The Christmas season offers some of the greatest television ever made — from touching commercials to holiday episodes of your favorite shows to seasonal specials. There is always something available for families to gather and watch this time of year.
Yesterday, you experienced the “Top 15 Christmas family-friendly Christmas movies of all time." Today, enjoy a look at the 15 best Christmas TV specials ever made. Like the movie list, there were a few rules needed to set boundaries for the TV list: Each item had to be “Christmas-y" and family-friendly; had to be created for TV and not a theatrical release that's now replayed on TV annually; and had to be an actual “special" created for Christmas and not just a Christmas-themed episode of a regular series.
#1: A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
This is one overtly Christian cartoon that has become and annual must-see — even among secularists. When Charlie Brown becomes depressed over the commercialism of Christmas, he turns to the school's Christmas pageant for inspiration. But as the director of an unruly cast — not to mention his disappointing tree — he finds himself more frustrated than ever. All of that changes when Linus reminds everyone about true meaning of Christmas by reciting the Nativity story from Luke's Gospel. Plus, the special put the musical genius of Vince Guaraldi into the mainstream of American pop culture.
#2: Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
Featuring the incredible vocal talents of Boris Karloff, this tale of a nasty … well … Grinch who hated Christmas because of the happiness it brought to the lives of others offers a poignant story of redemption and change. Determined to keep Christmas from coming, the Grinch steals all of the gifts, decorations and food from the entire town of Whoville. When the Whos still celebrate sans gifts, ol' Grinchy Claus realizes that Christmas will come without ribbons, come without tags, come without packages, boxes or bags.
#3: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
The "Rudolph" tale of a band of misfits' journey across the North Pole trying to find where they fit in inspires kids everywhere and is probably the best-known of Rankin/Bass' many stop-motion Christmas programs. The characters who'd been cast-off save Christmas and become the heroes. Throw in the beloved voice of Burl Ives, and you've got a classic that will continue to endure.
#4: Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (1970)
This is another one of several Rankin/Bass gems chock-full of great songs and characters. The Mickey Rooney- and Fred Astaire-led creation delves into Santa Claus' origins and pits him against one of the best comic "villains" of all time — the evil Burgermeister Meisterburger
#5: A Christmas Carol (1984)
George C. Scott's turn as the miserly Scrooge is the most famous of the made-for-TV movie adaptations of the Dickens tale (though the 1999 Patrick Stewart version may be closing in). The film stayed true to the story and earned Scott an Emmy nomination.
#6: Frosty the Snowman (1969)
Based on Gene Autry's 1950 hit song, it features Frosty "dying" so he can save a little girl. Kids are taught about love and laying-down-your-life-for-others sacrifice, all with palpable Christian parallels — even the bad guy changes his ways in the end.
#7: John Denver & the Muppets: A Christmas Together (1979)
In 1979, Jim Henson's team worked with country folk artist John Denver to create an LP of 13 Christmas songs (which eventually went platinum). From that album came a one-hour special for ABC featuring great Muppet takes on holiday classics, plus the typical Muppet humor.
#8: The Star of Bethlehem (2007)
The Magi followed a star in the heavens to find the Christ child. Explore the truth of God's stellar handiwork in this documentary that uses historic and scientific evidence to tell the real story of the Star of Bethlehem.
#9: Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)
Call it a history-maker. It was the first-ever animated Christmas special produced for TV, according to IMDB.com. The cartoon was created to give the feel of a Broadway production — a feel that was enhanced by the musical work of two Broadway show writers, Jule Styne and Bob Merrill.
#10: The Little Drummer Boy (1968)
This old-school, stop-motion 1960s production about the little orphan boy who didn't have anything to give to the infant Jesus except his drumming ability teaches kids that the best things we offer each other have nothing to do with money or "stuff."
#11: Mickey’s Once (and Twice) Upon a Christmas (1999/2004)
Both of these shows are a series of cartoon shorts all about the importance of friends and family and doing good for others at Christmas. From Donald's repentance for his selfishness to Goofy's expressions of love for his son Max to Mickey and Minnie's selfless giving of everything they have for each other, these specials offer great lessons for the little ones.
#12: A Flintstone Christmas (1977)
The story in Fred Flintstone's one-hour special begins with Fred begrudgingly agreeing to play Santa Claus at a party for the Bedrock Orphanage on Christmas Eve. On the night of the party, an injured and sick Santa Claus recruits Fred to fill in for him (and Barney takes the role of an elf) to make sure all the presents get delivered. The boys work through a massive storm, make a trip to the North Pole and barely make it back to Bedrock in time for the orphanage party.
#13: Prep & Landing (2009)
The North Pole has gone super-hightech in Disney's Emmy-winning special. Elves Wayne and Lanny, while prepping the world for Santa's annual trip, are the only members of the command team available to make possible a visit by St. Nick in the midst of a terrible storm. They save Christmas for Sector 7 using sweet gadgets and a little creativity.
#14: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (1983)
Grace (played by Loretta Swit aka "Hot Lips Houlihan") is tasked with the job of leading her church's annual Christmas pageant. The disaster of a job gets even worse when the six Herdman kids, who are known troublemakers from a broken home, decide to be a part of the play. By the end, the Herdman children, from whom no one expected anything worthwhile, learn the power of the Christmas nativity story and teach the church the true meaning of Christmas.
#15: Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977)
One of the lesser-known Rankin/Bass creations, "Nestor" is a very religious special that shares the story of an outcast and abused long-eared donkey who goes on to fulfill his special purpose—to carry a very pregnant Mary to Bethlehem. The message, combined with the musical talents of the estimable Roger Miller, make this a powerful show for kids.
A version of this list first appeared in the December 2014 issue of TheBlaze magazine.