I can still remember how excited I used to get in December when all of the Christmas specials started showing on TV. Back then, we had 3 major networks to choose from, the specials were only shown once each year and you couldn’t ‘DVR’ them. You really had to pay attention to the TV Guide to make sure you didn’t miss out!
Now I’m having so much fun introducing these Christmas specials to my own kids. Below are my top 10 favorites – spoiler alert!
10. The Little Drummer Boy
What a sad life the Little Drummer Boy, Aaron, has had. No family or friends to speak of, the only companions he has are a camel, a donkey, and a lamb. When Aaron’s lamb gets sick, he searches for help and finds the answer to his prayer asleep in a manger. The little boy with nothing plays his drum for The Newborn King and this gift given in love comes back to him one hundred fold.
This one actually reminds me of one of my favorite Christmas songs – the duet of The Little Drummer Boy by David Bowie and Bing Crosby. An unlikely duo to be sure, but it still stands today as a Christmas classic.
9. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
The town of Junctionville, New York is on Santa’s naughty list after a letter is printed in the local paper claiming Santa doesn’t exist. Junctionville decides to extend an olive branch by building Santa a singing clock tower. But Albert Mouse, who is also responsible for the letter, sneaks a peek inside the clock tower and breaks it by mistake. This puts his Dad (Father Mouse) and his boss, the clockmaker, in hot water. Will Albert be able to fix the clock tower in time for Santa to hear it as he flies over Junctionville on Christmas Eve? All the children sure hope so. My favorite song here is ‘Even a Miracle Needs a Hand’.
8. Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas
No list of cartoon favorites would be complete without one from Disney. And now that I have kids of my own, I really appreciate what a great job Disney does of reminding our kids what’s really important. Comprised of three short stories, my favorite one is “Mickey and Minnie’s The Gift of the Magi.” Based on the short story written by O Henry, Mickey and Minnie discover the true meaning of Christmas when they each part with a prized possession in an effort to make the other one happy on Christmas.
7. John Denver and The Muppets: A Christmas Together
OK, so I’ve broken ranks here by not selecting a cartoon, but this variety show is highly entertaining with great music and typical muppet hilarity. After all these years, I still laugh at John Denver’s duet with The Muppets of the 12 Days of Christmas. Hearing Miss Piggy sing “Five GOOOLD Rings” and Animal sing (more like growl) “Twelve Drummers Drumming” is typecasting at its best.
6. Frosty the Snowman
Jimmy Durante narrates and sings the title song for this children’s classic. A bumbling magician named Professor Hinkle has no idea that his old felt hat is magical until our little heroine Karen places it on the head of Frosty the Snowman. In an attempt to save Frosty from melting, Karen and Frosty board a train for the North Pole. All is well until Karen gets cold and Frosty brings her to a greenhouse to warm up. They are followed by mean-spirited Professor Hinkle, who locks them inside. You can imagine what happens next. This one is actually pretty sad, with Karen crying over a melted Frosty being consoled by Santa Claus. The good news is, Santa promises Frosty will come back every year with the Christmas snow.
5. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
All of the questions you’ve ever had about Santa rolled into one delightful Christmas special. Kudos to the writers once again for creatively explaining to us why reindeer fly, how Santa got his name and why he delivers toys to children every Christmas Eve. My favorite part of this one is Santa’s duet with the Winter Warlock as they sing “Put One Foot in Front of the Other” but my son really likes Burgermeister Meisterburger.
4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Putting aside the fact that this one has become a well-known college drinking game, all the Whos down in Whoville are in for some trouble when the Grinch decides he’s had enough of Christmas and all of the gift giving. So he dons a Santa costume, turns his poor little faithful pooch into a reindeer and hitches up his run-down sleigh to steal everything Christmas from the homes in Whoville. What he doesn’t count on is a run in with the littlest who in Whoville – Cindy Lou Who. Watching the Grinch turn his frown upside down at the end is priceless. There’s a lovely message here – keep Christmas in your heart, no matter what adversity stands in your way.
3. The Year Without a Santa Claus
Who can forget Heat Miser and Cold Miser? When Santa decides he’s no longer having an impact on kids at Christmas, Mrs. Claus and a couple of elves decide to take matters into their own hands. All they need is a little snow to fall in Southtown, but try telling that to Heat Miser and Cold Miser who control the weather. Kudos to the writers who came up with a legendary battle of brothers fighting over their turf only to have it settled by their Mother…Mother Nature. The music in this one is superb too, with Heat Miser and Cold Miser each getting their turn to convince the viewer why their weather is best!
2. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Meet Hermey, the elf who wants to be a dentist. And Yukon Cornelius, who is in search of silver and gold but finds himself a hero when he saves Rudolph and Hermey from the Abominable Snow Beast. I can remember wishing I would receive a toy from the Island of Misfit Toys on Christmas morning. What kid wouldn’t want a train with square wheels or a cowboy who rides an ostrich? This one is actually a great lesson in facing your problems head on – in spite of the other reindeer making fun of Rudolph, he perseveres and ends up being the real hero, saving Christmas by lighting the way for Santa and his sleigh.
1. A Charlie Brown Christmas
Hands down my favorite. As soon as this show starts, with the piano melody and The Peanuts skating on the frozen pond, I can literally feel my heart warm. All Charlie Brown wants to do is direct his school’s Christmas play. But he can’t ever seem to do anything right in the eyes of his classmates. Instead of bringing back a gaudy aluminium Christmas tree for the play, Charlie Brown chooses a scrawny pine tree – much to the dismay of Lucy and the rest of the Peanuts Gang. Saddened by the secularism of Christmas, Charlie Brown wants to know is what Christmas is all about. Enter Linus, with his cuddly blue blanket. He gives Charlie Brown hope with his beautiful soliloquy of the Christmas Story from the Book of Luke in the Bible.
Additional tip on this one: several years ago, I discovered the original score (by Vince Guaraldi) is available on CD. It’s the first Christmas music I queue up in my car to start the holiday season each year.
What’s your favorite TV Christmas special to watch with your kids? Share it below!