Top Ten Christmas Specials





We are now, as of my writing this, 10 days removed from Christmas, still to date my favorite holiday, like I mentioned in the previous list of Top Ten Christmas Movies which you can read here ( ) which, side note I still can’t believe I forgot to talk about Gremlins there in that list.

Now that we’ve covered movies, it’s time to talk about my other favorite thing about the holiday season, the Christmas specials.  I used to have a VHS tape growing up with all the classic specials taped off of TV complete with vintage 80’s commercials that would get played every year.  It was the best.  Nowadays they’re all available on blu ray for the most part, which isn’t quite the same, but they still hold up for the most part.   Alright, I’ve got the Christmas playlist kicking on Spotify, so  let’s get right into the list though, shall we?


10.  Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas (1978)


I learned in the research for this list that this Christmas classic is actually based off of a children’s book, wrtitten by Russell Hoban, which I had no idea.  I used to catch this special on Nickelodeon from time to time as a kid.    It tells the story of Emmet Otter and his Ma, who scrape by life by doing odd jobs around their town.  They each want to get the other a great gift for Christmas and hear of a talent show in town, and each try to win the contest for the prize money.   This classic is now available on blu ray, or you could just watch it on YouTube here.  * Fun fact, this special got referenced in Disney’s movie Zootopia, with Emmet being the name of the missing Otter in that film.


9.  Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas Special (1987)


Now, a lot of these specials that I’m going to talk about here are beloved classics, re-aired year after year.  Some, not so much, not that they aren’t just as good, they just are more cult things, case in point is with this one, a Christmas special I remember watching at my Grandma’s house when it aired in 1987.

Now, for those of you who weren’t born in the 1980s,  Will Vinton’s Claymation was a unique product of it’s time, a stop motion animated thing that used clay in all it’s material for a unique feel.  It really gained traction with the popularity of the California Raisins characters from the raisin commercials that would sing Motown classics.  (It was a weird time period)

To my knowledge this special  only aired once, but it stuck in the memories of all of us children of the 1980s, and you can find clips of it online still today, like the one down here.


8. The Christmas Toy (1986)


The second Jim Henson production to make the list, this one was one of my favorites growing up, and it still holds up to this day.  It’s a plot very similar to Toy Story.  All the toys in this child’s room come to life when the child is not present in the room, only with a darker twist.  In this story, if anyone sees a toy moving, the toy freezes and can not come back to life anymore.

One of these toys, Rugby the tiger was the Christmas toy the previous year, and he expects to be unwrapped again this year,  but he finds out that he’s going to be replaced by a new toy, Meteora, Queen of the Asteroids  (side note, I wonder if that’s where they got the title for the Linkin Park album from)     He takes Meteora out and puts himself in the box, and it’s up to the rest of the toys to band together to put Meteora back in her correct spot, else both of them will be frozen forevermore.

I last watched this on Netflix a few years ago, not sure if it’s still up there, but it is on YouTube, which is dope.



7.  Twas The Night Before Christmas (1977)


Rankin/Bass, back at it again with the Christmas specials…This one, I haven’t seen in years, but it’s always stuck with me.  It’s a loose adaptation of the Clement Moore poem.  The plot is that Santa reads a letter in a New York newspaper that people don’t believe in him anymore, signed by “All of us”,  and in response he sends them back all their letters, and is not going to deliver presents to them.   Father Mouse finds out that the letter was written by his brainy son, Albert, and they, along with clockmaker Joshua Trundle devise a plan to save Christmas for the town by constructing a singing clock tower to attract Santa back to the town.   It doesn’t make a lot of sense, logically, like how could they construct a clock tower that fast?  But it’s Christmas, logic is secondary at Christmas.

You can find this classic on YouTube in two parts, which I’ll link down below.



6.  Frosty The Snowman (1969)



Another Rankin/Bass classic, Frosty The Snowman adapts the classic song and gives it a bit of a story, a very weird story, but a story nonetheless.  It starts out with magician Professor Hinkle trying to do a magic show for a classroom of children.  He’s a pretty terrible magician, and his hat is blown out of the window by wind, which is found by some children who put it on the snowman they just made, which they name Frosty, who then comes to life, and says “Happy Birthday”.

He leads the kids on a parade through the town, while being pursued by Hinkle, who wants his hat back, if it is truly magic.  Plus, it is his hat, he does own it, so he is legally in the right here, regardless of it’s ability to animate snow into life.    But he is kind of a jerk, so the kids are in the right too.

There’s a whole E.T moment with Frosty melting away then being brought back by Santa, who shows up in the…. *puts on sunglasses* (St) Nick of time… Yeaaahhhh!    And of course Frosty promises to return one day, which he does in a few more specials of declining quality as the years went on.



5.  Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas ( 1966)


Animation legend Chuck Jones, along with the narration of horror legend Boris Karloff and the classic song by Thurl Ravenscroft (the original voice of Tony The Tiger)  bring the Dr. Seuss book to life.   Everyone has seen this special at least once over the years, and it holds a special place in everyone’s heart.  I also like the Ron Howard feature length adaptation, even though its not nearly as good as this half hour special.   Fun fact: June Foray (Rocky and Bullwinkle) did the voice of Cindy Lou Who, though was uncredited for the role.


4.  A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)


This holiday classic was the first animated special based on the comic strip, Peanuts by Charles Schulz, and was actually put together fully finished only 10 days before it aired.  It still holds up to this day, and is beloved by generations of fans.


3.  The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974)


Once more, a Rankin/Bass production making the list, this one holds a place in my heart for it’s side characters of the dueling brothers Heat and Snow Miser, and the catchy intro songs for both the characters.   This time out, Santa gets sick, is unable to deliver presents, and has to cancel Christmas for a year, but his Elves Jingle and Jangle try to save the day.      I learned they did a live action remake of this special on NBC a decade ago that I was not aware of, while doing the research for this article.  I’ll have to try to find that.


2. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (1970)

Every hero has an origin story, and this to me is still the definitive origin story for Santa Claus.   Orphan Kris Kringle builds toys for children to make them happy but has to do so in secret to evade the forces of Sombertown’s ruler the Burgermeister Meisterburger.    There’s another Santa Claus Origins special from the 1980s but that one to me is just too weird, being raised by forest animals and such…it’s bizarre, even by Christmas special standards.


  1. Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer (1964)



This (not even surprised anymore) Rankin/Bass animated classic is of course my vote for best Christmas special of all time.  If you haven’t seen it, for whatever reason, it’s a long form adaptation of the song, of course, which tells of Rudolph’s origins, one of Santa’s reindeer’s children, who is born with a glowing red nose instead of the traditional noses of his brethren.  Along with the story of Hermie, an elf who would much rather be a dentist, and their adventures and eventual redemption by saving the day one foggy Christmas eve.     This movie is bizarre, but heartwarming, and fun at the same time.  Great characters too such as Yukon Cornelius, the gold miner, and the Island of Misfit Toys.   You can watch it for yourself here.


Any specials I forgot to mention?  What other holiday things should I cover next?  Let me know in the comments, and please share this with your friends and family.  Hope everyone is having a great holiday season so far.


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