For many of us there are triggers that remind us that it is Christmastime. Ham wafting through the air, Yule Log, Christmas carols and baked goods that are made only during this time of the year are some of the key ways in which we bring in the holiday season. That goes for the specials and movies that only show during Christmas. The following is a list of specials that make us know it’s time to buy a tree and hang some mistletoe.
10. A Garfield Christmas
Garfield just wants to be left alone to eat his lasagna. Instead he is dragged to Jon’s parents to celebrate Christmas on the farm. The tabby that made “Big fat hairy deal” famous helps Jon’s grandmother find her holiday spirit as only he can. It’s fun, heartwarming and has a good soundtrack with the voices of Lou Rawls and Desiree Goyette leading the way.
9. A Claymation Christmas Celebration
Originally featured in a commercial singing Marvin Gaye’s version of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” The California Raisins appeared in this 1987 claymation holiday special. At the time this cutting edge technology mixed with the voices of Buddy Miles (as the raisins) made for must see television. The premise was that two dinosaurs guided you through the traditions of the holiday and gave a funny spin on several of these legends. Currently it’s on DVD, so you can start the Christmas season as early as you want.
8. It’s A Wonderful Life
Poor George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) never made it out of Bedford Falls, but he was the “richest man in town.” As a man who feels he never made a difference he’s guided by the angel Clarence who needs to earn his wings. This storyline has been duplicated on several television shows and movies with varying degrees of success. One of the more comical ones is from Married with Children, where if Al Bundy had never existed the lives of those around him seemed infinitely better. So what does Al do? He goes back to make everyone’s lives miserable.
7. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
“You’re a mean one Mr. Grinch.” Boris Korloff’s narration of this Dr. Seus tale is a classic. The Grinch goes from a thieving miser to one whose heart grew in size. There is the movie version, but it’s the classic cartoon that makes people know when it’s Christmas.
6. A Charlie Brown Christmas
Good old Charlie Brown. The Peanuts gang are putting on a Christmas play and it’s Charlie Brown’s responsibility to get a tree. What does our sad-sack hero do – get the most dilapidated tree on the lot. By giving this poor thing a home he felt that he was embodying the spirit of Christmas. However, even his dog laughs at him. In the end the day is saved by a group effort that makes that sorry tree into something special. Originally broadcast in 1965 it has been a Christmas staple ever since.
5. A Christmas Story
The leg lamp, getting your tongue stuck to pole and shooting your eye out. The Christmas Story is one of the best movies about the Christmas season. Family dysfunction abounds as all Ralphie wants for Christmas is a BB gun. First aired in movie theaters in 1983 critics were hard pressed to give the director of the movie Porkys praise for this Christmas classic. However once it started showing on television it finally got the props it deserved. This truly is one of the greatest holiday movies recently made.
4. The Bishop’s Wife
The smart, sophisticated film starring Cary Grant as the angel Dudley is sent to help Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) to help him build a new church. However the real reason for Dudley being there is to repair Henry’s relationship with his wife Julia (Loretta Young). With witty dialogue set to a Christmas backdrop “The Bishop’s Wife” did not do as well as it should have in 1947, but thanks to television it can be appreciated as the solid film it is.
3. Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol
Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol is a take on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. This musical adaptation originally airing in 1962 launched the television show that starred the titled cartoon character. But what makes this program iconic is that in its 48 year history it has not gone stale. When a young and old Ebenezer Scrooge sing their duet emphasizing “millions of grains of sand in the world, why such a lonely beach” you’ll find yourself wiping back the tears.
2. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
Specifically made for television Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is based on the song recorded by Johnny Marks. Since 1964 the Rankin/Bass misfit has been lighting up Christmas with his red shiny nose that glows. It’s a story of finding your place in the world and belonging to something bigger than yourself. One of the clever parodies of this iconic figure is from Mad TV in which “Ragin’ Rudolph” behaves as a character in a Martin Scorsese film.
1. A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens’ tale of a man who finds redemption by being visited by the ghosts of Christmas has been revised, modernized and set to a musical score all with varying results. We all know the story, still by the end we are relieved that Tiny Tim will live because of the love that Ebenezer Scrooge finds in humanity. If you cannot get a chance to see the one currently in theaters then there are several that you can catch on television. The best versions are A Diva’s Christmas Carol starring Vanessa Williams (Her behind the Music ghost of Christmas future is an inventive interpretation of the standard visitation) and the standard Christmas Carol versions starring Patrick Stewart, Alistair Sims and George C. Scott. When the ghost of Christmas Present (the late Edward Woodward) lifts his coat to show what Scrooge (Scott) should look out for it becomes one of the most chilling moments in this made-for-TV film.