Top Ten Christmas Television Specials of All Time
From the early days of television when The Hooneymoonerscelebrated Christmas in a live 40-minute sketch there has been a continual parade of made-for-television specials. Here are, without a doubt and surely without debate, the top ten:
1. Charlie Brown Christmas
Why it is #1: Charles Schulz beloved Peanuts Christmas special is one of if not THE most popular Christmas specials of all time. When this special was originally aired it was watched by over HALF the viewing television audience. Charlie Brown’s Christmas is a mixture of Peanut comedy mixed with the classic and stirring message of Christmas. No one will ever forget this one simple phrase: “And that’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown”.
2. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
Why it is #2: Rudolph #2?!?! Blasphemy! The claymation-like Rankin Bass production of the Montgomery Ward’s classic Christmas tale has consistently outsold other specials on recorded media for decades. How could it not be #1? Understand this special has one major flaw that can’t be ignored: just about everyone at the North Pole is a jerk. Think about it: Santa Claus? Not very nice to Rudolph. Elves? They bullied poor Elf Hermey to death. All the other reindeer? Won’t let Rudolph join in their reindeer games. What the heck? These guys make toys all year long for kids and then give them away on Christmas night and they can’t accept two guys who are just a tad different? That’s not in the spiritof Christmas at all. Other than that gaping flaw this special is fantastic — the innovative stop motion animation, classic songs and characters who have survived the test of time — despite some of their flaws.
3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Why it is #3: WHY? How could it not be? It’s a special with Boris Karloff and the voice of Tony the Tiger for crying out loud! That alone is reason to put this special into any top ten. But its not just that. Chuck Jones brings a Dr. Seuss book to life. A wonderful story about a character who hates Christmas and the Who’s so much that he sets out to STEAL Christmas. That’s right, he’s taking it all, the ornaments, the food, even the TREE. He didn’t even leave a crumb big enough for a mouse. The message that Christmas is more than all that ranks it up there.
4. Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire
Why it is #4: While technically an episode of the Simpsons, this gets included here because it is the first Simpson episodeand it is a Christmas special. It is the first epidsode of a series going on 20+ years now — which has to be some kind of record, animated series or no. It is also a Christmas special that is just a bit different than the norm: when Homer finds himself without money to buy the family gifts for Christmas he takes a part time job to get the money. When THAT doesn’t work out well he is convinced to use the little money he made at the dog track. Hearing the name of a late entry as Santa’s Little Helper, Homer is convinced that this is the miracle that will save the Simpsons Christmas. Of course, it’s not. In the end it’s a simple gift of an adopted dog that makes for a special Christmas — and a greatintroduction to the Simpson’s on TV.
5. Frosty the Snowman
Why it is #5: Frosty the Snowman, animated with narration by Jimmy Durante, tells the story of the magic hat that brings Frosty to life and the magician who wants to steal the hat from him. In the end like any good special the magician changes his ways and Frosty goes to live at the North Pole with Santa so he does not melt. It is a simple, feel good story where everybody wins — and it makes it feel like Christmas every year when it is shown.
6. The Year Without a Santa Claus
Why it is #6: Another classic Rankin/Bass stop motion special tells the story of a year when Santa Claus gets sick and is convinced there is not many people left in the world who believe in him. Santa decides to take a break from delivering presents. It is up to two little elves and a tiny reindeer to find people who still believe in Santa to get him to change his mind. Best known for the introduction of the characters Heat Miser and Snow Miser – and their classic conflict resolution with Mother Nature — their catchy tunes teach non-holiday morals and in the process convey the Spirit of Christmas.
7. Mickey’s Christmas Carol
Why it is #7: A short animated tale (tail?) that retells Dicken’s A Christmas Carol with Disney characters (Scrooge McDuck). Utilizing the same formula that made Charlie Brown’s Christmas #1 the tale-within-the-tale introduces the lessons of Dickens to a young audience while charming adults who love both the story — and Disney.
8. Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Why it is #8: Another Rankin/Bass special, it tells the story of Santa from the time he was a little orphan baby until he moves to the North Pole. Along the way he meets his future bride, an evil warlock (who becomes his friend), and a strange little penguin — all to classic, memorable tunes. An odd story told by S.D. Kluger (Fred Astaire), it tells how Santa came to deliver toys to children and leave presents in their stockings — a stark departure from the classic history of the modern Santa Claus that is nevertheless politically correct, secular and ever-so-child-and-family friendly.
9. Bob Hope’s Christmas Specials
Why it is #9: Ok, a bit of a cop out here as I am not selecting one special in particular but rather all of them. My reasoning? Well to be fair I haven’t seen all of them. I have however seen Hope for the Holidays, which is a Christmas best of special with bits from all of his specials including visits with the troops and even some skits thrown in. If I could get my hands on all these specials I’m sure I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite. These make my list because they are timeless in their humor and real in their perspective — something the classic animated and stop motion specials lack.
10. Happy Holidays with Bing & Frank
Why it is #10: Despite the title this is actually a Frank Sinatra special with Bing Crosby as his guest. I picked this as #10 for the simple reason that it features two of the best singers of all time performer some of the best of all-time Christmas music. It never grows old — and it doesn’t get better than that.