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Holiday Viewing Guide 2020: Where to Watch Your Favorite Christmas Movies and Specials

Your favorite Christmas specials are about to start airing. Find out when, where, and how often!
  • Home Alone (Freeform/Disney+) and Frosty the Snowman (CBS/Freeform)
    Home Alone (Freeform/Disney+) and Frosty the Snowman (CBS/Freeform)

    In a normal year, I'd be here bemoaning the fact that the traditional holiday TV specials are creeping earlier and earlier into November. The pumpkin pie tin is still languishing unwashed on the kitchen counter and already the networks are trotting out Rudolph, Frosty, The Grinch, and all the rest. This year, however, the Christmas TV season can't begin soon enough. It's a pandemic, and we can't go anywhere, so Grinch me up, TV! This year, between broadcast TV, cable, and streaming platforms like Amazon Prime, HBO Max, and Disney+, holiday specials are available all season. From Freeform's 25 Days of Christmas to Charlie Brown on Apple TV+ (and PBS), it's time to make notes, set DVRs, clear calendars, and enjoy the warm, fuzzy glow of a holiday cheer, and we are here with a complete list of where your favorite holiday traditions are airing and when. Feel free to bookmark.

    The Classic TV Specials

    A Charlie Brown Christmas

    If you're of the mind that the holidays just aren't what they used to be, one big new piece of ammunition this fall was the news that the Peanuts holiday specials wouldn't be airing on TV after Apple TV+ licensed them exclusively for their subscribers. The blowback from fans was swift, and Apple relented, agreeing to share both Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and a A Charllie Brown Christmas with PBS stations.

    Air Date(s):

    • Streaming on AppleTV+ (available beginning December 4 for subscribers, free to all December 11-13)
    • Sunday December 13 at 7:30 PM on PBS

    Frosty the Snowman

    This classically animated Rankin-Bass production from 1969 tells the familiar tale of a snowman brought to life by a cold Christmas breeze … and the enchanted hat of a histrionic magician. As is the case with many of the Christmas classics, the networks are insisting on airing this one in late November, although Freeform is picking up the slack on cable throughout December.

    Air Date(s):

    • Friday, November 27, 8:00 PM — CBS
    • Saturday, December 5, 8:45 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 6, 5:05 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 19, 4:55 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 20, 3:25 PM — Freeform
    • Thursday, December 24, 8:15 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 25, 4:30 PM — Freeform

    How the Grinch Stole Christmas

    Dr. Seuss's beloved holiday curmudgeon scowls down from high above Whoville in many forms every holiday season. But if you're seeking out the original animated version, here's where you can find him.

    Air Date(s):

    • Friday, November 27, 8:00 PM — NBC
    • Friday, December 25, 8:00 PM — NBC

    The Little Drummer Boy

    This one is much more somber in tone than the other Rankin-Bass specials, but it's nice to have on to chill out from holiday stress. You'll have to get up pretty early in the morning to find it, but Christmas rewards the early risers.

    Air Date(s):

    • Thursday, December 3, 11:30 AM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 19, 7:30 AM — Freeform

    Mickey's Christmas Carol

    An often overlooked Christmas classic, even though Scrooge McDuck is the single most natural choice to play Ebenezer Scrooge in history. The half-hour goes by quickly, but in that half-hour, you'll get Goofy as Jacob Marley, tripping over his chains and letting out a Goofy holler as he tumbles down the stairs.

    Air Date(s):

    • Streaming on Disney+

    Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

    The Rankin-Bass-produced stop-motion animated rendering of the classic Christmas carol sees Rudolph ostracized and sent on a genuinely harrowing journey through blizzards and across ice floes, encountering the likes of Yukon Cornelius, the Island of Misfit Toys, and the Bumble (a.k.a. The Abominable Snow Monster). MVP is probably Hermie, the misfit elf who doesn't want to make toys but rather be a dentist. Hermie's probably super rich right now if he followed through on his dream.

    Air Date(s):

    • Tuesday, December 1, 8:00 PM — CBS
    • Saturday, December 5, 7:40 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 6, 5:40 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 19, 5:30 PM — CBS
    • Sunday, December 20, 4:00 PM — Freeform
    • Thursday, December 24, 8:50 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 25, 5:00 PM — Freeform

    Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town

    Narrated by Fred Astaire, Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town features a young, hot Kris Kringle, back when he had a girlfriend. Honestly, it's the original prequel. It's also the one with Burgermeister Meisterburger.

    Air Date(s):

    • Saturday, December 5, 6:35 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 6, 4:00 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 20, 2:40 PM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 21, 12:55 AM — Freeform
    • Wednesday, December 23, 10:50 PM — Freeform
    • Thursday, December 24, 9:55 PM — Freeform

    The Year Without a Santa Claus

    Similar in tone to Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, this is the one with Shirley Booth as Mrs. Claus, trying to cobble together a Christmas on her own, with Santa too depressed at the state of the world to pull it together. A relatable special! This is the one with the Heat Miser and Snow Miser.

    Air Date(s):

    • Saturday, December 5, 6:45 PM — AMC
    • Sunday, December 6, 12:30 AM — AMC
    • Sunday, December 6, 5:30 PM — AMC
    • Monday, December 7, 12:00 AM — AMC
    • Friday, December 11, 6:45 PM — AMC
    • Saturday, December 12, 12:00 AM — AMC

    The Christmas Movie Canon

    Elf

    There is a case to be made that, much like Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" is the one true modern Christmas song, Buddy the Elf is the only new character to be added to Christmas lore in the 21st century. AMC certainly agrees.

    Air Date(s):

    • Saturday, November 28, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Saturday, November 28, 10:00 PM — AMC
    • Thursday, December 3, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Thursday, December 3, 10:00 PM — AMC
    • Sunday, December 6, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Sunday, December 6, 10:00 PM — AMC
    • Tuesday, December 8, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Wednesday, December 9, 6:00 PM — AMC
    • Saturday, December 12, 7:00 PM — AMC
    • Saturday, December 14, 9:00 PM — AMC
    • Monday, December 14, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Tuesday, December 15, 6:00 PM — AMC
    • Streaming on AMC+

    The Family Stone

    Watch the ultra-liberal Stone family tear poor, uptight Sarah Jessica Parker to pieces, until she's broken, humiliated, and dripping with her ruined egg pudding. HBO is airing it pretty generously this holiday season, in addition to streaming it on HBO Max.

    Air Date(s):

    • Friday, December 4, 9:30 AM - HBO
    • Sunday, December 13, 9:30 AM - HBO
    • Wednesday, December 23, 10:45 PM - HBO
    • Friday, December 25, 6:15 AM - HBO
    • Streaming on HBO Max

    Home Alone

    The enduring holiday classic is a heart-warming ode to the power of family. As well as the power of flame-throwers, Micro Machines, paint cans, tarantulas, and plain cheese pizza. That kid really packed a lot into a few days at home. As it should be, Home Alone is everywhere this December, blanketing Freeform all month and streaming on Disney+.

    Air Date(s):

    • Streaming on Disney+
    • Tuesday, December 1, 3:30 PM — Freeform
    • Thursday, December 3, 6:00 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 6, 6:45 PM — Freeform
    • Wednesday, December 9, 6:00 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 11, 6:45 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 13, 2:05 PM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 14, 3:30 PM — Freeform
    • Thursday, December 17, 6:00 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 19, 11:45 AM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 20, 7:45 PM — Freeform
    • Tuesday, December 22, 5:10 PM — Freeform
    • Thursday, December 24, 12:30 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 25, 6:10 PM — Freeform

    It's a Wonderful Life

    It feels like every ten years or so, popular opinion on It's a Wonderful Life changes, from an overrated, overplayed exercise in schmaltz to the one truly worthy Christmas movie. The truth of the matter is that it's a great movie full-stop in addition to being a perfect Christmas movie. And its familiarity is a total asset! It means you can dip in and out of the film whenever it's on TV and get your bearings relatively quickly. The most memorable stuff happens in the last half-hour, but it's the long, snake-bitten story of George Bailey's, yes, wonderful life that makes the ending truly work.

    Air Date(s):

    • Thursday, December 24, 8:00 PM — NBC
    • Streaming on Amazon Prime

    Love Actually

    The annual lightning rod of holiday-themed movies is opting for light exposure this year, with only two airings on Freeform, both pretty early in the day. Catch it while you can!

    Air Date(s):

    • Monday, December 7, 3:30 PM — Freeform
    • Tuesday, December 8, 10:30 AM — Freeform

    Miracle on 34th Street

    This is the 1994 remake, with Richard Attenborough passing himself off as a New York City-dwelling Santa Claus when we all knew he was John Hammond trying to flee from all the bad press about Jurassic Park. (The original 1947 version is streaming on Disney+ if you're interested!)

    Air Date(s):

    • Tuesday, December 1, 1:00 PM — Freeform
    • Wednesday, December 2, 11:00 AM — Freeform
    • Wednesday, December 16, 1:35 PM — Freeform
    • Thursday, December 17, 10:30 AM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 19, 11:20 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 20, 9:30 AM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 21, 12:30 PM — Freeform
    • Tuesday, December 22, 8:30 AM — Freeform

    The Muppet Christmas Carol

    Two-time Oscar winner Michael Caine assumed the role of Dickens' infamous miser in this 1992 telling, but of course, as always, it's the Muppets themselves who steal the show, with Kermit of course playing Bob Cratchitt, Miss Piggy in the atypically thankless role of Mrs. Cratchitt, Fozzie Bear as Fezziwig (Fozzywig, of course), Statler and Waldorf as a tandem Jacob Marley, and Gonzo himself as Charles Dickens.

    Air Date(s):

    • Streaming on Disney+

    National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

    Yes, it's truly wild that a beloved family holiday institution is so closely associated with Chevy Chase. Ponder life's little ironies later. For now just enjoy every bit of lunacy, from vexing house lights to over-slicked sleds to surprise squirrels.

    Air Date(s):

    • Thursday, November 26, 7:00 PM — AMC
    • Thursday, November 26, 9:15 PM — AMC
    • Wednesday, December 2, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Wednesday, December 2, 10:15 PM — AMC
    • Saturday, December 5, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Saturday, December 5, 10:15 PM — AMC
    • Thursday, December 10, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Thursday, December 10, 10:15 PM — AMC
    • Sunday, December 13, 7:00 PM — AMC
    • Sunday, December 13, 9:15 PM — AMC
    • Wednesday, December 16, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Wednesday, December 16, 10:15 PM — AMC
    • Streaming on AMC+

    The Nightmare Before Christmas

    Tim Burton's stop-motion Gothic fantasy is half a Christmas movie, half a Halloween movie, but whichever holiday you associate it with, it's a wonderful film. You can catch it throughout December on Freeform or stream it on Disney+.

    Air Date(s):

    • Friday, December 4, 12:50 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 6, 2:20 PM — Freeform
    • Thursday, December 10, 7:10 PM — Freeform
    • Tuesday, December 15, 4:05 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 19, 10:05 AM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 21, 3:00 PM — Freeform
    • Streaming on Disney+

    The Santa Clause

    Tim Allen becomes Santa based on some fine-print legalese, the way all Christmas stories should kick off. Freeform has draped itself in all three Santa Clause movies for the month of December, so if you catch this one, odds are you'll be able to stick around for parts two and three.

    Air Date(s):

    • Wednesday, December 2, 6:25 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 4, 2:30 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 5, 9:20 PM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 7, 6:30 PM — Freeform
    • Thursday, December 10, 12:30 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 12, 10:05 AM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 13, 7:15 PM — Freeform
    • Wednesday, December 16, 4:15 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 18, 2:20 PM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 21, 4:30 AM — Freeform
    • Wednesday, December 23, 1:30 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 25, 10:30 AM — Freeform
    • Streaming on Disney+

    Scrooged

    Bill Murray might be better in this than he is in Groundhog Day. You heard me! One of the best takes on the Scrooge story there is, with unsung great performances by the likes of Karen Allen, Alfre Woodard, John Glover, and Carol Kane. Robert Mitchum! Playing a doddering old media mogul obsessed with programming TV for cats!

    Air Date(s):

    • Friday, December 4, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Monday, December 7, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Tuesday, December 8, 6:00 PM — AMC
    • Tuesday, December 15, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Wednesday, December 16, 6:00 PM — AMC
    • Streaming on AMC+

    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Mickey's Christmas Carol, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, The Year Without a Santa Claus, A Christmas Story, Holiday Programming, Home Alone