A mostly American subgenre — special television shows, often one-shots, created with a (northern hemisphere) winter or holiday theme for broadcast during the month of December. Most prominently feature Santa Claus
and his associated mythology, as they try to preserve political correctness. Some try to educate the viewers about the True Meaning of Christmas
. Their plots often involve the characters Saving Christmas
Perhaps the best-known Christmas Specials are the animated ones (including the stop-motion animations produced primarily by Rankin/Bass
) from the 1960s through the 1970s that rerun annually. Far more numerous, though, are the various celebrity specials, which usually take the form of a low-key holiday-themed Variety Show
. Usually the latter are rather forgettable by virtue of their one-off nature, but sometimes they can generate moments that survive decades. A case in point would be the Bing Crosby-David Bowie
duet of "The Little Drummer Boy", which has taken on a life of its own above and beyond the 1970s-vintage Crosby special from which it sprang.
Compare Christmas Episode
(generally known as a Christmas Special in the UK
), Easter Special
, and Halloween Special
. If the holiday celebrated in the special only looks like Christmas but is renamed to match the setting, it's a You Mean "Xmas"
- Disney put out From All of Us to All of You on its weekly show Walt Disney Presents in 1958. It featured new cartoon footage of Jiminy Cricket linking winter and celebration-themed excerpts from the Disney Animated Canon and Classic Disney Shorts. This special has received periodic updates and retitlings over the decades. While its last exposure in the U.S. was in The '80s (as 1983's A Disney Channel Christmas, retitled Jiminy Cricket's Christmas for a video release in '86), it continues to be a very big draw in the UK and Scandinavia.
- Sweden in particular loves this special. Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Julnote appears on Swedish television every December 24 without fail, and it's not an exaggeration to say fully half of the nation watches it. This Slate article details the tradition, from the perspective of an American observing his Swede in-laws watching it during a visit.
- Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962) was the first animated one of these to be produced expressly for television.
- Dinner for One (1963, usually associated with New Year's Eve)
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
- A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965; directly references the religious basis of Christmas when Linus, in a spotlight no less, quotes the Christmas story from one of the gospels)
- There are three more Peanuts Christmas specials, made from The '90s onward, all of which the original easily overshadows: It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown (1992), Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales (2002), and I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown (2003). Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales was created specifically to pad out an hour timeslot for A Charlie Brown Christmas so that it wouldn't have to be Edited for Syndication.
- The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood (1965; this one only had a few token references to Christmas)
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
- The Little Drummer Boy (1968; one of the rare specials which focused on the Nativity, it received a sequel in 1976)
- Frosty the Snowman (1969)
- Frosty's Winter Wonderland (1976)
- Frosty Returns (1992 non-Rankin/Bass sequel)
- The Legend of Frosty the Snowman (2005 feature-length sequel set in the continuity of the 1969 special)
- The Night the Animals Talked (1970; another rare Nativity-themed show)
- Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (1970)
- The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas (1973)
- The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974, animated; 2006, live action)
- 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974)
- The First Christmas Snow (1975)
- A Cosmic Christmas (1977) (Canadian-produced and featuring aliens searching for the meaning of Christmas)
- The Fat Albert Christmas Special (1977)
- Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977)
- Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1977)
- The oh-so-infamous/amazing The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978) (nominally about "Life Day" rather than any holiday celebrated on Earth, but released around Thanksgiving)
- Several Sesame Street examples:
- A Pink Christmas featuring The Pink Panther (1978)
- Bugs Bunny's Looney Christmas Tales (1979)
- John Denver and The Muppets: A Christmas Together (1979)note
- Mr. Krueger's Christmas (1980) Featuring Jimmy Stewart and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
- Pinocchio's Christmas (1980)
- Yogi's First Christmas (1980)
- A Chipmunk Christmas (1981)
- The Leprechauns Christmas Gold (1981)
- The Snowman (1982) (one of the first British examples, and the most famous)
- In France, Le Père Noël est une ordure (1982) is broadcast virtually every single year on one of the six main channels around Christmas. It's actually a very dark comedy; one of the characters, the one actually called an "ordure" works as a Mall Santa. It was remade in the United States as Mixed Nuts.
- Two Smurfs Christmas specials, "The Smurfs Christmas Special" (1982) and "'Tis the Season to Be Smurfy" (1987).
- The Glo Friends Save Christmas (1985)
- He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special. Features some hilarious scenes in which Skeletor becomes infused with the Christmas spirit, much to his befuddlement. (1985)
- The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus (1985)
- The Christmas Toy (Jim Henson) (1986)
- A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)
- A Garfield Christmas (1987)
- Santa Bears High Flying Adventure (1987)
- Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988)
- The Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special (1988)
- Christmas In Tattertown (1988)
- Bluetoes The Christmas Elf (1988)
- The Barney franchise has four Christmas specials: Waiting for Santa (1990), Barney's Night Before Christmas (1999), Barney's Christmas Star (2002), and A Very Merry Christmas (2011).
- Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas (1991)
- Father Christmas (1991)
- A Wish for Wings That Work (1991)
- Timmy's Gift: A Precious Moments Christmas (1991)
- The Christmas Tree (1991)
- The Moo Family Holiday Hoedown (1992)
- The Real Story of O Christmas Tree (1992)
- The Wish That Changed Christmas (1992): Based on the book "The Story of Holly and Ivy"
- Up On The Housetop (1992)
- Nick & Noel (1993)
- The Town Santa Forgot (1993)
- The Twelve Days of Christmas (1993): Promoted as "the true story of the Twelve Days of Christmas". Featured the voices of Larry Kenney and Phil Hartman.
- The Night Before Christmas (1994) was one of several made by Golden Films.
- The Reduced Shakespeare Company Christmas (radio, 1995)
- Jingle Bell Rock, DiC (1995)
- Magic Gift of the Snowman (1995)
- Mr. Willoghby's Christmas Special (1995)
- Spot's Magical Christmas (1995)
- Sonic Christmas Blast (1996)
- Annabelle's Wish (1997)
- The Online Adventures of Ozzie the Elf (1997)
- The Story of Santa Claus (1998)
- The Noddy Shop: Anything Can Happen At Christmas (1998)
- Bear in the Big Blue House: A Berry Bear Christmas (1999)
- The Nuttiest Nutcracker
- Olive, the Other Reindeer (1999)
- Robbie the Reindeer in Hooves of Fire (1999)
- Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer (2000)
- Arthur's Perfect Christmas (2000)
- Christmas Who?? from Spongebob Squarepants. (2000)
- Franklin: Franklin's Magic Christmas (2001).
- The True Meaning of Christmas Specials (2002) with Dave Foley of The Kids in the Hall (and NewsRadio) fame.
- It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002)
- The Rapsittie Street Kids Believe In Santa (2002): A dreadfully animated CG musical that was lost media until it was recovered in 2015.
- Caillou's Holiday Movie (2003)
- The Night B4 Christmas (2003)
- The Powerpuff Girls: 'Twas The Fight Before Christmas (2003)
- The newest incarnation of Doctor Who has a Christmas special every year, starting with the second season. The Ninth Doctor story "The Unquiet Dead" is a Christmas special within the regular series.
- Davey and Goliath's Snowbound Christmas (2005)
- Moral Orel's first season finale (aired as the first episode) was one with a Downer Ending. Its series finale, which had some parallels was a lot more positive.
- The TV adaptation of Hogfather by Terry Pratchett (2006)
- I'll Be Home for Christmas (2006) was actually the first animated adventure of Toot & Puddle, released directly to DVD and also aired seasonally on Nick Jr. back when it was known as Noggin. It was based on the book by the same name and featured Toot traveling to Scotland to visit his grandmother for her 100th birthday, while Puddle stayed home with Opal and the two decorated in the hope that Toot would be back in time for Christmas.
- Doctor Steel's Dr. Steel Christmas Special (2007) and A Dr. Steel Christmas (2009).
- Leap Frog's A Tad Of Christmas Cheer (2007)
- Christmas is Here Again (2007)
- Shrek The Halls (2007)
- A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift Of All. Contains both actual religious issues, and killer bears. (2008)
- A Muppet's Christmas: Letters to Santa (2008)
- The Flight Before Christmas (2008)
- Phineas And Ferb Christmas Vacation! (2009)
- Prep and Landing (2009)
- There are two specials based on the "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus" letter. The first one dates to around 1975, and was directed by Bill Melendez of Peanuts fame (the special has a Charlie Brown-esque look to it). The second, more recent one, was made in 2009, and featured Alfred Molina as the editor of The New York Sun.
- Red vs. Blue often does holiday specials; in 2009, they made a 3-part special for Christmas.
- Strawberry Shortcake has two: Berry Merry Christmas (2003 continuity) and The Glimmerberry Ball Movie (2009 continuity).
- Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special (2010). Given the setting is ancient China, the producers use the Winter Festival instead for the occasion, which also makes the special applicable from American Thanksgiving to New Years in the future.
- Hoops & Yoyo Ruin Christmas (2011)
- An Elf's Story (2011), adapted from the "Elf on the Shelf" book and doll (2011)
- Bitchin' Kitchen (2011)
- Jingle All the Way (2011)
- Jingle And Bell's Christmas Star (2012)
- Charlie and Lola had an episode with the siblings visiting the elves and saving Christmas.
- The Venture Bros. Christmas episode "A Very Venture Christmas" introduced the Krampus to much of America.
- The Adventures of The League of S.T.E.A.M. had "The Fright Before Christmas".
- Ice Age gave us "A Mammoth Christmas"...with no explanation on how talking animals can celebrate a holiday honoring someone who wouldn't be born until long after the animals are dead.
- The Flintstones had multiple Christmas specials:
- A Flintstone Christmas (1977)
- A Flintstone Family Christmas (1993)
- A Flintstone Christmas Carol (1994)
- Scooby-Doo! Haunted Holiday (2012)
- Winx Club has "A Magix Christmas", where Bloom teaches the other characters, who aren't from Earth, about Christmas.
- Abominable Christmas (2012)
- Holly Hobbie and Friends: Christmas Wishes: A rather more unusually traditional one for today's time, in a series that otherwise isn't overtly Christian. While it doesn't overtly pedal Christian religious themes, it does include a fully traditional Christian pageant, with an original manager song called "There's No Room at the Inn," and both Christian and non-Christian Christmas songs, such as "Jingle Bells" and "Oh Holy Night."
- Power Rangers has quite a few!
- Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers had "Alpha's Magical Christmas", a non-canon direct-to-video special, and "I'm Dreaming of a White Ranger", which is canon.
- Power Rangers Zeo had "A Season To Remember"; it aired as the season finale, but takes place and was produced in the middle of the season.
- Power Rangers Samurai, which was split into two seasons, had two clip show Christmas specials — one for each season.
- Toy Story That Time Forgot (2014) Pixar's first true Christmas special. At a post-Christmas playdate, Bonnie's toys (and one tree ornament) find themselves lost in the deluxe play set of the BattleSaurs, a 1980s-esque line of humanoid dinosaur warriors...who are as of yet unaware that they're actually for play, not war. Hilarity Ensues
- How Murray Saved Christmas (2014)
- Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas (2014) An Animated Adaptation of the stage musical adaptation of Elf.
- Ping Pong: An unorthodox one, at best. The manga never added any scenes implying Christmas had passed. However, Yuasa and his team made sure Episode 6 changed that. The episode covers material that was in Chapters 5, 6, and 7 of the second volume. In addition, it plays out how the five prodigies spent Christmas following the first tournament.
- We Wish You A Merry Walrus (2014) is the first entry of a Club Penguin TV special series. It's about a group of penguins who must save Christmas.
- Olaf's Frozen Adventure (2017) is a Frozen short that is about Olaf trying to find the perfect holiday tradition for Anna and Elsa to celebrate since they don't have one due to being separated for years.
- The Amazon Studios If You Give a Mouse a Cookie was followed up by the special If You Give a Mouse a Christmas Cookie.
- Trolls Holiday, based on the film of the same name, follows a pretty similar premise to the Frozen short mentioned above.
- RWBY Chibi gives us two — "A Slip Through Time and Space Pt. 2", which is just one long Product Placement ad for the Rooster Teeth Store, and "Nondescript Holiday Spectacular", which is a parody of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!.