Rebecca’s Top 20 Christmas Specials

Christmas is one of the absolute best times of the year for special events on TV, with Freeform's 25 Days of Christmas and the specials aired by the broadcast networks being must-see-TV for many during the month of December. But of all the Christmas classics, there are some clear favorites. Here are the top 20 greatest Christmas specials.

20- Shrek the Halls
I'm a sucker for all things Shrek, and this is no exception. While it's not as good as some of the early films, it's still a fun half-hour. Featuring a relatively basic story about Shrek just not wanting to deal with the hustle-and-bustle of the holiday, it makes up for unoriginality with its hilarious characters and comical voice work. It's one of the funniest Christmas animated specials that the networks air every year, and I can always appreciate the funny.

19- Twas the Night Before Christmas
With this animated special from 1974, Rankin/Bass took a classic tale known by all and turned it into something original. While it uses familiar evidence from the original story, it adds a background to the night where not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. While it isn't one of Rankin/Bass' best, it's still a nice way to spend a half-hour of a cold winter's night. Plus, the mice are just adorable.

18- Frosty Returns
It can't hold a candle to the original Frosty, but John Goodman still makes this special well worth the time. The plot is a little strange, but the writers manage to make it work anyhow. It even gave a nice little redemption arc to its villain. Plus, it also features the vocal talents of Laurie Metcalf and Andrea Martin, and that is very much appreciated.

17-The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow
This is one of Rankin/Bass's most simplistic tales, despite its far-from-simplistic (and quite frankly, confusing) title. Angela Lansbury stars in this tale of a nun who takes in an orphan boy who has just lost his sight in a tragic lightning accident. Lansbury's instantly-recognizable voice was a great choice for the role of Sister Theresa, and, despite some competition from the adorable Waggles the dog, she's the star of the show. The special's inclusion of the classic White Christmas was also genius.

16- Bah Humduck!
I've wasn't a huge Looney Tunes fan at first, but this special changed that view. Despite being a pretty by-the-book adaptation of A Christmas Carol, the unique world of Looney Tunes takes it a step above the rest. All of the Looney Tunes characters were great choices to fulfill their Christmas Carol counterparts. Daffy fulfilling the Scrooge role just makes almost too much sense, and Porky was a great Bob Cratchit.

15- Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas
It may not hit you in the face with the Christmas spirit, but Emmet Otter and his Jug-Band Christmas are part of my annual holiday tradition. The plot of the special is a very sweet take on The Gift of the Magi, and it's much better than a special about otter puppets has any right to be.

14- Prep & Landing
It's not always the cheeriest Christmas special, but Prep & Landing does up the holiday cheer towards the end. Before that though, it provides plenty of holiday laughs and even a bit of snark, before the titular Prep & Landing team ultimately is able to save Christmas and give a nice, happy ending.

13- Mickey's Once/Twice Upon a Christmas
These two are more movies than specials, but they only run for about an hour apiece, so I'll let it slide. It's hard to pick a favorite, though the smaller amount of stories in the original does make it a bit easier to give some real plot development to each. Either way, they both deliver some memorable, delightful Christmas-related stories featuring our favorite Disney characters. The Mickey and Minnie take on the famous "Gift of the Magi" story is probably the best part of either movie.

12- How Murray Saved Christmas
The most recent special on this list, Murray is certainly a unique entry. It's a far cry from the sweeter specials on this list that almost always have a heartwarming ending. While this one ends happily, I don't think anyone could describe any part of this one as heartwarming. It's a very funny special though, and it features a great vocal performance from Jerry Stiller as the titular Murray. I am a little surprised, however, that Murray celebrates Christmas and not Festivus.

11- Olive the Other Reindeer
This special is an iconic one from my childhood that has still remained entertaining many, many years after its first viewing. While it's definitely a little corny at points, it's still great fun that anyone in the family can enjoy. Martini the penguin provides great comic relief, while Drew Barrymore's performance as Olive is most certainly the highlight of the whole special.

10- Mickey's Christmas Carol
While it's not my favorite adaptation of A Christmas Carol (I'm partial to the Muppet version), the Mickey version is the sweetest one out there. With Scrooge McDuck serving as the special's version of Ebeneezer Scrooge, and plenty of other Disney characters along for the ride, it takes us on a short trip through the past, present, and future life of Scrooge without ever running too long or feeling tired, which Christmas Carol adaptations sometimes suffer from.

9- Christmas In the Car
I tried to avoid including episodes of TV shows on this list, but this one works so well even as a standalone episode that it would be a crime not to include it. From start to finish, even as the Belchers  get chased down by a crazed driver in a candy cane truck, this animated classic is filled with Christmas cheer. A side plot featuring a quest to catch Santa adds to an already-great main plot. And unlike a lot of the sappy, saccharine specials on this list, this one is side-splittingly hilarious, mostly thanks to one-liners from Linda.

8- Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey
This one wins the award for the most depressing Christmas special ever, but I still love it. Nestor's mom's death is the emotional heart of this short film, but poor Nestor is followed by bad luck throughout the story, until his luck finally changes and he becomes a hero. It's not the most unique story, but the vocal talents and the adorable animation, plus the incredibly-satisfying triumph of the titular character, make this one a true Christmas classic.

7- Santa Claus is Comin' to Town
While I don't like it as much as a few of Rankin/Bass's other '60s cartoons, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town is still a Christmas classic that deserves all the acclaim and love it's gathered over the years. Featuring what just may be the best narration of any Christmas special, Rankin/Bass or otherwise, from Fred Astaire and a cast of supporting characters that are plenty interesting in their own right (Topper, Winter, the Kringles, even the villainous Burgermeister Meisterburger), the special is just so much fun. Plus, who can help but sing along to the theme song?

6- A Charlie Brown Christmas
While other Charlie Brown specials are considered classics that are played annually during their own respective holidays, A Charlie Brown Christmas is the best of the bunch. Featuring a truly great message about the true meaning of Christmas, a somewhat-pathetic Christmas tree and Sally's letters to Santa, Charlie Brown Christmas is one of the best annual specials that TV has to offer.

5- How the Grinch Stole Christmas
He's sure is a mean one, but The Grinch is also a great one. A great animated special, that is. The shortest adaptation of the classic Dr. Seuss story is also the most recognizable and the best. While the later Jim Carey and Benedict Cumberbatch takes are more comical, Boris Karloff's Grinch is untouchable. It also introduced Thurl Ravenscroft's Christmas classic, You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch, which should all be thankful for.

4- Frosty the Snowman
This is one of those specials that everyone has seen and pretty much everyone loves. The story itself is pretty simple, but the vocal talents and the story progression help make it great. Best of all is Jimmy Durante as the narrator and singer of the iconic Frosty song, though Hocus Pocus is pretty great, too. The relationship between Frosty and Karen is beautiful and touching, and it's why none of Frosty's many sequels and reboots could ever match up, despite all being relatively entertaining themselves. Well, if you ignore Rudolph & Frosty's Christmas in July.

3- Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer
This special, which is one of the newest specials on the list, might not have a reputation as a great Christmas classic. And while it is quite frankly one of the most insane Christmas specials out there, it's also one of my favorites. It reminds me, more than any other special, of my childhood. The song is one of my seasonal favorites, and the special is something I just grew up with, watching it with my entire family every single year, at least twice a year. The songs in the special, as zany as some may be, help make this special a lot different than anything else out there. The vocal cast is also great, especially Elmo Shropshire (the song's original singer) as Grandpa. As the song goes, it's just not Christmas without Grandma.

2- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
This is the quintessential Christmas special. It isn't Christmas without seeing Rudolph. And there's a reason for that: it's wonderful. It's so much fun from start to finish, especially when Rudolph finally gets appreciated and is no longer a laughing stock for just being himself. The side characters, particularly Hermey, Cornelius and Bumble, make this special about overcoming adversity an absolute delight, and the trip to the Island of Misfit Toys makes it even better. It's hard to find a bigger crowd pleaser for the entire family than Rudolph.

1- The Year Without a Santa Claus
It might not get the attention of Rudolph, Frosty, or even the original Santa Claus special from Rankin/Bass (Santa Claus is Comin' to Town), but The Year Without a Santa Claus has always been my favorite of theirs. The addition of Heat Miser and Snow Miser and their classic theme songs makes puts this one a step above the rest. The main story, about Santa just not feeling the Christmas spirit and taking time off, was also original and unique to this special, at least at the time it was made. Mrs. Claus takes a starring role here and it works so well, as does everything about Southtown and honestly every single part of this special.

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