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Top 5 Best Christmas TV Specials

Updated on May 10, 2012

Every year around December, it seems that the TV specials start coming out en masse. As a child, a Christmas special on TV was a major event. Today, I still look forward to the positive feelings and pleasant nostalgia these shows provide.  All of these great Christmas specials are sweet,intelligent, funny, and best of all, mostly avoid the treacly, sentimental hoo-hah a lot of Christmas specials shove down our throats.

Check your TV stations local listings for times and dates for the airings of these Christmas specials and a whole mess of others as well. Whether old or new, here are some of the best Christmas TV specials of all time.

A Claymation Christmas Celebration Poster
A Claymation Christmas Celebration Poster

5: A Claymation Christmas Celeberation

Now, I'll be the first to cop to the fact that old school claymation is more than a little bit creepy.  The entire thing just feels unnatural and the movements are almost other worldly.  Still, even as an easily frightened child the 1987 Claymation Christmas Celeberation was one of the best Christmas TV specials around.

Featuring a number of popular Christmas carols from the maker of The California Raisins, this holiday special was awash in good humor and jazzy Christmas songs.  Whether its an up-tempo version of "We Three Kings" or a comedic rendition of "Carol of the Bells", the show hit all the right notes.  Not many Christmas Specials are able to properly integrate religious music into their program, but this Claymation TV special did a great job all around.

Opus Flies in a Wish for Wings that Work
Opus Flies in a Wish for Wings that Work

4: A Wish For Wings That Work

A surprisingly sweet animated television special starring Bloom County's Opus the Penguin, A Wish for Wings that Work is a thoughtful, good natured Christmas event that anyone can enjoy. Although Berke Breathed's comic strip was often filled with political satire, the Christmas special he penned largely eschews that in favor of a story about following your dreams without losing sight of common sense.

The story deftly integrates the Christmas spirit into a morality tale about never giving up that also does what many similar children's programs does not: lets them know that their dreams might not come true they way they wanted them to. We are all limited in some way, but A Wish for Wings that Work teaches that that isn't a bad thing, just something that has to be worked around rather than ignored in favor of blind optimism.

Plus, Santa comes for a visit. One of the best Christmas specials, for certain.

3: Santa Claus is Coming to Town

One of the Rankin and Bass holiday classics, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town is a bit off the beaten path when it comes to Christmas TV specials.  Rather than simply focus on the wacky adventures some schmuck kid has with St. Nick, the Christmas special instead focuses on creating a history for this beloved children's character. Complete with a villain in the Burgermeister Meister Burger and a supporting cast, this story retells the story of a young Santa as he starts his career as a giver of presents.

Upbeat, fun, and something different, it doesn't matter how many decades old this classic stop-motion animated film is.  Just plain fun, this made-for-TV-Movie is a great twist on a classic story.

Trailer for Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Emmet Otter and his Mother
Emmet Otter and his Mother

2: Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas

This oft-forgotten Jim Henson classic takes the number 2 spot for Best Christmas TV special.  Featuring traditional muppeteering, this Christmas story involving a small town and their music competition is so much more than the average holiday stock.  The tenderness and humanity displayed by the characters is truly inspiring.  In particular, the relationship between the titular otter and his mother really drives the film.

Originally cut to include regular appearances by Kermit the Frog, for whatever legal reason every scene with the Muppet icon has since been cut for modern DVD releases.  However, there's some great music in this truly great TV special and kids and adults both will love this sweet, funny show.

Brothers from Emmet Otter

A Charlie Brown Christmas dance scene
A Charlie Brown Christmas dance scene

1: A Charlie Brown Christmas

It comes as no surprise to anyone that this near-perfect Christmas special from 1965 tops the list.  Not only was this a distinctly anti-commercial film, but the vastly entertaining prime time television special featured the first appearance of iconic songs such as "Linus and Lucy."  Still an annual tradition even after all these years, A Charlie Brown Christmas is the perfect holiday season special.

Viewers will learn lessons about keeping things simple, avoiding materialism, and most importantly, respecting others.  While Charlie Brown struggles to stay true to his ideals in an increasingly commercialized Christmas season, young theologian Linus Van Pelt attempts to keep religion in the increasingly non-denominational holiday.

In the end, Charlie Brown and Linus's visions of the holiday are venerated and the neighborhood children briefly give up selfishness in favor of sticking up for the little guy.  Like Charlie Brown's tree, most of just just need a little love in the end.


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    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      The only one of these I remember seeing is "A Charlie Brown Christmas." With its simple retelling of the story in Luke's gospel of the birth of Christ, as well as in the plot itself, I put Charlie Brown at the top of the list. Thanks for reminding me of it.

    • TroyM profile image

      TroyM 6 years ago

      Interesting collection on Christmas TV Specials. Thanks!

    • dohn121 profile image

      dohn121 8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      Man, I vaguely remember these (the Claymation and Jim Henson ones) but of course I remember the Charlie Brown one. Wasn't life so much more simpler when we had only 7 channels? (one of them being PBS). Thanks for the memories Len.

    • christine almaraz profile image

      christine almaraz 8 years ago from colorado springs

      I always liked Rudolph.

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      Karen Curtis 8 years ago from Central Texas

      Great hub! Charlie Brown rocks!