A 90th-minute goal by Javier Hernandez gave Manchester United a thrilling 4-3 victory at home to Newcastle United on Wednesday that put Alex Ferguson's men seven points clear in the Premier League.
The leaders had to come from behind three times to win, and second-place Manchester City's 1-0 loss at Sunderland meant that the traditional Boxing Day fixtures left United with plenty of reasons to feel thankful.
United were without Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck due to injury and illness, and they fell behind in the fourth minute when James Perch tapped in after David de Gea saved from Demba Ba.
Jonny Evans equalised in the 25th minute, sliding in after Tim Krul denied Javier Hernandez, but the Northern Irishman undid his good work four minutes later when he inadvertently turned in Danny Simpson's cross for an own goal.
The goal was given despite Papiss Cisse lingering in an offside position behind Evans, and United manager Ferguson harangued referee Mike Dean and his officials as the teams returned for the second half.
Patrice Evra drew the hosts level just before the hour, driving in from the edge of the area to claim his fourth goal of the campaign, only for Cisse to restore Newcastle's advantage by slamming home from 12 yards.
Robin van Van Persie equalised in the 71st minute and after Sammy Ameobi had hit the post for Newcastle, Hernandez ghosted into the visitors' area to sweep home Michael Carrick's pass and secure a potentially crucial victory.
"December is always a big month," said Ferguson, whose side had been held 1-1 at Swansea City on Sunday.
"We dropped two points at Swansea but me made up for it today. It was a real championship performance."
Ferguson also revealed that Rooney would be out for "two to three weeks" with knee ligament damage.
City's loss at Sunderland was only their second defeat of the season and the result was rendered doubly damaging by events at Old Trafford.
The champions threatened first when returning captain Vincent Kompany hit the bar in the eighth minute, but the home side claimed the game's only goal eight minutes into the second half.
Adam Johnson was the scorer, embarrassing his former City team-mate Joe Hart with a low shot from wide on the right that squeezed inside the near post.
"It's the same story for us at Sunderland every year," said City manager Roberto Mancini, whose side lost 1-0 at the Stadium of Light last season.
"We missed five or six chances in the first half, and we need to score first in games sometimes. We can't recover all the time."
Chelsea were also beneficiaries of City's slip-up, prevailing 1-0 at Norwich City through a 20-yard Juan Mata strike to close to within four points of Roberto Mancini's men with a game in hand.
Tottenham Hotspur broke into the top four by winning 4-0 at Aston Villa, with the excellent Gareth Bale running in his first Premier League hat-trick after Jermain Defoe had opened the scoring in the 57th minute.
Spurs' win bumped Everton down to fifth on goals scored, despite David Moyes' side beating Wigan Athletic 2-1.
Leon Osman broke the deadlock with a deflected effort in the 52nd minute before Phil Neville, on his 500th Premier League appearance, teed up Phil Jagielka for Everton's second. Arouna Kone claimed a consolation for Wigan.
Queens Park Rangers sank back to the foot of the table after losing 2-1 at home to West Bromwich Albion, in a game held up by 11 minutes after the Baggies got caught up in traffic en route to the match.
The visitors eventually prevailed through a fine low strike from Chris Brunt in the 29th minute and a second-half own goal by home goalkeeper Rob Green, with Djibril Cisse replying for Harry Redknapp's side.
QPR's defeat allowed Reading to climb off the bottom after they drew 0-0 at home to Swansea City.
Rickie Lambert's late penalty cancelled out Dimitar Berbatov's early opener to earn Southampton a 1-1 draw at Fulham, while the day's late game sees Liverpool visit Stoke City.
Arsenal and West Ham United were the only Premier League sides not in action on Wednesday, after their scheduled game was postponed due to a strike on the London Underground transport network.