A compendium of classic holiday programs – and where to find them.
Note: each of the following Christmas specials can be ordered direct from Amazon by clicking on the links below. If you make an order, log-in to the smile.Amazon program here and a percentage of the purchase price of any item you order from Amazon.com will be gifted to the Parents Television Council.
From the beginning of television in America, Christmas has been a time of special, holiday-themed programming. In this article, we pay tribute to the many beloved specials which have become classics, and which for many are synonymous with “Christmas.”
Heading any list of holiday favorites must be the animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ book How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Memorably directed by top Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones and narrated by horror icon Boris Karloff (who also did the speaking voice of the Grinch), and with the unforgettable song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, this tale of the Christmas-hating monster whose “heart was two sizes too small” – the best retelling of the Christmas tale. (In our opinion, the 2000 live-action version starring Jim Carrey is to be avoided.)
Equal in stature is the first – and still the best – of the many cartoons bringing the Peanuts crew to television. A Charlie Brown Christmas still has power to charm with its affirmation of eternal truths in the face of over-commercialization. When Linus explains the true meaning of Christmas (an explanation which the network opposed, but upon which Peanuts creator Charles Schulz insisted), and the children sing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” the heart still throbs.
To children and adults of several generations, the name “Rankin-Bass” is practically synonymous with “Christmas.” Whether it’s Rudolph, Yukon Cornelius, and Hermie the would-be dentist elf’s adventures with the Abominable Snow Monster and the Island of Misfit Toys in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; Kris Kringle’s origins and conflict with Burgermeister Meisterburger in Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town; the rivalry between Heat Miser and Snow Miser in The Year Without a Santa Claus; or the march of the children down the main street of town, led by Frosty the Snowman, these Rankin-Bass specials are favorites all. Nor can we forget the R-B special that poignantly details the ORIGINAL true meaning of Christmas, The Little Drummer Boy.
Charles Dickens’ beloved tale A Christmas Carol has been adapted many times in film and TV – including versions starring Mickey Mouse, Mister Magoo, The Muppets, The Flintstones, The Smurfs, and even comic impressionist Rich Little. But there have also been many “straight” adaptations of the classic story. Among the most acclaimed and popular dramatic renderings have been those starring Alastair Sim and Patrick Stewart. Also available are musical versions starring Kelsey Grammer and The Stingiest Man in Town, starring Basil Rathbone. Finally, an animated version using performance-capture techniques starring Jim Carrey was released by Disney in 2009.
There are also many theatrical movies which predate television, but which, due to their frequent play on TV during the holiday season, continue to delight old viewers and newcomers alike. The champion of such films must be Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, in which Jimmy Stewart learns what the world would have been like had he never been born. Another favorite is the 1947 Miracle on 34th Street, a saga of a department-store Santa who goes to court to prove he is the real Santa Claus. And a more recent addition to the ranks of classic holiday films is A Christmas Story, a tale of a young boy in the 1940s and his hope of receiving a genuine Red Ryder air rifle for Christmas. Other favorite Christmastime movies include the bing Crosby favorites Holiday Inn and White Christmas; The Bells of St. Mary’s, with Bing Crosby as Father O’Malley and Ingrid Bergman as the lovely Sister Mary Benedict; and The Homecoming, the Christmas-themed pilot for the 1970s TV program The Waltons.
For those musically inclined, broadcast TV typically offers a variety of holiday-themed concert broadcasts, including various versions of Tchaikovsky The Nutracker; Christmas in Rockefeller Center, featuring traditional Christmas favorites and the lighting of the Center’s monumental Christmas tree; the pop-flavored A Home for the Holidays, and the Country Music Association’s CMA Country Christmas provide entertainment for fans of those genres.
Finally, there are the many Christmas-themed programs on cable’s most family-friendly networks. UP is home to new Christmas productions (which can be watched via Amazon); INSP offers many original classic and new holiday films, along with its original movie Christmas in the Smokies; and the Hallmark Channel is a veritable cornucopia of Christmas-themed original movies.
All in all, the holiday season the time of year which offers the most family-friendly programming, for viewers of all ages. It is a pity the entertainment industry makes so little effort at producing and airing similar family shows the rest of the year; but at least at this time of year, families can delight in the abundance of holiday riches.