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

Your favorite holiday shows are about to start airing. Find out when, where, and how often!
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas (NBC) and A Charlie Brown Christmas (ABC)
    How the Grinch Stole Christmas (NBC) and A Charlie Brown Christmas (ABC)

    It happens every year: the Thanksgiving food hangover has barely worn off before all the traditional Christmas specials get aired on the TV networks, and before you know it, you've missed Rudolph, Frosty, The Grinch, and all the rest. It's the most infuriating annual tradition. This year, however, it's going to be different. And not just because streaming platforms like Amazon Prime and (especially) Disney+ will make holiday specials available all season. Nor because Freeform's 25 Days of Christmas looks especially robust this year. No, this is the year that you're going to keep on top of things. You're going to read this guide to holiday specials and movies on TV and make notes, set DVRs, clear calendars, and enjoy the warm, fuzzy glow of A Charlie Brown Christmas with everybody else who made the right decision. Here are the listings and streaming options for all the classic Christmas specials and beloved holiday movies.

    The Classic TV Specials


    A Charlie Brown Christmas

    While there appears to be an admirable uptick in certain holiday specials airing multiple times during the season (just how Santa intended), some have retained the miserly, Scrooge-like mindset that you either watch it the first night it airs or not at all. That's sad for Charlie Brown, whose sad little Christmas tree that can barely support an ornament has become a symbol for … I guess people who can't turn looks? Anyway, be sure to tune in to ABC on this one day.

    Air Date:

    • Thursday, December 5, 8:00 PM — ABC
       

    Frosty the Snowman

    Another Rankin-Bass production, this time traditionally animated, telling the tale of a snowman brought to life by a cold Christmas breeze … and the enchanted hat of a histrionic magician. This is a huge fave around Christmastime, but when Frosty melts inside that greenhouse, with the little girl powerless to help him? Harrowing.

    Air Dates:

    • Friday, November 29, 8:00 PM — CBS
    • Friday, December 6, 8:00 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 7, 6:15 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 14, 9:00 PM — CBS
    • Friday, December 20, 5:45 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 21, 12:55 PM — Freeform
    • Tuesday, December 24, 8:20 PM — Freeform
    • Wednesday, December 25, 3:10 PM — Freeform
       

    How the Grinch Stole Christmas

    The Grinch is the holiday special most prone to driving you crazy over the holiday season, since you'll spot it on a cable grid and not know whether you're getting the 1966 animated classic or the 2000 movie (and this will only get worse when the 2018 movie enters the cable rotation). But with all due apologies to Jim Carrey, if you're looking for a holiday classic, you want the old-school animated special, with all the songs and the animation where the heart grows three sizes and pops the wire frame around it. (If you're looking for Jim Carrey, he's all over Freeform throughout the month.)

    Air Dates:

    • Tuesday, December 3, 8:00 PM — NBC
    • Wednesday, December 25, 8:00 PM — NBC
       

    The I Love Lucy Christmas Special

    CBS leans into its reputation as TV for grandparents with this revival of a classic I Love Lucy holiday celebration. Honestly, it's hard to hold it against them with comedy this legendary.

    Air Dates:

    • Friday, December 20, 8:00 PM — CBS
       

    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. Too bad it's only airing late nights and early mornings (but that's what DVRs are for).

    Air Dates:

    • Monday, December 2, 1:30 AM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 2, 7:00 AM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 7, 1:30 AM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 21, 7:00 AM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 23, 12:30 AM — Freeform
    • Tuesday, December 24, 7:00 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:

    • 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 Dates:

    • Monday, December 2, 8:00 PM — CBS
    • Friday, December 6, 8:30 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 7, 6:45 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 14, 8:00 PM — CBS
    • Friday, December 20, 6:15 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 21, 1:25 PM — Freeform
    • Tuesday, December 24, 8:50 PM — Freeform
    • Wednesday, December 25, 3:40 PM — Freeform
       

    Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town

    Some of the stop-motion Rankin-Bass specials get confused with each other — especially once you remove easily identifiable icons like Rudolph and Frosty from the equation. Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town is the one narrated by Fred Astaire, featuring a young, hot Kris Kringle, back when he had a girlfriend. It's the one with Burgermeister Meisterburger.

    Air Dates:

    • Sunday, December 1, 8:00 PM — ABC
    • Tuesday, December 3, 4:45 PM — Freeform
    • Wednesday, December 4, 1:00 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 20, 4:40 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 21, 11:50 PM — Freeform
    • Tuesday, December 24, 9:55 PM — Freeform
    • Wednesday, December 25, 4:45 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 Dates:

    • Saturday, November 30, 5:45 PM — AMC
    • Saturday, November 30, 11:00 PM — AMC
    • Friday, December 13, 10:00 PM — AMC
       

    The Christmas Movie Canon


    Elf

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

    Air Dates:

    • Saturday, November 30, 7:00 PM — AMC
    • Saturday, November 30, 9:15 PM — AMC
    • Wednesday, December 4, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Thursday, December 5, 6:00 PM — AMC
    • Sunday, December 8, 6:00 PM — AMC
    • Sunday, December 8, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Tuesday, December 10, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Wednesday, December 11, 6:00 PM — AMC
    • Saturday, December 14, 7:00 PM — AMC
    • Saturday, December 14, 9:00 PM — AMC
    • Monday, December 16, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Tuesday, December 17, 6:00 PM — AMC
    • Wednesday, December 18, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Thursday, December 19, 6:00 PM — AMC
    • Friday, December 20, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Saturday, December 21, 6:00 PM — AMC
    • Tuesday, December 24, 7:00 PM — 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. Just be sure to watch it the one and only time it's on TV this season.

    Air Dates:

    • Streaming on Hulu (with a Cinemax subscription)
    • Saturday, December 7, 10:55 AM - Cinemax
       

    Home Alone

    If you're looking to watch Harry get his dome roasted and Marv take a spiked nail to the foot twice a week throughout the holidays, this is your year. Not only has Freeform packed their 25 Days of Christmas with all three Home Alone movies (plus the 2012 reboot Home Alone: The Holiday Heist), but it's streaming on Disney+ as well. For our money, the first, Home Alone is the only one you truly need, all due respect to the bird women of Central Park.

    Air Dates:

    • Streaming on Disney+
    • Tuesday, December 3, 5:50 PM — Freeform
    • Wednesday, December 4, 4:00 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 7, 7:50 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 8, 4:10 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 13, 6:45 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 14, 4:05 PM — Freeform
    • Tuesday, December 17, 5:50 PM — Freeform
    • Wednesday, December 18, 3:10 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 22, 7:20 PM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 23, 4:10 PM — Freeform
    • Wednesday, December 25, 5:50 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 movie 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. Anyway, NBC is only airing it twice this year, which is why it's nice that Amazon Prime will have it streaming all month. Hey, maybe Jeff Bezos will watch it and get some good ideas about responsible capitalism!

    Air Dates:

    • Streaming on Amazon Prime
    • Saturday, November 30, 8:00 PM — NBC
    • Tuesday, December 24, 8:00 AM — NBC
       

    Love Actually

    The annual lightning rod of holiday-themed movies is opting for light exposure this year, with a perch on HBO GO (plus an early-December TV airing) rather than blanketing the cable channels. Better to let people return to director Richard Curtis's celebration of love in all its forms at their own pace.

    Air Dates:

    • Streaming on HBO GO
    • Tuesday, December 3, 3:55 PM — HBO
       

    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.

    Air Dates:

    • Thursday, December 5, 10:00 PM — AMC
    • Monday, December 9, 7:00 PM — AMC
    • Monday, December 9, 9:30 PM — AMC
    • Tuesday, December 17, 10:15 PM — AMC
       

    The Muppet Christmas Carol

    Many people will tell you that the Muppets' re-telling of the Scrooge tale (with two-time Oscar winner Michael Caine as the infamous miser) is the best feature-length Muppets film. Those people are disrespecting the legacy of The Muppets Take Manhattan, but it's worth it to check out what everybody's been raving about.

    Air Dates:

    • Streaming on Disney+
    • Monday, December 2, 7:15 AM — Freeform
       

    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 non-caloric-silicon-based-kitchen-spray-coated sleds, to surprise squirrels.

    Air Dates:

    • Sunday, December 1, 6:00 PM — AMC
    • Sunday, December 1, 8:15 PM — AMC
    • Tuesday, December 3, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Tuesday, December 3, 10:15 PM — AMC
    • Saturday, December 7, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Saturday, December 7, 10:15 PM — AMC
    • Wednesday, December 11, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Thursday, December 12, 5:45 PM — AMC
    • Sunday, December 15, 7:00 PM — AMC
    • Sunday, December 15, 9:15 PM — AMC
    • Tuesday, December 17, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Wednesday, December 18, 5:45 PM — AMC
    • Friday, December 20, 10:00 PM — AMC
    • Saturday, December 21, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Monday, December 23, 8:00 PM — AMC
    • Monday, December 23, 10:15 PM — AMC
    • Tuesday, December 24, 9:00 PM — 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.

    Air Dates:

    • Streaming on Disney+
    • Thursday, December 5, 6:40 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 6, 3:40 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 15, 3:25 PM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 16, 1:05 PM — Freeform
    • Thursday, December 19, 7:20 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 20, 3:00 PM — Freeform
       

    The Santa Clause

    Tim Allen becomes Santa based on some fine-print legalese, the way all Christmas stories should kick off. As with the Home Alone series, Freeform has draped itself in all three Santa Clause movies for the month of December.

    Air Dates:

    • Streaming on Disney+
    • Sunday, December 1, 2:45 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 6, 9:30 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 7, 12:00 PM — Freeform
    • Thursday, December 12, 6:50 PM — Freeform
    • Friday, December 13, 12:30 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 15, 7:45 PM — Freeform
    • Monday, December 16, 4:50 PM — Freeform
    • Saturday, December 21, 5:05 PM — Freeform
    • Sunday, December 22, 10:15 AM — Freeform
    • Tuesday, December 24, 1:30 PM — Freeform
    • Wednesday, December 25, 11:00 AM — Freeform
       

    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. And Robert Mitchum! Playing a doddering old media mogul obsessed with programming TV for cats.

    Air Dates:

    • Saturday, November 30, 8:30 AM — VH1
    • Saturday, November 30, 9:00 PM — VH1

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