"Dear Dad" was the 12th episode of Season 1 of the TV series M*A*S*H. Written by Larry Gelbart and directed by Gene Reynolds, the episode originally aired on December 17, 1972 and was repeated on May 20, 1973. It was the 13th episode by production order, and also the first ever Christmas episode of the series.
In this, the first Christmas episode of M*A*S*H, Hawkeye writes to his dad about the yuletide happenings at the 4077th, including having to fly to the front to do field surgery dressed as Santa Claus.
Full episode summary
"If war was hell in Sherman's day, you can imagine what it is now..."
(Hawkeye, in his letter to his dad]
With a Christmas lull finally taking hold after "seventy hours of sewing kids together, Hawkeye relaxes with a drink in the Swamp and begins writing a letter home to his dad, in which he expounds on the people he works with.
He starts with Henry, whom he calls "a good doctor and a pretty good Joe", but then compares his abilities as a CO to "being on a sinking liner, running to the bridge and finding out that the captain is Daffy Duck". He tells about how Henry reluctantly gave the recent monthly lecture, the topic being "Marital Sex and the Family", which wasn't helped much by Hawkeye and Trapper's heckling.
Next, Hawkeye mentions Radar, who had recently mailed home some unusually large packages, which caught the casual attention of Henry, but also piqued the curiosity of Hawkeye and Trapper; they decided to do a flouroscope of one of Radar's "packages", only to find out that he was mailing a jeep home, piece by piece. Hawkeye quips that once Radar's mailman back home finds out that he actually delivered an entire jeep "he'll have a retroactive hernia".
He then gives an update on his pal, Trapper John, who has taken a shine to the refugee kids from the nearby orphanage, giving them vaccinations in the Mess Tent. He has also made a hero of himself to the locals when he helped a calf birth its baby, for which Trapper received a gallon of mothers milk.
Hawkeye then writes about Father Mulcahy, who has been attempting to decorate the camp (using popcorn strings in Post-Op, and hanging surgical instruments on a Christmas tree in the Mess Tent). Hawkeye talks about Mulcahy's unenviable position at the 4077th, and then expounds on a recent incident in Post-Op during which Frank, citing Klinger's being out of uniform, ordered him to take off a red bandana he was wearing around his neck; when Frank caused Klinger to drop a tray of specimen bottles meant for the lab and then blamed him, Klinger snapped and went after Frank, wrestling with him over several beds (still occupied by patients) before he finally got in a punch that knocked Frank out. With an MP whistle blowing nearby, Mulcahy quickly sent Klinger away, and covered for him when the MP arrived in Post-Op. Mulcahy then went out looking for Klinger, who was already on his way back to Post-Op, still very angry and now carrying a live grenade. Mulcahy tries to talk to Klinger, who is dead-set on killing Frank, but also threatening to blow himself and Mulcahy up if he comes any closer. After assuring Klinger that he can keep his bandana, Klinger reluctantly, but gradually surrenders the grenade to Mulcahy.
Continuing his letter, Hawkeye mentions the nurses and the hard work they've put in, which brings him to Margaret (whom was still being called "Hot Lips" at the time); Hawkeye calls her a paradox, in that she is considerably passionate but also a stickler for military correctness at the same time. Hawkeye mentions that Frank and Margaret have become an item ever since they met, and though the two are convinced that nobody else knows, their affair is actually a poorly-kept secret; he then talks about how he and Trapper stopped by Margaret's tent earlier that day getting her tent ready for their date that evening. Frank arrives just as Margaret lights a candle, and the two embrace. But when Margaret fears they may be throwing shadows, Frank blows out the candle, but it immediately reignites- Frank correctly deduces that the candle is a gag, and it is only the first of a series of gags Hawkeye and Trapper left for them, including sawing through the legs of Margaret's bed and filling her pillow with pudding. Angered, Frank swears revenge on Hawkeye and Trapper, flailing his arms around until he breaks the centerpost in Margaret's tent causing it to completely collapse on both of them. Hawkeye and Trapper (and pretty much everyone else in camp) can hear the vocal carnage as they go to sleep for the night.
The next afternoon, the 4077th is preparing to throw a Christmas party for the children from the orphanage, and Trapper is in Pre-Op helping Hawkeye suit up as Santa Claus, and to his excitement Trapper finds that the Mess Tent is "standing room only", but Hawkeye is barely out the door when he is stopped by Henry: an infantry squad is caught in heavy crossfire twenty miles away, and a corporal is critically wounded and needs surgery ASAP to make it. Trapper is ready to volunteer in Hawkeye's place, but when Henry then tells them it's a chest wound Hawkeye has no other choice but to go. Flying out by chopper to meet the squad, and still dressed as Santa as he had no time to change, Hawkeye continues his letter to his dad saying that while he never expected to fly into battle dressed as Kris Kringle, he muses that that the soldiers are in the last place they expected to be. With bombs and bullets flying, Hawkeye is lowered down to the area on a rescue line as the soldiers look on in disbelief, with one of them, a private, saying to the wounded corporal, "And you said there was no Santa Claus, huh?"     
Back in camp, and still partially dressed as Santa, Hawkeye is lying in his bunk fighting to stay awake long enough to finish the letter to his dad, giving him in postscript a Christmas greeting from "everyone at M*A*S*H", mentioning their names as a brief scene of each one appears with the actors' real names superimposed on screen, and finishing with himself (as "your son, and unsuccessful draft dodger, Hawkeye") as he finally nods off to a well-earned sleep.
Guest stars/Recurring cast
- Jamie Farr as Klinger
- William Christopher as Father Mulcahy
- Buck Young as M.P.
- Odessa Cleveland as Ginger
- Bonnie Jones as Barbara
- Lizabeth Deen as Becky
- William (credited as Bill) Katt as Army PV2 (credited as "P.F.C.")
- Gary van Orman as Corporal
- Uncredited appearance by Gwen Farrell.
Announcements from the P.A. system are interspersed throughout this episode, including:
- "The glee club meets in the Mess Tent at 0800 hours. The first number on tonight's schedule is, uh, Father Mulcahy's solo, I'm Confessin' That I Love You". (The military time mentioned indicated eight in the morning rather than in the evening, but was probably an oversight or an intentional blooper.)
- "Due to the number of people bored last Sunday, next Sunday will be canceled."
- "The following men have volunteered for this afternoon's ten-mile physical fitness hike..." (no names are mentioned; the humorous implication is that nobody volunteered)
- "Attention, all personnel: When filling out G.I. insurance forms, be sure to state your age and sex at the time of your last birthday."
- "A reminder that the 4077th Christmas party for the Korean children in the area will be held today at 1400 hours, so everyone turn out to meet the kids. Santa will be there, too; we can only hope he's sober."
Research notes/Fun facts
- Hawkeye mentions his dad is in Vermont. In later episodes his hometown would be firmly established as Crabapple Cove, Maine.
- This episode was one of the first M*A*S*H episodes to challenge the traditional sitcom format by combining dramatic elements (specifically, the "war is hell" message) with comedic situations.
- This is the first episode to use the epistolary narrative strategy otherwise known as "the letter home". This is a device "which hinges on an act of a letter-writing, which provides the doctor writer an opportunity to get things off his chest..." 
- The "letter home" would prove to be an effective narrative format; eventually, with the exception of Margaret, Henry Blake, and Frank Burns, every major character- and one recurring character: Sidney Freedman, would have at least one "letter home" episode or something similar.
- As it is the first Christmas episode of the series, it is also the only time that Hawkeye cosplays as Santa Claus, making him the only original cast member to do so. On later occasions Santa would be portrayed by B.J. in Season 7's Dear Sis, and Colonel Potter in Season 9's Death Takes A Holiday.
- This was also the first episode to have several different small plot lines woven in. This was something which writer Larry Gelbart's wife had suggested. She had told Gelbart that she would like to know more about what else was going on in the camp. The 4077th MASH was a busy place, and she felt they could tell more than one story per episode.
- Hawkeye briefly refers to Father Mulcahy as "Red" in the Mess Tent. This is a reference to the character's nickname "Dago Red," which was used in the original book and movie. It was also used once in the Pilot episode, but was phased out for the rest of the series.
- This episode is set in the winter, yet in the field surgery scene, the soldiers in the foxhole appear to be dressed as for summer. In fact, the real Christmas 1950 in Korea was quite different. In the south, the US Forces were holding their own in the Pusan Perimeter. In the north, the Marines and US Army were still in combat in harsh conditions and below-freezing weather.
- William Katt is the son of actress Barbara Hale, who played Della Street in the original Perry Mason TV series (1957-66); after playing Tommy Ross in the 1976 film Carrie, and also after auditioning for the part of Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars film in 1977, Katt would become better known in his own right as klutzy superhero Ralph Hinkley/Hanley in The Greatest American Hero (1981-83), and would later portray Private Detective Paul Drake, Jr in the Perry Mason TV film series (1985-95).
- James H. Wittebols, Watching M*A*S*H, Watching America (Jefferson NC: McFarland & Co., 1998) p. 34-35, ISBN 0-7864-1701-3, URL Google Books
- The Classic Sitcoms Guide: M*A*S*H, classicsitcoms.com, accessed 2009-05-15. URL
- M*A*S*H: Season One (Collector's Edition) (1972), Digitallyobsessed.com, URL
- David S. Reiss, M*A*S*H: the exclusive, inside story of TV's most popular show(Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1983), p. 123, ISBN 978-0-672-52762-3, URL Google Books
- Suzy Kalter, Complete Book of Mash (New York: H.N. Abrams Publishing, 1988), ISBN 0-8109-8083-5, URL Google Books
- Wittebols, pp. 34–35
- David Scott Diffrient, M*A*S*H (TV Milestones), (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2008), 34. See review here.
- Ed Solomonson and Mark O'Neill, TV's M*A*S*H: The Ultimate Guide Book, (Albany GA: BearManor Media, 2009) 100.