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Television's Seven Best Holiday Specials Ever

The old CBS Special Presentation bumper from back in the day, the sign that a good holiday special was about to air.
The old CBS Special Presentation bumper from back in the day, the sign that a good holiday special was about to air.

The holidays are all about engaging in traditions, whether its your mom's penchant for goofy sweaters or the always-awkward yearly Christmas party at the office. One of the more enjoyable customs associated with X-Mas is the annual onslaught of holiday specials that dominate the tube over the next few weeks.


Most of these 30-minute-long throwbacks, which typically preempted regular programming, can be a bit heavy on the schmaltz and saccharine (and often have a lesson to be learned at the end), but such things are a staple of the "most wonderful time of the year."

We've been watching these Christmas-themed cartoons and television programming since we were wee tykes and have compiled a list of some of the best and most memorable holiday specials. Read on for a rundown of our favorites, which includes a few surprises.


7. The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
The Plot:
Han Solo and Chewbacca must evade the Galactic Empire and return home for the annual Wookie celebration of "Life Day" and reunite with Luke, Princess Leia, and their droid companions.

The Lowdown:
While it's admittedly an unusual choice to include this 60-minute-long fiasco (which aired during Thanksgiving weekend in 1978), it's arguably one of most famous specials of all time. It's also a pop cultural curiosity that's features a variety of late-'70s celebrities (Art Carney, Bea Arthur, Jefferson Starship) and is worth watching at least once in your lifetime. Plus, it features the first ever appearance of Boba Fett.

6. Mr. Hanky's Christmas Classics (1999)
The Plot:
South Park's Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo hosts a half-hour special featuring satirical and comedic versions of holiday carols as sung by the cast of the Comedy Central show.

The Lowdown:
Although it isn't as well-known as the previous South Park Christmas episode, which featured the birth of Mr. Hankey, "Christmas Classics" is a longtime favorite of ours that pokes major fun at other holiday specials. Unlike other Christmas-time cartoons, it also doesn't hide the fact it was basically a 30-minute-long commercial for a Christmas product (in this case, the album of the same name).


5. Mickey's Christmas Carol (1992)
The Plot:
Mickey Mouse, Scrooge McDuck, and a host of other Disney characters star in this animated update of this Charles Dickens classic.

The Lowdown: There have been literally hundreds of adaptations of the Dickensian redemption of Ebeneezer Scrooge since the story was first published in 1843. While not every interpretation has been good, however (ever see 1995's Ebbie starring Susan Lucci?) this version starring Mickey and Company is one of the better one's ever made. The animation is lavish, the dialogue is witty, and the casting choices for the characters are quite clever.

 

4. Doctor Who Christmas Specials (2005-present)
The Plot: Since it's latest revival of the landmark sci-fi series back in 2005, the BBC has aired special episodes each year on Christmas Day that feature the titular timelord engaging in holiday hijinks.

The Lowdown:
Eagerly anticipated by Whovians (a.k.a. Doctor Who fanatics) across the world, the Doctor Who specials are cheeky adventures that are a bit more epic and spectacular than run-of-the-mill episodes. Previous plots include aliens invading the Earth on Christmas or a retelling of holiday fables.


3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
The Plot: Despite having their Christmas stolen by a jealous and vile green-skinned villain, the citizens of Whoville discover the true meaning of the season.

The Lowdown: Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without this Dr. Seuss' favorite. Everything about it is stellar, from the basso-profundo narration of Boris Karloff to the gorgeous animation by the legendary Chuck Jones.


2. Anything By Rankin/Bass (1964-1976)
The Plot(s): Rankin/Bass created a wealth of holiday specials over the course of a decade using both stop-motion and traditional animation, each of which were based on renowned and memorable Christmas fables and songs, including Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, The Little Drummer Boy, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

 The Lowdown: We could easily devote an entire list to holiday shows created by Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass, particularly their stop-motion gems narated by the likes of Burl Ives and Fred Astaire. Populated by memorable characters like the Heatmiser, Sam Snowman, and Hermey the Misfit Elf, they were filled with color, wonder, adventure, and joy.


1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
The Plot: Depressed about the upcoming holidays, Charlie Brown searches for the true meaning of Christmas while the rest of the Peanuts gang stage a pageant that might be a bit too commercialized for his tastes.

The Lowdown: CBS executives reportedly thought prior to its airing that this Holiday classic would ultimately be a flop. Were they ever wrong. Both kids and kids at heart cite this 60s classic as their favorite due to the jazz score by Vincent Guaraldi, the gentle nature of its parable, and plight of poor Charlie Brown suffering from the melancholy of Christmas.

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