The saddest How I Met Your Mother Christmas special is also one of the show’s best episodes and proof that its narration is more than a gimmick.

While How I Met Your Mother’s saddest Christmas episode features a heartbreaking twist, the sitcom handles the revelation with care and makes the outing a seasonal standout. Christmas is meant to be a time of good cheer, and while that might not be true for everyone, it is undoubtedly true in most sitcoms. Sitcom holiday specials have traditionally been infamous for their corny holiday specials, which were so saccharine that some contemporary comedies have set darker stories during the holiday season solely to avoid this tired trope.


For instance, while How I Met Your Mother’s earliest Christmas episode is full of the hugging and lesson-learning that hang-out sitcoms often indulge in during holiday specials, the outing still took a risk. The episode’s story centers around Ted calling Lily an incredibly offensive obscenity behind her back, a gag that added a bit of edge to the otherwise sweet proceedings. Later, the best How I Met Your Mother Christmas episode doubled down on this approach, setting one of the show’s saddest stories during the holiday season and tactfully handling a sensitive subject.

Related: How I Met Your Father Season 2 Must Avoid A HIMYM Flaw

“Symphony Of Illusion” Is HIMYM’s Best Christmas Episode (& It’s Saddest)

Robin looking emotional with Christmas decorations in HIMYM

In How I Met Your Mother season 7, episode 12, “Symphony of Illumination,” Robin’s inability to bear biological children is handled with grace despite the heavy subject matter. While the show’s spinoff How I Met Your Father’s bigger cast means the series can tell more ambitious stories, the intimacy of How I Met Your Mother’s storytelling shines through in this episode as Robin takes over from Ted as the show’s narrator. Initially, Robin is telling the story of “Symphony of Illumination” to her offscreen children like Ted does, but the episode’s ending reveals that she is talking to the children she will never bear as she comes to terms with her infertility.

Why Robin Narrates HIMYM’s “Symphony Of Illusion” & Why It’s So Important

How I Met Your Mother Robin and Barney divorce

The subject of infertility is challenging for any sitcom to address, much less the broadly comedic How I Met Your Mother. Most of How I Met Your Mother’s saddest moments, outside a few deaths, revolved around romantic relationships. As such, the twist of “Symphony Of Illusion” was a dark, atypically serious moment for the How I Met Your Father predecessor’s laugh-track-backed milieu. However, while the show’s tricky narration was sometimes a gimmick, in this holiday special, the stylistic choice was carefully used to poignant effect, as Robin’s internal monologue allowed her to come to terms with the news before breaking it to the viewer.

Throughout its nine seasons, How I Met Your Mother had some jarringly misjudged moments, and not all of the show’s gags have aged well. However, “Symphony Of Illusion” proves that, at its best, the sitcom could use its unusual approach to tell emotionally-charged stories whose moving moments didn’t derail their comedic success. Despite the odds, “Symphony Of Illusion” is as funny as any classic episode of How I Met Your Mother, but the Christmas special still manages to take on a sensitive subject and treat it with the care and grace it deserves.

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