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Holiday Viewing Guide 2021: Where to Watch Your Favorite Christmas Movies and Specials

From the Grinch to Charlie Brown to Kevin McCallister, here's where (and when) they're on this holiday season.
  • Photos: MGM TV, 20th Century Studios, AppleTV+
    Photos: MGM TV, 20th Century Studios, AppleTV+

    For a form of entertainment that's meant to deliver optimum comfort at the coziest time of the year, TV seems to insist on making it more and more complicated to watch our favorite holiday specials. Between airing the specials earlier and earlier in the year — Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer aired on CBS this year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving — and movies hopping from one streaming service to another, it's a challenge to make sure we don't miss our faves. In the interest of gift-giving this season, we've put together a list of when and where all of the season's best and most beloved Christmas shows and movies are airing/streaming this year. Take a look, mark your calendars, and settle in: 

    The Classic TV Specials

    A Charlie Brown Christmas

    As was the case last year, Charlie Brown, Linus, Snoopy, and that scrappy little tree are available to stream all season on Apple TV+. Also like last year, it will be airing on television as well, albeit only once, with a December 19th airing on PBS.

    Air Date(s):

    • Sunday, December 19, 7:30 PM — PBS and PBS Kids
    • Streaming on Apple TV+

    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, though Freeform is picking up the slack on cable throughout December.

    Air Date(s):

    • Friday, November 26, 8:00 PM — CBS
    • Saturday, December 4, 7:10 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 5, 5:00 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 19, 6:10 PM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 20, 4:40 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 24, 8:30 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 25, 5:05 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 1966 animated version, he's airing across a few different TV networks, and it's streaming on Peacock.

    Air Date(s):

    • Friday, November 26, 8:00 PM — NBC
    • Saturday, December 11, 8:00 PM — TBS
    • Sunday, December 19, 7:00 PM — TNT
    • Sunday, December 19, 9:30 PM — TNT
    • Saturday, December 25, 8:00 PM — NBC
    • Streaming on Peacock

    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 2, 10:30 AM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 3, 7:00 AM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 11, 9:05 AM — Freeform
    • Tuesday, December 21, 12:30 PM — Freeform
    • Wednesday, December 22, 7:00 AM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 24, 10:30 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):

    • Sunday, November 21, 8:00 PM — CBS
    • Saturday, December 4, 7:45 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 5, 5:35 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday December 11, 8:00 PM — CBS
    • Sunday, December 19, 6:45 PM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 20, 5:15 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 24, 9:00 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 25, 5:40 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, and it's airing twice on ABC and a handful more times on Freeform.

    Air Date(s):

    • Friday, November 26, 8:00 PM — ABC
    • Saturday, December 4, 6:05 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 5, 3:55 PM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 20, 3:35 PM — Freeform
    • Tuesday, December 21, 1:00 APM — Freeform
    • Thursday, December 23, 8:00 PM — ABC
    • Friday, December 24, 10:00 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 25, 4:00 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):

    • Friday, December 3, 12:15 AM — AMC
    • Monday, December 13, 6:45 AM — AMC
    • Tuesday, December 14, 2:15 PM — 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.

    Air Date(s):

    • Tuesday, November 30, 8:48 AM — Starz Encore
    • Tuesday, November 30, 6:20 PM — Starz Encore
    • Streaming on HBO Max
    • Streaming on Starz

    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.

    Air Date(s):

    • Streaming on Tubi

    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+
    • Wednesday, December 1, 5:50 PM — Freeform
    • Thursday, December 2, 3:10 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 4, 8:50 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 5, 6:40 PM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 6, 1:10 PM — Freeform
    • Tuesday, December 7, 11:00 PM — Freeform
    • Thursday, December 9, 5:50 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 10, 4:10 PM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 13, 6:00 PM — Freeform
    • Tuesday, December 14, 3:30 PM — Freeform
    • Thursday, December 16, 6:00 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 17, 12:00 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 19, 7:50 PM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 20, 10:30 AM — Freeform
    • Tuesday, December 21, 6:00 PM — Freeform
    • Wednesday, December 22, 2:05 PM — Freeform
    • Thursday, December 23, 4:05 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 24, 1:00 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 25, 6:45 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):

    • Saturday, December 4, 8:00 PM — NBC
    • Friday, 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 three airings on Freeform, all of which are pretty early in the day. If you miss those, however, you can stream it for free on Vudu.

    Air Date(s):

    • Tuesday, December 14, 12:30 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 17, 9:00 AM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 18, 7:35 AM — Freeform
    • Streaming on Vudu

    Miracle on 34th Street

    Both the original version (starring Maureen O'Hara) and the 1994 remake (starring Richard Attenborough as a possibly fraudulent St. Nick) are streaming this season on HBO Max.

    Air Date(s):

    • Streaming on HBO Max

    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

    It's amazing that it's taken TBS this long to try to replicate its success with "24 hours of A Christmas Story" with another movie, but this year, they're giving us a full 24 hours of Chevy Chase's snakebitten family holiday in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. That won't be your last chance to watch, though, as it'll be airing on TBS, TNT, and AMC throughout the holiday season, as well as streaming on HBO Max.

    Air Date(s):

    • 24 hour marathon on Saturday, November 27, starting at 6:00 AM — TBS
    • Wednesday, December 1, 10:00 PM — AMC
    • Thursday, December 2, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Saturday, December 4, 7:00 PM — AMC
    • Saturday, December 4, 9:15 PM — AMC
    • Wednesday, December 8, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Wednesday, December 8, 10:15 PM — AMC
    • Sunday, December 12, 7:00 PM — AMC
    • Sunday, December 12, 9:15 PM — AMC
    • Monday, December 13, 10:00 PM — AMC
    • Thursday, December 16, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Thursday, December 16, 10:15 PM — AMC
    • Saturday, December 18, 7:00 PM — AMC
    • Saturday, December 18, 9:15 PM — AMC
    • Streaming on HBO Max

    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):

    • Sunday, December 5, 2:15 PM — Freeform
    • Wednesday, December 8, 9:30 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 10, 2:35 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 18, 12:20 AM — 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 1, 11:05 AM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 3, 7:15 PM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 6, 6:20 PM — Freeform
    • Thursday, December 9, 11:30 AM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 12, 5:15 PM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 13, 11:30 AM — Freeform
    • Wednesday, December 15, 1:35 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 17, 5:10 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 18, 12:55 AM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 20, 6:20 PM — Freeform
    • Wednesday, December 22, 7:15 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 25, 9:10 PM — 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):

    • Thursday, November 30, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Wednesday, December 1, 1:30 PM — AMC
    • Monday, December 6, 6:00 PM — AMC
    • Monday, December 6, 12:30 AM — AMC
    • Saturday, December 11, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Sunday, December 12, 3:00 AM — AMC
    • Tuesday, December 14, 10:15 PM — AMC
    • Wednesday, December 15, 12:00 PM — AMC
    • Friday, December 17, 6:00 PM — AMC
    • Friday, December 17, 12:00 AM — AMC
    • Saturday, December 18, 3:00 PM — AMC
    • Sunday, December 19, 1:30 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, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, it's a Wonderful Life, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer