What’s your favorite Christmas special ever? When I was a kid, the biggies were “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “The Year Without a Santa Claus.”
Of those five, the biggie was always “Rudolph” – Yukon Cornelius, the Abominable, misfit toys. Clarice. Back when I was young and the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas stretched out like an eternity, the choppy, stop-action magic of Rudolph, Hermie and the gang made it feel like the holiday was really on its way.
These days, I can better appreciate the social commentary and wry humor of the Peanuts gang and the charm of a Grinchly heart growing three sizes in one day.
Here are my picks – in no particular order – of my favorite Christmas specials and movies along with when and where they’re slated to air. Schedules are subject to change.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas,” 8 p.m. Wednesday; 8 p.m. Dec. 20, ABC – Poor Charlie Brown. Though he’s directing a Christmas pageant, he’s lost the holiday spirit in the midst of commercialization: His kid sister Sally asks Santa for “tens and twenties;” Snoopy decks out his doghouse to win a contest; and the other kids try to jazz up his nativity play with flashy theatricality. The blockhead regains his spirit – and spreads it to his friends – with the help of Linus and the scrawniest tree imaginable. Fun fact: CBS wanted the special to have a laugh track and produced such a version despite creator Charles M. Schultz’s objections. It was never released.
“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” 8 p.m. Dec. 18; 8 p.m. Dec. 25, ABC – Boris Karloff narrates the charming Dr. Seuss tale, yet another slap in the face to commercialism. The Grinch lives in a cave outside of Whoville. Disguised as Santa, he sneaks into the town on Christmas Eve, stealing all of the presents and decorations. When he hears the happy Whos singing carols on Christmas morning instead of bemoaning their losses, the Grinch returns the presents and gets to carve the roast beast at the holiday feast. Fun fact: According to The Journal of Popular Culture, Theodore Geisel (Seuss) worked with Grinch animator Chuck Jones and “It’s A Wonderful Life” director Frank Capra on animated instructional films for the U.S. Army during World War II.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” 8 p.m. Dec. 4, CBS – Ridiculed for his red nose, Rudolph hits the road with a grizzled prospector and an elf who wants to be a dentist. After a run-in with the Abominable Snowman and a stop on the Island of Misfit Toys, Rudolph returns to the North Pole to learn that only his shiny nose can help Santa see through a blizzard. Fun fact: Producer Arthur Rankin Jr. revealed on NPR that Dolly, the only misfit toy without an apparent problem, suffered from depression due to abandonment. Actually, that’s not such a fun fact.
“Elf,” 8 p.m. Dec. 15, CBS – In this modern classic, Will Ferrell stars as Buddy the Elf. A human raised by Santa’s helpers as one of their own, Buddy learns his true identity and heads to New York City to find his father. Zooey Deschanel, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner and Peter Dinklage round out an amazing supporting cast. Fun fact: Voice actor Maurice LaMarche (“Futurama”) created Buddy’s memorable 12-second belch.
“A Christmas Story,” 8 p.m. Dec. 24, TBS (24-hour marathon) – The leg lamp. The furnace. The triple-dog dare. “Fra-gee-lay!” Young Ralphie’s quest for an “official Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot, range model air rifle” is based on the works of author Jean Shepherd. Fun fact: Jack Nicholson was considered for the father role that went to Darren McGavin.
“It’s A Wonderful Life” 8 p.m. Dec. 1; 8 p.m. Dec. 24, NBC – It’s just not the Christmas season unless I’m lying on the couch watching George Bailey and Clarence the angel in glorious black and white, with reflected color provided by the lights on our tree. Clarence gives desperate George a look at how much worse off his city and its residents would be if he had never existed. Fun fact: Director Capra was for colorization of the film before he was against it.
New for 2012
“It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!” 9:30 p.m. Nov. 23 – This special marks the first time the denizens of Bikini Bottom appear on network TV.
“Home Alone: The Holiday Heist,” 8 p.m. Nov. 25, ABC Family – This time, the house is haunted.
“Christmas in Rockefeller Center,” 8 p.m., Nov. 28, NBC – Trace Adkins, Mariah Carey and CeeLo Green perform at the live lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
“Blake Shelton’s Not So Family Christmas,” 10 p.m. Dec. 3; 8 p.m. Dec. 7, NBC – Kelly Clarkson, Miranda Lambert and Reba McEntire join “The Voice” personality crooning holiday favorites.
“Christmas with Holly,” 9 p.m. Dec. 9, ABC – The latest Hallmark Hall of Fame offering focuses on three uncles and a little lady.
“The Mistle-Tones,” 8 p.m. Dec. 9, ABC Family – It’s a “Glee”-ful holiday as rival vocal groups compete in a Christmas Eve sing-off.
“Michael Buble: Home for the Holidays,” 10 p.m. Dec. 10; 8 p.m. Dec. 21, NBC – The singer returns for his second holiday special.
“Christmas in the White House,” 8 p.m. Dec. 13; 9 p.m. Dec. 21, NBC – This all-new holiday event follows the season with the Obamas.
“CMA Country Christmas,” 9 p.m. Dec. 20; 9 p.m. Dec. 22, ABC – Lady Antebellum, Martina McBride, Scotty McCreery and Keith Urban headline the performers.