Christmastime is here, with happiness, cheer, decorations, snow, and most importantly, an endless list of Christmas movies and specials for you to choose from. It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but no one has time to watch every special available. Even if Saint Nick took a year off from making and delivering toys, he’d still fall well short of completing such a task. That doesn’t mean we can’t try though, right? In the spirit of the season, I believe everyone should try to set aside time for at least one holiday special or movie every day during December, ensuring a constant flow of holiday blissfulness.
To help out with that, I’ve put together this list of 25 must-see specials and movies for the holiday season. I’ve listed one per day, counting down the days of December until Christmas finally arrives.
To be clear, this is in no way a countdown of the very best specials or movies. It’s simply a day by day schedule of what you should be watching to properly balance your holiday viewing. Think of this as your Christmas specials advent calendar.
So, with that in mind, read on and enjoy our countdown of the 25 days of Christmas movies and specials, unless you’re some kind of grinch, that is.Next
December 1 – It’s Christmastime Again Charlie Brown
While A Charlie Brown Christmas gets all the hype in terms of Charles Schulz’s holiday specials, and rightfully so, It’s Christmastime Again Charlie Brown isn’t all that far behind. First releasing in 1992, the special isn’t often shown on the air anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less worth your while.
It touches on the commercialism of the holiday again, as Charlie Brown sells Christmas wreaths and Sally comes to the conclusion that the holiday is about “getting all you can get while the getting is good,” but perhaps most enjoyable are the scenes of Snoopy and his feathered friends. They dance around with their candy canes and top hats, epitomizing the joy of the season.
Grab your cardboard box and tumble down a hill, Christmas has begun.
December 2 – Mickey’s Christmas Carol
There have been countless tellings of A Christmas Carol, ranging from quite good to pretty bad, but in terms of animated versions, there isn’t any better than the Mouse House’s adaptation. Taking the classic Charles Dickens’ story and sticking some of the most iconic animated characters in the roles is almost a certain recipe for success, and this one definitely doesn’t disappoint.
Mickey takes on the role of Bob Cratchit, and Scrooge McDuck is perfect as Ebenezer Scrooge with his 80% interest, compounded daily. What I like most about this one is how accessible it makes one of the more complex and darker Christmas stories. It doesn’t come across as too childish for older viewers, but it’s great for the whole family, unlike many of the older adaptations.
December 3 – Home Alone
One of the most enjoyable comedic action movies ever, Home Alone is filled to every corner of every frame with Christmas decorations and the spirit of the season. There’s hardly a minute that goes by without some Christmas tune filling the background as Kevin McCallister fights to defend his house from the bumbling burglars who think that handling a kid his size should be no problem.
Macaulay Culkin’s character is living every kid’s dream, with a whole house to himself until those crooks show up. In terms of the actual plot of the movie, it definitely isn’t a traditional holiday film. Really though, John Hughes and Christmas is such a predictably perfect match that there was almost no way this one was going to go wrong – and it doesn’t, making for a must-watch film every single December.
December 4 - The Nightmare Before Christmas
Considering it’s a Halloween and Christmas movie moulded into one, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a solid way to bridge the gap between the two seasons. I usually watch it in November, and then again before Christmas, but it’s as good a choice as any for the first week of December.
Coming mostly from the mind of Tim Burton, the movie tells the story of Jack Skellington, the leader of Halloween Town, who accidentally opens a portal to Christmas Town and becomes enamored with the holiday, ultimately deciding that he wants to take part in it. Once thought to be too dark and scary for younger viewers because of the whole kidnapping Santa plan and tree-eating snakes, most critics have come to realize that it can work for all ages, and I definitely agree.
December 5 - Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town
Usually I would wait until a bit later on in the month to watch Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, but considering it answers just about every question you could ever have about Christmas traditions and the season, I think it’s an important one to view early this year, though it’s totally acceptable if you want to watch it again closer to the 25th.
Narrated to perfection by Fred Astaire, this story picks up with a young St. Nick (voiced by Mickey Rooney) as he goes up against Burgermeister Meisterburger and Winter Warlock with the help of his trusty penguin friend. It’s the start of Christmas and Santa as we know it, and there hasn’t been a better origin story for the jolly man in the red suit since. This is one of my all-time favorite specials, and watching it in the first week of the month will definitely get you excited for a red sleigh to be headed your way.Previous Next
December 6 – The Santa Clause
The best Christmas movie featuring Tim Allen and the best movie on this list with a lame pun for a title, The Santa Clause is filled with the good old-fashioned holiday spirit. So much so in fact, that they felt the need to make not one, but two sequels (okay we don’t have to go there).
How terrible would it be if you actually did cause Santa to fall to his death on Christmas Eve? If nothing else, this should be watched for the cautionary tale it provides. It’s not the best of the best in terms of Christmas movies, but it’s still a worthy watch, has plenty of good Christmas values, and is a perfect choice to start the first full weekend of December.
December 7 – Gremlins
With one week of December complete, some of you may be feeling a little bombarded by all the Christmas cheer that’s surrounding you. I get it, so much happiness can get old after a while. You may be looking for a movie that can offset a bit of that, without breaking completely away from holiday-fare. Well look no further, Gremlins has got you covered.
I understand that it isn’t really a Christmas movie, rather more of a movie that takes place at Christmas, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth watching this season. It’s horror, it’s comedy, and it’s Christmas, all wrapped up into one cute little bundle that you definitely don’t want to get wet.
I’m actually quite the fan of Christmas horror, but Gremlins is the only one from that sub-genre that should be on everyone’s Christmas calendar. If you’re looking for more of the same, feel free to check out our countdown of the best Christmas scares.
December 8 - The Little Drummer Boy
Really, where would Christmas be today without Rankin-Bass? I’m eternally grateful for all the amazing specials they churned out, and while it isn’t the most popular of the bunch, The Little Drummer Boy is still one that you shouldn’t miss out on this Christmas season.
Somehow in The Bible‘s Christmas story, the tale of the little boy who went along and played his drum for Jesus has become one of the most memorable bits. This special tells that boy’s story, as he and his animal companions meet up with the three wise men and head to Bethlehem to pay tribute to the son of God.
December 9 – Merry Christmas Mr. Bean
Maybe by this point in the second week of the season, you’re ready for something that isn’t quite so traditional, and isn’t quite so cheerful. Well, if that’s the case, you can’t go wrong with Merry Christmas Mr. Bean. Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean is always good for a laugh, but his Christmas special may be the top of the (60 foot tall) tree.
Yeah, Mr. Bean’s Christmas isn’t the merriest holiday, but it’s certainly one of the funniest. Who else could play with a nativity set and dinosaur action figures for more than ten seconds of a special and actually have it work? Plus, every year I look forward to my Christmas socks because of this special.
December 10 – Die Hard
The total number of days you’re supposed to celebrate Christmas festivities has been bumped into the double digits as of now, and I get it, you may be a little sick of all the sleigh rides. Personally, I never get sick of jingle bells and eggnog, but I know it isn’t for everyone. Maybe at this point you want something a little less “Ho, Ho, Ho” and something a little more “Yippee Ki-Yay.”
To be clear, I don’t necessarily classify Die Hard as a Christmas movie. Yes, it takes place at Christmas, but it’s the sort of story that would work well set at any time of the year, unlike most things on this list. That being said, it’s definitely made better by the Christmas setting, and appeals to both the holiday enthusiasts and those who aren’t wide-eyed with wonder about the season.Previous Next
December 11 – Christmas Vacation
In terms of Christmas comedies, it may not get any better than Clark and the rest of the Griswold family as they try to have a good old-fashioned family Christmas. Of course, with the Griswolds there’s never an opportunity for a traditional, relaxing holiday. It isn’t all the fault of Clark’s zealousness though, as most of the problems are caused by his ridiculous relatives, cranky neighbors, and a miserly boss.
It’s a comedy through and through, but there still are the touching Christmas moments that are expected from a traditional holiday tale (no I’m not talking about a squirrel in the tree or cousin Eddie’s RV). It’s a realistic depiction of how many people’s family Christmases actually end up (or maybe a worst case scenario that everyone fears). Most of all though, it’s a light-hearted, enjoyable Christmas movie and a very enjoyable watch.
December 12 – Scrooged
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol can be a bit dark in spots, and by spots I mean basically the entire thing until the end. While that sort of story does have its place, why not make it a dark comedy and let Bill Murray play the lead? That’s what Richard Donner did with Scrooged, his 1988, effects-heavy Christmas classic.
This one is absolutely hilarious, and there are few Christmas films which that can be said about. If it’s been a while since you’ve given this a watch, pop it in on the 12th and be reminded of what you’ve been missing.
December 13 – The Polar Express
While it certainly has its moments that are less than excellent, there’s no denying that Robert Zemeckis’ The Polar Express is still one of the best Christmas movies to hit the big screen in recent years. Based on a book that was already a holiday staple for many, the movie has worked its way into that same realm, with a more expansive story and some beautiful animated scenery.
There’s also the fact that Tom Hanks plays almost every character in the film (or six of them, but same thing). His performance is fantastic, at least in terms of the voice work. It’s a shame the animation of the characters doesn’t always measure up, but still, this is a great case of taking a book that is loved and adapting it into a movie without completely butchering it. If for nothing else, that in itself is commendable.
December 14 – Love Actually
Another movie that’s really more of a movie set at Christmas than a “Christmas movie,” Richard Curtis’ Love Actually has become a staple of the holiday season, and for good reason. Of course, there’s the great ensemble cast, with at least one storyline that anyone can relate to, but it really is the Christmas spirit that accompanies the story that’s taken it to the next level.
One of its many taglines reads “The Ultimate Romantic Comedy,” and that really is true. It’s the sort of romcom that subverts the genre expectations and can actually appeal to everyone. I think that’s due in large part to the Christmas backdrop for the story. In the ten years since its initial release, more and more people have been making this a solid part of their holiday plans, and I’m no exception.
December 15 – The Muppet Christmas Carol
Okay, okay! I promise this is the last version of A Christmas Carol that is on this list. There’s a reason the story has been remade so many times though. I think it’s a pretty awesome Christmas tale, and obviously the countless filmmakers and actors who have taken it on agree, but among all those versions, there may not be a more enjoyable one than Jim Henson’s iconic Muppet rendition.
All the usual Muppets are present with Kermit as Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as his wife, and Gonzo as Charles Dickens. Plus, Michael Caine plays Scrooge wonderfully, especially for someone who is cast alongside a bunch of puppets. As one of the best family films of the season, The Muppet Christmas Carol is perfect for the start of the third week of the month.Previous Next
December 16 - White Christmas
When a couple of great singers travel to put on a show and romance some women, the result is likely going to be a pretty solid flick, especially when those two soldiers turned singers are some of the most enjoyable entertainers of all time (and the women aren’t far behind). Some would argue that White Christmas is the greatest holiday film ever, and while I wouldn’t go quite that far, I certainly do think there’s some merit to having it in that discussion.
The songs are great, the story isn’t bad, and it’s got everything you could possibly want from a Christmas film. There’s singing, skating, and a whole lot of snow. Sure, it’s corny at times, but a little corny is okay around the holidays, right?
December 17 - The Year Without a Santa Claus
When I hear Santa Claus, I think Mickey Rooney. That reaction was planted by Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, but it was cemented by The Year Without A Santa Claus where he again takes on the titular role. This time though, instead of being wide-eyed and passionate about Christmas, he feels under-appreciated and ready for a vacation.
If Santa really did take a vacation, it would completely ruin the season, so of course, Mrs. Claus steps in to save the day by recruiting Heat Miser and Snow Miser to provide some backup (once they get over their sibling rivalry, that is).
In recent years I’ve noticed a drastic decrease in Christmas spirit, which makes this special more poignant today than ever. It’s a sobering reminder of just what could happen if people really stop caring about the season.
December 18 - Miracle on 34th Street
In one of the most magical portrayals of Santa Claus ever, Edmund Gwenn won an Oscar for his work in Miracle On 34th Street. AFI once ranked the film 9th on its list of the 100 most inspiring movies of all time, but even more than the awards and accolades it received, the movie has been remembered because it’s an incredibly touching tale of Christmas.
When Saint Nick is away from the North Pole, life isn’t all that easy, especially considering most people don’t believe in him. Even with his series of inspiring miracles, people still don’t want to believe. It’s a common Christmas story, but it’s been used over and over again for a reason. The hope that would be inspired by a real Kris Kringle is more than worthy of a film, and should make it a must-watch for you this Christmas.
December 19 – A Christmas Story
Yes, it plays all day on Christmas, but what better way to kick off the last week leading up to the 25th than with Ralphie’s iconic Christmas film? The movie turns 30 this year, but it doesn’t feel like it’s aged a bit.
This is arguably the most popular Christmas movie today, and that may be because of how often it plays on television, at least in America. It’s also due to how relatable of a Christmas story it is. Every kid knows the feeling of seeing commercials and ads for the one gift that there’s almost zero chance they’re going to get. That’s a huge part of the commercialism of the holiday, which these days plays too large a role.
Along with the 30th anniversary, Cleveland is having a convention and celebration of the film. While I don’t know that a trip to that city is necessary, I triple-dog dare you to pop this one in on the 19th, and if it doesn’t get you in the mood for Christmas, I think you may be beyond helping.
December 20 – How The Grinch Stole Christmas
He may be as cuddly as a cactus and as charming as an eel, but the Christmas season just wouldn’t be complete without Mr. Grinch, and while the live-action movie isn’t a completely terrible choice, you simply can’t beat the 1966, Boris Karloff-narrated special.
As with many Christmas stories, it’s another case of a guy who just doesn’t get the cheer of the season. He’s a grumpy old hermit, without a real friend in the world, and because of that he thinks he can’t enjoy Christmas. He thinks that if he steals everything down to the last can of Who-hash, then no one will enjoy Christmas, and everyone will be wallowing in misery with him.
Of course, that isn’t the case, and his heart grows three sizes when he sees the Whos still enjoying their holiday. That makes it the ultimate anti-commercialism special, but really it’s so much more than that. It’s a beautiful tale of the magic of the Christmas season, and it’s a perfect way to get ready for the last week before the big day arrives.Previous Next
December 21 – Frosty The Snowman
Based on the 1950 Gene Autry song, Frosty The Snowman is one of the best animated specials around. At its core, the story is about the power of a little Christmas spirit and one black top hat. That combination can do many things, but nothing quite as remarkable as bringing a snowman to life. He dances around, leads the kids through the streets of town, and brings them a story that they’ll remember forever. It’s a heart-melting special in the truest sense of the phrase, but there’s still hope at the end, knowing that Frosty, just like Christmas, will be back again some day.
And if you’re feeling really ambitious, the sequel isn’t half bad either.
December 22 – Elf
Arguably the best Christmas movie of the 21st century, Will Ferrell put a whole new spin on how the general public views Santa’s little helpers. Of course, it can be said that Buddy the Elf isn’t actually an elf, but by the end of the movie it’s clear that being an Elf isn’t about your birth, it’s about your heart.
Elf is a story of pure, unadulterated Christmas joy in today’s world where Christmas spirit is at an all-time low. It’s also the role that Ferrell was born to play. I’m not really a fan of the insane, immature, naive characters he’s frequently cast as, but it works to perfection in Elf. His performance is also helped along greatly by the incredible chemistry that him and Zooey Deschanel have in the film.
This is the Christmas movie for a new generation, the generation that was too young for even the likes of Home Alone and The Santa Clause. That doesn’t mean it can’t appeal to people of all ages, because it can, and that makes it a perfect holiday movie for when the whole family is in town.
With only a few more sleeps until Christmas day, you don’t want to miss out on Elf.
December 23 – Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, and by this point in time, you should probably know their red-nosed companion as well. The best of the Rankin-Bass classics, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer is the perfect choice as you approach Christmas day. Hopefully by this point in time you’re off for the holidays, ready to sit back and enjoy all the Christmas spirit coming your way. Start that with Rudolph.
Telling the tale of the most storied of all Santa’s sled-pullers, this special has worked its way into the hearts of almost everyone whose seen it, in large part because of its memorable characters. From Hermey the Elf, wanna-be dentist, all the way to the Bumble, it’s almost impossible to even begin to choose a favorite character. Of course, most of the characters at the North Pole are complete jerks, including the man in the red suit himself, but Rudolph ultimately finds a way to save the day and bring Christmas cheer to those who need it most – and that’s what Christmas is all about isn’t it?
I understand that it may be impossible for you to wait this long before popping Rudolph in, but it’s the perfect choice for the final day before Christmas Eve, so even if you aren’t able to wait, you’ll probably want to revisit it on the 23rd.Previous Next
Christmas Eve – It’s A Wonderful Life
As the greatest Christmas movie of all time, and really one of the greatest films ever made, there is no better movie to watch on Christmas Eve than It’s A Wonderful Life. Approaching its 70th year of bringing the Christmas spirit to viewers worldwide, the film feels as fresh as ever, and is the only Christmas movie that should’ve won Best Picture.
There just simply isn’t a better Christmas story than the one about George Bailey, his family, and the sobering realization of just how impactful his seemingly-simple life has been. It goes to show that the little things you do around the holidays can have a must grander effect than you may ever have thought possible.
It doesn’t even necessarily have to be a Christmas movie either. Many years I’ll watch it again on New Year’s Day, but it definitely has enough Christmas elements in it to make it a must-watch for the Holiday season. Just about every value you could associate with this time of year can be found somewhere in the film, and Jimmy Stewart turns in one of the best performances of his very storied career.
In fact, with how much of a Christmas Eve staple this has become for me, I almost feel like Christmas wouldn’t be able to come if I somehow managed to miss watching It’s A Wonderful Life before bed on the 24th.Previous Next
Christmas Day – A Charlie Brown Christmas
Perhaps the most iconic of all Christmas specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas has been played on TV every single year since it originally aired in 1965 on CBS. Although the entire special chronicling Charlie Brown’s search for happiness during the Christmas season is a masterpiece, there are a few specific things that stand out to make this one of the best, if not the best, Christmas special of all time.
Vince Guaraldi’s score is as iconic of a Christmas soundtrack as will ever be made. His version of “Für Elise” has somehow become a Christmas song, even though the original is far from it. That shows just how impactful it all is. “Linus and Lucy” is obviously as much of a theme song for the entire Peanuts series as it is for this specific special, but the first notes inspire feelings of Christmas joy nonetheless. “Skating” is also a masterful composition, painting vivid pictures in the mind of the scene from the special, even when you haven’t seen the special in years.
Linus’ telling of the Christmas story is one of the most emotionally touching and grounding moments of any Christmas special ever. Charlie Brown is distraught by the commercialism of the season, and doesn’t even know what the most wonderful time of the year is about, but Linus, a mere child, has the insight and wisdom to properly tell the Christmas story, complete with spotlight and a haunting silence other than his echoing words. After this is when Charlie Brown walks away from the theater, taking his sad Christmas tree to its proper place beside Snoopy’s dog house.
The final scene where the rest of the children have fixed up Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree and they gather around for a rousing rendition of Hark The Herald Angels Sing is the perfect end to the special and the perfect cap to the Christmas season. Pop this one on the TV Christmas night, dance around to Schroeder’s piano, and then enjoy that touching final scene. If that doesn’t make for a merry Christmas, then I don’t know what can.
Happy Christmas everyone! I hope these Christmas movies and specials have been able to bring you the joy of the season, as they have for me.Previous