The holidays are the time of year when kith and kin gather in cozy bungalows, bedecked with tinsel, lights, and of course, a huge fir tree. It’s also the time of year when television writers of the murder mystery persuasion compete to see who can dazzle their audience best.

Sometimes it’s elves who meet a grisly end, with the occasional cameo by a reindeer. But by and large, this is the most deadly time of year to be the jolliest, most festive guy on the planet: Santa Claus.

This year’s notable entry – Castle, where a dead Santa falls from the air, interrupting a family’s night of playing in the snow. Ol’ Saint Nick’s death is taken especially hard by Castle (Nathan Fillion), whose cup of holiday cheer has been tainted by a family that seems to be outgrowing his boyish love of their Christmas traditions. With Martha (Susan Sullivan) set on spending Christmas Eve with friends and a double batch of 100-proof and Alexis’ (Molly C. Quinn) plans to ice skate with a boy of the non-friend variety, Castle’s last hope for a Merry Christmas Eve is Beckett (Stana Katic), who evades the subject like the Bubonic Plague.

Castle isn’t the only one at the precinct having a blue Christmas. Gates (Penny Johnson) adds to her Grinch-esque demeanor by bemoaning the arrival of her mother-in-law for the holidays. Esposito (Jon Huertas) goes to all lengths not to be alone on Christmas, including a failed proposition to coroner Lanie Parish (Tamala Jones). Meanwhile, Ryan’s (Seamus Deaver) naughty nighty gift for his wife might seem a bit shallow, but it turns out he’s thinking deep thoughts about whether or not they should start a family, given the sad state of the world.

As for James Edmund Smith, the man behind the Santa suit, it’s difficult for the team to decide right off the bat if he’s naughty or nice.  Smith is a Santa for hire who has been helping his neighbors with a class action lawsuit, but all the evidence points to him being involved in a bank heist just before his death. He was hired as the Santa for the company Christmas party, but took off with a $30,000 clock without ever being discovered.

The story takes a sharp left turn when they discover Smith used to be a part of the company he’s now working to sue. He broke into the bank hoping to steal files, but only managed to grab the clock; enough evidence to put his old partner behind bars even if it meant Smith would face charges. The one person who couldn’t live with that was Smith’s ex-wife. She’s the one who shot him in the back as he was boarding his getaway ‘copter, and she’s the one who can’t live with the thought of losing her life of ease by admitting her culpability. Bet she won’t look so hot in prison orange.

On the Castle/Beckett, front it seems the promos for this episode were a bit deceptive, as they indicated she was having cold feet with regard to Castle. Far from it – she simply has her own traditions on Christmas Eve. After her mother died, she and her dad waited into January before packing up their Christmas trappings and putting them away for good. Beckett isn’t taking the night shift to hide from the world; rather, it’s her way of protecting it while allowing her colleagues to be with their families.

When Castle hears this, he doesn’t question any further and supports her decision. On Christmas Eve, he is even prepared to leave his mom and daughter – who took pity on him and stayed home – for the precinct when a knock sounds. The ending between the new couple is like a big, fluffy marshmallow plopped on top of a hot cocoa kind of episode.

Castle airs Mondays at @10pm on ABC. New episodes resume in January 2013.