hands a confused Allison her Christmas bonus: an impersonal card with two $50 inside. Allison, understanding the situation, straightens up and asks if he needs anything else. When he says no, she leaves.

Later that night, we see Mark and Peggy in bed, presumably after having sex. He asks her if she feel any different, and she says that she doesn’t.

We then see Don, alone in his office. He turns off the light, grabs his briefcase and the presents, and walks down the hallway of his office.


– Just as a reminder, Glen is played by Marten Weiner, son of the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner.

– The letter sent to “Santa Claus” is postmarked 5pm, December 7, 1964 from Ossining, New York.

– Is it just me, or does the stamp on the letter look fake? Here’s a page about the stamp, (first issued on November 23, 1962 at the main New York post office) and the stamp used in Mad Men looks much darker than the genuine article.

– When meeting with Freddy, Roger calls the agency “Potemkinville”. This is a reference to Potemkin Villages, a sort of historical urban legend. According to the story, a Russian general named Grigory Potyomkin had several fake villages built along the Dnieper River to impress Catherine II during her visit there in 1787. The purpose of said villages was to make Potyomkin look better in the eyes of Catherine by making the Crimea much more glamorous and industrious than it actually was. Whether this actually happened is a matter of debate. It’s almost certain that Potyomkin had several villages cleaned up for the Empresses’ visit, but this would hardly be unusual. It’s also known that Potyomkin led several genuine building projects in the area. It was later discovered that Mikhail Krechetnikov, governor of Tula, did attempt some kind of similar deception to disguise a local crop failure when Catherine’s entourage stopped there on the return trip, so this might be the source of the myth. Regardless of what actually happened, “Potemkin Village” (or “Potemkinville”, as Roger calls it) has entered the English language as a general term for a facade built up to fool someone.

– Freddy has left JWT, which is yet another large ad agency. Founded by William James Carlton in 1864, the agency was bought by James Walter Thompson (originally hired as a bookkeeper) in 1877. As mentioned in a previous episode of Mad Men, Thompson was the first to figure out that he could sell more advertising if he had an in-house design team, so JWT was the first agency to hire artists and designers to create content for clients. JWT also was the first international ad agency, opening a London office in 1899. It also hired the industry’s first female creative director (i.e. Don’s job) in 1908. The agency was the first to offer a testimonial ad – for Pond’s cold cream, no less – in 1925 and the first to run a TV commercial, in 1939. And, much to my missus’ delight, the agency invented the grilled cheese sandwich for Kraft in 1930.

Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith.

– When Dr. Miller tells the SCDP folks what the questionnaire is really for she’s describing the Hawthorne Effect, a tendency for test subjects to unconsciously manipulate their answers simply because they’re being tested. For example, a company might hold a focus group to test a new product. Although members of the focus group might feel they are answering the company’s questions truthfully, it’s possible that they might subconsciously: a) feel guilty about trashing the product while taking the company’s $50 payment; or b) might feel bad about giving bad reviews to the perky young woman leading the focus group; or c) subconsciously put on a “public persona” when discussing the product; or d) simply might come from homes where the old saying “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all” was strictly enforced. MRG’s questionnaire is designed to get around this.

– As usual for Mad Men, St. Vincent Hospital and Medical Center of New York is a real place… or actually it was. The hospital filed for bankruptcy on April 14, 2010 and closed on April 30th after serving Manhattan for 161 years.

– According to Google Maps, the hospital is only .4 miles from Don’s apartment building. Incidentally, Don’s new office is 2.5 miles away from his apartment.

Tallulah Bankhead was an American actress who was famous (infamous?) for being outrageous and outspoken in interviews, kind of like Angelina Jolie and Madonna were earlier in their careers. Bankhead famously said that Thomas E. Dewey (Harry Truman’s opponent in the 1948 presidential election) reminded her of “the little man on the wedding cake”. She also once said that “[t]here have been only two geniuses in the world, Willie Mays and Willie Shakespeare”. Her alleged last words were “codeine… bourbon”. An exaggerated, evil version of Bankhead was the inspiration for Cruella de Vil, the antagonist in Disney’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians.

– Freddy’s AA sponsor is named Cal Rutledge.

– Peggy: “I can’t believe that’s his job!”

– Yes, friends, The First Baptist Church in the City of New York is, in fact, located at 79th and Broadway. Their website is here.

-When Roger calls Lane “Olivier”, he’s referring to the famous British actor Laurence Olivier. Olivier appeared in dozens of high-brow films in his day, including a lot of adaptations of Shakespeare’s work. To many Americans of the day, Olivier was the stereotypical Englishman.

– I gave it a good try, but I don’t think “The Swedish Way of Love” is a real article. Almost every link for the first 4 pages of Google results refers to this episode of Mad Men.

– Phoebe asks Don if he works at the White Horse Tavern. Opened in 1880, the White Horse was known as a sailor’s bar until Welsh poet Dylan Thomas started frequenting it in the 1950s. Other literary stars soon followed, including Irish singers The Clancy Brothers, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Norman Mailer, and Hunter S. Thompson. Jack Kerouac was famously thrown out of the bar multiple times, and the words “Jack go home” are still scrawled on the wall of the men’s room. Like a lot of famous bars, the White Horse now mainly attracts tourists these days.

– Freddy’s list of possible actresses for the Pond’s ad include Tallulah Bankhead (62 at the time), Barbara Stanwyck (57), Jessica Tandy (55) and relatively young Doris Day (42). Thus, the average age of Freddy’s picks is 54. Peggy’s compromise actress – Elizabeth Taylor – was 32. Incidentally, Elizabeth Taylor was also married to Conrad Hilton, Jr. (son of “Connie” Hilton, of Hilton Hotel fame, as seen in Mad Men last season) from 1950 to 1951.

– Although Pete doesn’t want to miss Christmas in New York, Trudy is adamant that they’re going to the Bahamas. Harry and Jennifer are going to Stowe, Vermont, while Don is going to Acapulco.

– Don’s face during the party was priceless, no? He looked like one of those actors in a show at an amusement park, trying valiantly to keep a fake smile on his face.

– Lee Garner calls Lane “Jeeves” after Reginald Jeeves, a valet in the works of P. G. Wodehouse. Although few English speakers have probably actually read any of the books or short stories, “Jeeves” has become a generic name for a butler in popular culture.

– I can’t tell exactly what Polaroid camera SCDP got for Lee, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was a Polaroid Land Model 100. The camera sold for $165 when it was released in 1963, or around $1,144 in current dollars.

– In her conversation with Don, Faye says “I always forget… nobody wants to think they’re a type.” Compare this to Don’s comment during the Belle Jolie campaign: “Listen, I’m not here to tell you about Jesus. You already know about Jesus. Either he lives in your heart or he doesn’t. Every woman wants choices. But in the end, none wants to be one of 100 in a box. She’s unique. She makes the choices and she’s chosen him. She wants to tell the world he’s mine. He belongs to me, not you. She marks her man with her lips. He is her possession. You’ve given every woman who wears your lipstick the gift of total ownership.”

– According to this handy NYC taxi fare estimator, a taxi fare from Don’s place back to the office is only around $9 in modern dollars, and was probably cheaper in Don’s time, even taking inflation into account. So why didn’t Don just go get his keys instead of having Allison bring them to him?

– Allison is supposed to meet some coworkers at Chumley’s after she drops the keys off at Don’s. Located at 86 Bedford Street, the bar was opened as a speakeasy in 1926 by socialist activist Leland Stanford Chumley. The bar never lost its speakeasy roots, as the two entrances were unmarked, and the bar retained many secret passages and trap doors. It’s also thought that Chumley’s was where the slang term “86” (meaning to leave or eject) came from, after its address. The bar closed on April 5, 2007 after a chimney in the dining room collapsed. Although there have been several attempts at reopening the bar, it remains closed to this day.

– When Freddy says that leading a man on is “very uncomfortable”, he’s talking about blue balls. Trust me ladies, he’s not kidding. It’s very real and very painful!

– Allison’s $100 bonus would be worth $684.32 in 2009 dollars. I’m not sure what to think about it. I mean, I’d be happy to get almost $700 for a Christmas bonus, but perhaps that was low, even for a small, struggling agency at the time. Oh, and just for the record, I get that it was delivered in them most impersonal method possible. I was just wondering about the amount of money, is all.


One thing I love about this show are the subtle touches. I loved how Don only had Allison buy obnoxious, loud gifts for the kids now that he’ no longer at home (you think he’d buy Bobby a drum set if he was still living at home?). I also loved how Joan refused to wear the “red dress with a bow on the back”, but ended up wearing it to the party anyway. As I always say, this is a show that demands your attention and rewards it with nice touches like that.

All in all, though, I just didn’t care for this episode that much. I found it as disjointed as last season’s “My Old Kentucky Home” episode, although I have high hopes that it won’t seem as disjointed by the end of the season as it does now.

Still, the idea of Don sleeping with Allison just squicks me out… and I’m a huge fan of Don. That wasn’t right.. .wasn’t right at all. Especially with Dr. Miller on the scene. She’s not only pretty, she’d “get” both Don and his job. So why not go after her and just call the hooker back if he simply must get that that night? Meh.

Oh, and is it it just me, or did anyone else cringe when Carla answered the phone “Francis residence”? That ain’t right at all, no siree.

Still, even though I didn’t love this episode, I’m always looking forward to next Sunday’s episode

2 Replies to “Mad Men: “Christmas Comes But Once a Year””

  1. Our DVD of season arrived yesterday, March 30. 2011. We watched the first two episodes. The second one was “Christmas Comes But Once A Year.” We enjoyed the retrocausationist humor the episode had in it. It is how Mad Men plays out in contemporary times. It is “Feeling The Future.” As I write this, Elizabeth Taylor recently died at age 79. She is mentioned in Mad Men’s contemporary times in comparison to older actresses of the day. She was 32 at the time and Bankhead, 62. Experiencing this episode for the first time after Taylor’s death at age 79 felt like another of Matt Weiner’s “in-jokes” but it wasn’t or was it? Timing is everything in show business and my husband and myself wonder if Elizabeth got a good laugh out if the episode-wherever she is.

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