Monster M*A*S*H

Death Takes a Holiday was the 5th episode of Season 9 of the CBS-TV series M*A*S*H, also the 203rd overall series episode. Written by Mike Farrell, John Rappaport, Dennis Koenig, Thad Mumford, Dan Wilcox, and Burt Metcalfe and directed by Farrell, it originally aired on December 15, 1980.


During a Christmas cease-fire, the 4077th plans a Christmas party for a group of orphans (with Colonel Potter playing Santa this time). But when a mortally wounded soldier is brought in, B.J. is inspired to give something of a Christmas present to the soldier's family.

Full episode summary[]

It's Christmas time again, and a truce has been called for the Holidays. With no fighting and no wounded expected, the staff is planning to throw a Christmas party in the mess tent, and the children from the local orphanage have been invited to join in the fun.

But there is bad news: Potter informs the staff that the supply convoy with their turkeys has been plundered. The others begin to lament, but when Mulcahy points out that the orphans are the ones who are going to miss out, added to which they have nobody to send them care packages. The staff decides to donate their holiday perishables and create a smorgasbord for the orphans, and Potter tasks Klinger with scrounging for donations.

Margaret donates her cookies, Hawkeye donates a fruitcake from his aunt, Potter offers his sugar-cured ham, and B.J. reluctantly donates a box of homemade fudge from Peg's mother. But all Charles is willing to part with is a small tin of smoked oysters. When Hawkeye and B.J. accuse Charles of hoarding, noting that he's already received several large packages (marked 'perishable') from home that week, Charles dismisses their assertions claiming that the packages were only clothing.

Later that night under cover of darkness, Charles drives to the orphanage with the packages he received from home, which are actually special handmade chocolates. He intends to leave the packages at the door and leave without being seen, but he is intercepted by Choi Sung Ho, who runs the orphanage. Touched by Charles' gesture, Choi wants the kids to meet him and show their gratitude, but Charles insists on remaining anonymous; he tells Choi that while the gift to the needy is an annual Winchester family tradition, part of that tradition dictates that it can only be an act of charity if it is done in secret, which Choi understands.

The next afternoon, Choi and the orphans arrive at the 4077th and the Christmas party gets under way in the Mess Tent. Hawkeye and B.J. are barely out of the Swamp when Margaret summons them to a sergeant who just arrived in camp with a wounded soldier shot in the head by a sniper. When they get him to Pre-Op, Hawkeye and B.J. discover that his wound is too severe and are about to give up, but when Margaret finds a picture of the soldier's wife and family in his personal effects, B.J. becomes determined to keep him alive long enough so that "his kids won't have to think of Christmas as the day their daddy died"; but the task he has set for himself is a difficult one as midnight is hours away. They find out the wounded soldier's name is Denny Flannigan, that he and his wife Lynn are from Pennsylvania, he lettered in basketball in high school, and he has two children named Scott and Jeannie.  

On his way to the party, Colonel Potter, dressed as Santa Claus, stops in Pre-Op, and B.J. explains what's going on. Deeply touched by their gesture, Potter agrees to keep it secret, but when he arrives in the Mess Tent, he furtively sends Father Mulcahy over to Pre-Op to help out. 

Meanwhile, at the party, Charles sees Rizzo about to eat one of the very candies he donated to the orphans; when Charles asks him where he got it, Rizzo replies that it came from someone who bought it on the Black Market. After questioning one of the orphans, who says that neither she nor any of the other orphans got any candy, Charles angrily confronts Choi over the betrayal of his charity. Choi explains that the joy from the candy would have only been temporary, but on the Black Market, the candy's value was enough to buy a whole month's supply of rice and cabbage to feed the orphans. Choi then apologizes to Charles for failing to continue his family tradition, but Charles, realizing that "it is sadly inappropriate to give dessert to a child who has had no meal", returns the apology and quietly withdraws to the Swamp.

Klinger, who overheard the conversation from inside the Mess Tent, scrapes together some of the remainder of the makeshift Christmas feast and personally delivers it to a skeptical Charles. When asked for an explanation, Klinger replies in essence that he knows about what Charles did and decided to return the favor, and Charles thanks Klinger for his gesture.

In Pre-Op, Hawkeye, Margaret and B.J. are still struggling to keep Flannigan alive until midnight, but his condition is deteriorating too fast. When Margaret loses the pulse, Mulcahy is about to administer Last Rites, but B.J. shoos him away saying, "You're not gonna pull a shroud over him", at which point Mulcahy gently but firmly reminds B.J. of the importance of his own sacred duty. Coming to his senses, B.J. apologizes. The night wears on, and with only 35 minutes left before midnight, Flannigan has no fight left in him and passes away; B.J. wants to keep trying, but Hawkeye refuses and gently tells B.J. "It's over. Let him rest".

Margaret is about to get the death certificate, but then Hawkeye, in a gesture to Flannigan's family, moves the minute hand of the clock forward and declares that Flannigan died at 12:05 a.m. on December 26. Margaret reflects on having to falsify a record, and Mulcahy remarks that "Christmas should be thought of as a day of birth". As they finish up, Hawkeye opens the door and they all hear the strains of "O Holy Night" coming from the gang caroling in the Mess Tent.


As B.J., Hawkeye, Margaret, and Father Mulcahy quietly leave Pre-Op, they are greeted by Potter, still dressed as Santa. Potter tells them that Santa knows they've "been very good boys and girls today", and sends over his young "elf" - one of the orphans, to give them the last four pieces of Peg's mother's fudge from California. Snow begins falling as they each take a piece and "toast" each other with it, wishing each other a Merry Christmas while the partygoers in the Mess Tent sing the last lines of "Silent Night".

Research notes/Fun facts[]

  • Colonel Potter becomes the third and final member of the 4077th to play Santa Claus, after Hawkeye in "Dear Dad", and B.J. in "Dear Sis".
  • A sliding time episode: "The Late Captain Pierce" took place in December 1952, after Charles came to MASH 4077. It would have been impossible for Winchester to have celebrated Christmas at the camp.
  • Looking at a four-leaf-clover keepsake in Flannigan's personal effects, Hawkeye reads the engraving on the back, mentioning a "Funland Arcade" in Goldsboro, Pennsylvania, which may or may not be correct; there is a town called Goldsboro in southeastern Pennsylvania, but there is also a town named Gouldsboro in the Poconos in the northeastern part of the state, which today has a "Fun Station" replete with miniature golf, a go-cart track, laser tag, and even a bowling alley. [1]

Guest stars/Recurring cast[]