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Top-10 List: Holiday Christmas Specials

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

I’m amazed at all of the holiday specials that are playing and replaying this time of year.

Growing up during the 1970s with only three TV networks, holiday specials were truly “special.”

My fondest memories of those days were the “Animagic” Christmas specials produced by Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass.

You know the stop-motion classics about Rudolph, Heat Miser, the Winter Warlock…etc.

Now, ABC Family Channel’s 25 Days of Christmas is running those specials wall-to-wall, decked halls and all until the end of the month.

That prompted this top-10 list of the greatest Christmas Holiday Specials ever:
10. Frosty the Snowman: I was never a huge fan of this :30 minute cartoon but for some reason at the age of eight, I thought Jimmy Durante as the narrator was inspired casting!

9. How the Grinch Stole Christmas: to be clear, I am not referring to the full-length Jim Carrey movie from 2000 which was not good in my opinion, I’m championing the original :30 minute cartoon version from 1966 that featured Boris Karloff as the creepy narrative, which was inspired – also what kid didn’t love a great Chuck Jones cartoon?!?

8. Elf: this full-length movie should probably be higher in the rankings because Will Ferrell was soooo incredibly funny. I’ve literally incorporated “ginormous” as part of my everyday speech because of this movie.

7. A Charlie Brown Christmas: great characters + clean fun + a great message = a timeless classic!

6. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer: This is the first Rankin/Bass production on this list and it’s simply outstanding. The idea of being a “misfit” really struck me as a kid growing up because my family moved around so much – it was always hard to fit in, this was a great story that I can still relate to today.

5. Santa Claus is Coming to Town: Another Rankin/Bass “masterpiece,” this one explained the Chris Krinkle backstory with the vocal talents of Mickey Rooney as Santa and Fred Astaire as the postman/narrator. Even today, I could watch this one over and over again.

4. Year Without a Santa Claus: This is my FAVORITE Rankin/Bass special – hands down, and it’s because of two words…Snow Miser! His Broadway-style floor show and rapier exchanges with his simmering step-brother Heat Miser are pure genius. Here’s a taste of the “Big Ham”……

How can you not LOVE that!!

3. A Christmas Story: This is such a charming and funny slice of pure Americana nostalgia, it’s difficult for me to shut it off once TBS begins its annual 24-hour marathon of this movie on Christmas Eve! I think most people can relate to some aspect  of “kid-dom” that’s featured in this movie – and the late Darren McGavin stole every scene as Ralphie’s dad! Additionally, I LOVE the fact that a fan of the movie bought the house the movie was filmed in and turned it into a museum.

2. The Little Drummer Boy: I love this Rankin/Bass special because it is so subversive and counterculture to our current post-modern sensibilities. I guarantee that if some writer wanted to create this exact story today – it would not get the greenlight because of its exclusionary, divisive and inflammatory subject matter. If I’m not mistaken, I think it even mentions the “J-susWord” in relation to X-mas – shocking!

1. It’s a Wonderful Life: Where to begin with this astoundingly profound work…this movie has richly complex characters, engaging situations, multi-level subplots, laugh-out-loud humor, all wrapped around a message that will linger with you about the value of an individual life when it’s poured out for others. If you’ve never seen it – don’t wait another day.

Question: What’s your favorite holiday special and why?


[EdiTOR’s Note: This is an updated re-post of a similar article I ran last year.]

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  1. Nestor The Long Eared Donkey – I cry every time. Nestor’s mom makes the ultimate Christ-like sacrafice. One of my favorites!

  2. Ok for us Elf is right at the top. We have seen it possibly 200 times. We live in Paraguay and at Christmas it is 110+ degrees. We need it to cool us. In the Winter here (June and July) it seems appropriate. It’s always a guess as to whether it is in Spanish or English because it depends on who is in the house.

    As for a Christmas story “you’ll shoot your eye out kid.” “Fa ra ra ra ra-ra ra ra ra”

    Thanks for bringing back the memories Tor.

    • TorConstantino says:

      Agreed Ken! Elf is a year-round classic for us – Buddy introduced the word “Ginormous” to the English vernacular. For that alone, I’m eternally grateful for this movie. I expect it’ll move up in my rankings as the years pass…

  3. Please don’t lose your high opinion of me, but I’ve never seen #3 or #1 all the way through. And I never knew #2 existed.

    • TorConstantino says:

      WHAT??? All I can saw is that I WISH I could see both #3 and #1 again for the first time. As corny as it sounds, LDB may make you a little weepy….

  4. Great list, Tor!

    Well, here’s my Top 5, anyway. (Rounding out 6-10 would be the funky stop-action Rankin/Bass productions and Grinch, etc. They all have a place in my heart, but don’t make the Top 5)

    5. Polar Express. The CGI technology is still impressive, albeit quickly becoming de rigeur, but I still enjoyed the animation, voiceovers (multiples of Tom Hanks), and the characters, especially the Hobo and the pair of wacky train engineers.

    4. Miracle on 34th Street (the newer one, with the great Richard Attenborough, Dylan McDermott, Elizabeth Perkins, etc. Not completely convinced by the arguments in Santa in the Courtroom, but… the entire “do you believe” thing, and subplot of the love interest, combined with Attenborough’s thoroughly engaging performance – love it!

    3. A Christmas Story – It took me a few viewings to really start to enjoy this (with coaching from a very committed fan – my Brother-in-Law!). Too many favorite lines, but coming to mind at the moment: “It’s a MAJOR award!” and “Fraaa-Jeeeee-Layyy. Oh… it must be Italian!”, and of course the unintelligible furnace-fighter cursing (“….you shotten hostical pfeiffarrr!!!!”

    2. A Charlie Brown Christmas – Charming, delightful, and a true classic, especially for the 60s-70s generation. The voices are perfect, the music great, the redemption of Charlie Brown is wonderful, and the message remains true.

    1. It’s a Wonderful Life. As you know Tor, we’ve had our moments of memorized-script-banter back and forth (ad nauseum to our spouses), and truth be told, I’d have listed this movie as altogether Top 5, 4, 3, 2, AND 1. However, I had to provide some sort of variety. :-) It is not only my #1 Holiday movie, but solidly in my Top 3-5 movies of ALL time. The casting is perfect, as are the performances. Despite the lack of “come-uppance” for Mr. Potter, it’s consistently causes this viewer (and spouse) to need the tissue box close at hand. Additionally fascinating are the Bonus Features on the DVD, talking about alternative cast possibilities, the production itself, and so on. It’s a Wonderful Movie, with an amazing backstory.


  5. We watched Rudolph. So many odd things struck me I had to make fun of it in a blog post. Warning, this could change your view of Rudolph forever.


    I should really find some other Christmas movies for my kids. We don’t have ABC Family, but I’ll have to see what Amazon, Hulu, and other places have.

  6. Nice list Tor. We have watched Elf about 200 times both in Spanish and English. It’s hard to beat. However, I love the classic Rankin/Bass efforts as well.

  7. Love this list and I’m with you on most of the rankings, too. Now I have to start watching them. 2 down!

  8. hipmamamedia says:

    Oh my gosh: someone else who loves (and remembers) Rankin and Bass. Thanks for making me feel less old! Favorites are “A Chrstmas Story” cuz it is so quotable: “Keep the change ya, filthy animal.” I laugh every time. Another, not so classic, is “Christmas with the Kranks.” It’s just to too ridiculous when she steps out of the tanning booth in a bikini and her pastor is right there. Awkward. And of course, good old Charlie Brown Christmas ending with Linus’ beautiful retelling of the Bibical Christmas narrative. Great, fun post!

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