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The Best Christmas TV Specials to Watch With Your Grandkids

​Share the joy and excitement of the season with these 10 classics you grew up loving

spinner image A scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas
United Features Syndicate/Courtesy Everett Collection

Remember how excited you got waiting for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or A Charlie Brown Christmas to air during the Christmas season? The good news is that many of our most-beloved TV holiday specials can still be streamed online. Whether you’re watching alone for a trip down memory lane or with your favorite brother or sister over the holidays or, best yet, introducing your grandkids to Frosty and the gang, check out these 10 wonderful TV holiday classics.

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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

The longest-running Christmas special in history, Rudolph has been broadcast every year since 1964. Its puppet-based stop-motion animation, narration by Burl Ives and uplifting message about celebrating our differences made it an instant classic.

Watch it: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, on Vudu

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

This meditation on the meaning of Christmas was considered a risky departure from much of popular TV at the time, with no laugh track and a jazz score by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, but it went on to win a Peabody, an Emmy and the hearts of generations of American kids.

Watch it: A Charlie Brown Christmas, on Apple TV+

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

Before Jim Carrey went green for the live-action version, the animated original brought to life Dr. Seuss’ whimsical tale of a Christmas-hating creature (voiced by Boris Karloff), and set his misanthropic antics to song.

Watch it: How the Grinch Stole Christmas! on Amazon Prime, Peacock, YouTube

Frosty the Snowman (1969)

Narrated by comedian Jimmy Durante, this cartoon builds on the hit song's storyline and sends Frosty and his young savior to the North Pole as they try to escape the heat.

Watch it: Frosty the Snowman, on Vimeo, YouTube

Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970)

What better way to introduce Fred Astaire (who narrates) and Mickey Rooney (who voices Santa) to a new audience than through this puppet-animated rendition of Santa's origin story, as a young Kriss Kringle growing up in gloomy Sombertown.

Watch it: Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, on Vudu, YouTube

The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

What happens when Santa decides to take a vacation right before Christmas? Starring Mickey Rooney as Santa and Shirley Booth as Mrs. Claus, this special celebrates the power of children around the world.

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Watch it: The Year Without a Santa Claus, on YouTube

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1977)

This Emmy-nominated musical romp from puppeteer Jim Henson follows the down-on-its-luck Otter family — who enters a Christmas Eve talent contest in order to be able to afford gifts for one another.

Watch it: Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, on Amazon Prime

The Snowman (1982)

A favorite of David Bowie's, this short follows an English boy on a late-night adventure with a magical snowman. There's no dialogue, but the soaring score and ethereal animation captivate young and old.

Watch it: The Snowman, on Amazon Prime

spinner image A scene from Mickey's Christmas Carol
Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection

Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)

This Academy Award-nominated adaptation of the Charles Dickens novella swaps its cast of characters for Disney favorites — with Scrooge McDuck for Ebenezer Scrooge, Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit and Jiminy Cricket as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Watch it: Mickey’s Christmas Carol, on Disney+

Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special (1988)

You'll love counting the cameos from stars such as Little Richard, Frankie Avalon (now 80) and Grace Jones (now 72), while the grandkids will laugh along at Pee-wee's zany antics as he learns to embrace the selflessness of the holiday season.

Watch it: Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special, on iTunes

Lauren Vespoli is a Brooklyn-based freelance culture writer and audio producer whose work has appeared in The New York TimesNew York Magazine and Vox.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Nov. 30, 2020. It has been updated with links where you can stream the specials on this list.

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