The holiday season is here, and it’s bringing your childhood classics along with it. No matter how cheesy some of them are, you can’t deny that even in adulthood you get excited every year when these memorable classics you watched every year growing up are back on the air for you to revisit. To celebrate the season, here are the 10 greatest Christmas TV specials of your childhood that you should rewatch.
10. Hey Arnold!: “Arnold’s Christmas” (1996)
Hey, we millennials are getting older and we are reminiscing on our own childhood specials too. I personally believe that 1990s kids grew up during Nickelodeon’s golden age, and Hey Arnold! is all the evidence I need to make that statement. Arnold’s pure heart and kindness are inspirational to kids and adults, and it’s on display heavily here when he needs to get a Christmas gift for his Vietnamese neighbor Mr. Huynh. Upon learning that Mr. Huynh gave his daughter Mai to a U.S. Soldier during the Vietnam War and hasn’t been able to find her 20 years later, Arnold goes to extreme lengths to locate Mai and reunite the two. That’s a compelling story as it is, but this episode is on the list because of the episode’s beautiful conclusion, which I can guarantee will get some major waterworks going. It seems like Arnold knows how to make any holiday special.
9. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
One of the many Christmas specials Disney has done. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens has been done more times than I can count, and this one is among the more famous ones. Featuring, who else, Scrooge McDuck as Ebeneezer Scrooge and an ensemble of beloved Disney stars as famous characters from the classic story, this special served as some children’s introduction to A Christmas Carol. Some critics found it a little too dark, and the scene in which Scrooge’s grave is consumed by flames is considered one of Disney’s scariest moments. However, even in 26 minutes, the central message of the story is still present, and it’s a powerful message.
8. The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)
This Christmas TV special features a sick, sore, and depressed Santa who is convinced that no one cares about him or Christmas anymore, and decides to take a holiday and skip Christmas altogether. Not happy about this decision, Mrs. Claus enlists the help of two elves (Jingle and Jangle) and a young boy named Iggy to help Santa get his Christmas spirit back. The episode features a message about having faith in mankind’s potential for good, a fun story, and the most tear-jerking version of “Blue Christmas” you will ever hear. But of course, the true stars of the show are the Miser Brothers, and their iconic songs which will be stuck in your head for the whole holiday season.
7. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
There have been a few adaptations of Dr. Seuss’ book, but none have lived up to this classic. A monster with a heart two sizes too small decides to rob Whoville of all its presents to keep Christmas from coming. But when Christmas still comes, his heart grows and changes when he realizes that Christmas isn’t about presents, but about togetherness and love. It’s a beautiful message delivered in a fun and entertaining way.
6. Frosty the Snowman (1969)
Based on the famous song of the same name, a magic hat brings a snowman to life, and he befriends a young girl named Karen. But he faces the threats of an evil magician wanting the hat back and the sun which will cause him to melt. To keep himself from every ordinary snowman’s fate, Frosty sets off with Karen to the North Pole where he can be allowed to live on. Celebrating friendship and a child’s imagination, Frosty the Snowman remains one of the most beloved Christmas TV specials of all time more than 50 years after its release.
5. A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)
The Muppet Christmas Carol wasn’t the first time the Muppets got into the holiday spirit. If you’re an older millennial or a young Gen-Xer, this was likely a childhood favorite of yours. If you’re younger than that, however, you’ve likely been deprived of a real classic that has never been released in its entirety on home video or DVD due to copywrite claims involving music among other things. It’s a real shame, as this one is something special.
The Muppets travel to the Fozzie Bear’s mother’s home for the holidays, and they end up being joined by the characters from Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock. There’s also a nod to the original Muppet Babies series from the 1980s in this special. With a fun story about togetherness and with the cast taking on some iconic Christmas songs, this is a fun Christmas TV special to watch.
This one can be seen, albeit extralegally, through VHS rips on YouTube. Should you choose to view it, just be warned that the cheerfulness is interrupted by an awkward Nightline announcement in the end credits. Consider stopping as soon as the credits start rolling, and you’ll walk away in a very festive mood.
4. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
The Peanuts Holiday specials will always be classics. Charlie Brown is depressed during the holiday season, and Lucy suggests that he directs the annual Christmas play to get more into the season. However, he only grows more frustrated as the materialism of the season gets clearer. It’s not until Linus delivers his famous speech on what Christmas is all about that Charlie Brown becomes more hopeful, and the encouragement of all his friends at the end is the final push he needs to have a merry Christmas. It’s a heartwarming story that remains a treasured Christmas TV special for many generations.
3. Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970)
In this stop-motion Christmas TV special, a postman voiced by Fred Astaire tells us Santa’s origin story, as well as the story of the traditions surrounding him. Given up as a baby, he is adopted by a toy-making Kringle elf family who names him Kris. He grows up making toys, and he makes it a point to deliver toys to children to spread cheer and love. As he goes on his journey he faces oppressive obstacles, falls in love, and melts the heart of a wicked warlock who becomes his good friend and ally. Mickey Rooney is perfect in voicing Kris Kringle, and the film is a beautiful celebration of childlike innocence and wonder.
2. The Little Drummer Boy (1968)
In this adaptation of the famous song, a boy named Aaron is orphaned when bandits kill his parents, causing him to hate all of mankind and wander alone with his animal friends and his drum. When he is kidnapped and forced to travel with a Caravan performing for money, he ends up encountering three kings of the Orient following a star that is drawing them to Bethlehem.
Some may think I’m ranking The Little Drummer Boy too high. It’s incredibly short, and the story isn’t without weaknesses. However, this special ranks high because the climax and conclusion are the most emotionally powerful of any of the moments of any of the Christmas specials on this list. All I can say is go see it for yourself if you haven’t already.
1. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
This one was a clear choice if there ever was one. Despite what some modern critics have to say, this Christmas TV special is an immortal classic. With Rudolph’s shiny nose guiding Santa’s sleigh and with Hermey’s passion for dentistry helping to tame Bumble the abominable snowman, this special shows that it’s not only okay to be different, but that being different can make you enormously useful. On top of that, this Christmas special introduced us to some iconic holiday songs such as “Silver and Gold” and “Holly Jolly Christmas.” Although quite frankly, I’m partial to “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year” performed by the inhabitants of the island of misfit toys. Ultimately, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a celebration of misfits and how they can be enormously useful if allowed to show their worth.
There they are. The Christmas TV specials that made your childhood Christmases unforgettable. Do you think we are missing any? What’s your favorite Christmas special? Let us know in the comments.