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How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

The best Christmas specials of all time

‘Tis the season for Christmas specials and holiday-themed TV shows that put their spin on Christmas cheer

Written by
Michele Herrmann

From yuletide classics to festive episodes, TV Christmas specials make it the most wonderful time of the year to gather around the tube. If your favorite Christmas things to do involve staying indoors, these programs are perfect. They’ll make you laugh, feel nostalgic or give you a nontraditional perspective on the holidays, just like our favorite Christmas movies do. So after trimming that tree, stream or turn on one of these specials—your Christmas shopping can wait.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Christmas in NYC

Best Christmas specials

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
  • Movies

It’s perhaps the best-known Peanuts cartoon ever, with a poignant message. To get rid of his holiday depression, Charlie Brown tries to put on a school Christmas pageant, with his comic gang in the cast and crew. Yet when Charlie tries to direct the rehearsals, he keeps getting ignored or finds his friends being uncooperative. Even the tiny sapling he buys as a potential pageant tree is mocked. In exasperation, Charlie loudly asks if anyone knows what Christmas is really all about—and then Linus delivers the most memorable answer. (And the droopy little tree gets much TLC.) Thursday, December 1, ABC

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

Way before Jim Carrey got grinched, this musical comedy gave us the first animated take of Dr. Seuss’ famous kids’ book. Boris Karloff, best known for playing Frankenstein, provides the voice of this surly green guy with a heart “two sizes two small.” On Christmas Eve, the Grinch gets fed up with carolers and holiday lovers in Whoville and decides to take Christmas away from them. After almost getting busted by Cindy Lou Who, the Grinch steals everything Christmasy from Whoville. Yet the next morning, instead of hearing cries of sadness, he hears the Whos joyfully singing. Coming to his senses, he brings everything back to Whoville and even gets to participate in the holiday feast and gets the honor of carving the roast beast. Friday, November 25, NBC

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
  • Movies
  • Animation

This classic tale is still beloved today, as its feel-good story about the most famous reindeer of all wins every kid (and, fine, adult) over. It’s easy to feel bad for poor Rudolph when he’s told that he can’t play in any Reindeer Games. He meets fellow misfits Hermey, an elf wanting to be a dentist; prospector Cornelius Yukon, who can’t find any silver or gold; and the gang on the Island of Misfit Toys. Yet Rudolph finds social acceptance when he saves his parents and love interest, Clarice, from Bumble, an abominable snowman, and when Santa Claus asks him to lead his sleigh on a bad-weathered Christmas Eve. Plus, Sam the Snowman (voiced by Burl Ives) guides the story along. Tuesday, November 29, CBS

Frosty the Snowman (1969)
  • Movies

Another beloved Christmas cartoon, this tale about a snowman coming to life thanks to an old silk hat is as catchy as its earworm theme song. Featuring the narrating voice of Jimmy Durante, the story starts off with school children building a snowman named Frosty, and an inept magician’s hat gets brought to them by his rabbit, Hocus Pocus. Of course, the kids put this hat on Frosty’s head, and he suddenly comes to life. However, the magician Professor Hinkle wants his hat back. Realizing that Frosty needs to get someplace colder—as in the North Pole—to keep from melting, the kids take him through town, with Hinkle in hot pursuit. Friday, November 25, CBS

The Office, “A Benihana Christmas” (2006)

5. The Office, “A Benihana Christmas” (2006)

Michael Scott’s girlfriend dumps him after seeing his photoshopped Christmas card, leaving him heartbroken and with a pre-booked trip to Sandals Resort in Jamaica. He, Andy, Dwight and Jim go to Benihana, where Michael and Andy find dates with two of the restaurant's waitresses. Back at the office, after having a Christmas-party planning conflict with Angela, Karen and Pam decide to hold a couple of their own. When the majority of the staff goes to Karen and Pam's party, Angela becomes upset. So, Karen and Pam decide to combine both parties. Soon after, Michael and Andy's dates leave them, but Michael still finds someone to go to Jamaica with him.

Watch the episode on Amazon

Friends, “The One with the Holiday Armadillo” (2000)

6. Friends, “The One with the Holiday Armadillo” (2000)

With his son, Ben, being half-Jewish, Ross wants to teach him about Hanukkah. Yet Ben has his mind set on Christmas and Santa Claus. So when a costume store is all out of Santa Claus suits, Ross settles with what’s available: an armadillo costume. Dressed in full gear, Ross becomes the Holiday Armadillo, explaining himself as Santa’s representative and teaching Ben about the Festival of Lights. Then adding to the festivities—and more confusion—Chandler shows up looking like Kris Kringle, followed by Joey dressed up as Superman, because of course.

Watch the full episode on Amazon

The Simpsons, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” (1989)

7. The Simpsons, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” (1989)

Christmas for the Simpsons hits a snag when Homer finds out that he won’t be getting a Christmas bonus, and what’s been saved went toward paying for Bart’s tattoo removal. To keep the news from his family, Homer takes advice from his friend Barney Gumble and lands a second job as a mall Santa. Yet Homer gets a surprise visit from Bart and paid much less than expected. In taking another tip from Barney, the three go to a greyhound racing track, where Homer puts all of his money on a last-minute, long shot entry named Santa’s Little Helper. The dog loses, but Bart pleads with Homer to keep the dog as a pet when its owner disowns him. Homer reluctantly agrees, but Santa’s Little Helper comes home with them—and ends up being the perfect gift.

Watch the full episode on Youtube 

30 Rock, “Ludachristmas” (2007)

8. 30 Rock, “Ludachristmas” (2007)

Liz Lemon’s mom, dad, and brother Mitch (with a condition that makes his memory stuck in 1985 and assuming he’s still 17) come to NYC for the holidays. So does Jack Donaghy’s mom, Colleen, but their mingling isn’t jolly. Jack’s mom doesn’t care for the Lemons’ optimism and tries to show her son that the Lemons are just as screwed up as they are. At dinner together, Colleen suggests that Liz is the favorite child,and much to Colleen’s delight, Liz gets in an argument with her parents and accidentally reveals to Mitch that he’s actually 40. Meanwhile, the cast and crew of TGS start planning their annual Ludachristmas party, which goes awry.

Watch the full episode on Amazon

The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

9. The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

Santa Claus comes down with a cold after Thanksgiving and is told by his doctor to change up his routine. Thinking that nobody cares about Christmas anymore, Santa decides to take a holiday himself and leaves it to elves Jingle and Jangle to find proof that people still believe in St. Nick. The elves take along Santa’s youngest reindeer, Vixen, and end up in Southtown. After some mishaps, Vixen ends up in the dog pound and can only get bailed out if Jingle and Jangle can make it snow in Southtown on Christmas Day. Other key players include the Snow and Heat Miser Brothers and a little girl who writes a sad note to Santa about having a Blue Christmas. Freeform starting Thursday, December 1

The X-Files, “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” (1998)

10. The X-Files, “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” (1998)

On Christmas Eve, X-Files’ Agent Scully reluctantly agrees to Agent Mulder's call to investigate a house in Maryland haunted by a couple who died in a murder-suicide pact because they wanted to spend eternity together. While exploring the home separately, Scully and Mulder meet its inhabitants, Maurice and Lyda. Lyda turns the agents against each other, creating the illusion of Mulder shooting Scully and vice versa. Mulder and Scully make it to the front door, bust the deception and leave. They even exchange gifts later.

Watch the full episode on Hulu

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