It wouldn’t be the holiday season without some marathon bingeing in front of the TV set. Yet while there are plenty of movies to watch over the holiday (don’t believe us? Just check Digital Trends’ best Christmas movies to stream), there’s also a smorgasbord of Christmas TV shows and episodes worth watching.
If you’re looking for tree lightings or Mariah Carey specials, this isn’t the list for you. Instead, this list will spotlight classic TV specials from yesteryear, modern specials starring vibrant talents such as Hannah Waddingham, or streaming shows that are holiday themed. From streaming services like Netflix and Hulu to broadcast channels like PBS, these 20 Christmas shows should be streamed right now.
The Great British Baking Show: Holidays (2018-)
What’s that delicious smell in the air? For many, the holidays are about gift-giving and receiving, but baking can be almost as important to the traditions of the season. The Great British Baking Show is a wonderful guide to a wide array of holiday-themed treats packaged up in the same way as a regular season of the show.
If you’re looking for something low-key and joyful, disarmingly kind, and filled with inspiration for your next holiday baking extravaganza, then you couldn’t do much better than these holiday specials.
Dash & Lily (2020)
A romance set during Christmas in New York City, Dash & Lily follows the lives of two teenagers who begin to communicate with one another through a journal they pass back and forth across the city.
Thanks to the fact that it was actually shot in New York, the show also happens to be one of the best looks at what that city is like around Christmas, which has a romance all its own. With its charming leads and some sharp writing, though, Dash & Lily is just the thing you’ll need to sweep you off your feet this holiday.
Merry Happy Whatever (2019)
A family-oriented sitcom set during the holidays, Merry Happy Whatever may be one of the best looks at what it’s like to be around your family during the holidays. Everyone might be grateful for the time off, but that doesn’t mean that being around family doesn’t come with its own kind of stress.
Still, Merry Happy Whatever is ultimately pretty affirming about the spirit of the season and about why we keep family around, even when they cause us enormous amounts of stress. In the end, all that stress is worth the reward.
The Bad Guys: A Very Bad Holiday (2023)
The Bad Guys, a 2022 animated film based on the children’s book of the same name, introduced the world to a group of notorious criminals specializing in heists. The Bad Guys include Mr. Wolf, Mr. Snake, Ms. Tarantula, Mr. Shark, and Mr. Piranha. Because of the film’s popularity and box office success ($250 million worldwide), the criminal group is back for another adventure in a new television special, The Bad Guys: A Very Bad Holiday.
Set before the film’s events, the Bad Guys set out to execute a heist on Christmas morning. With most people occupied with opening presents in the morning, Christmas is the perfect guise for a heist. However, the plan goes haywire when Christmas is canceled after an accident during the holiday parade causes a balloon to burst. Instead of stealing on Christmas morning, the Bad Guys set out to save the holiday by giving back to the community.
Home for Christmas (2019-2020)
Netflix’s first Norwegian series follows a single woman searching for a boyfriend during the holiday season in Home for Christmas. Johanne (Ida Elise Broch) is a 30-year-old nurse feeling the pressures of society to find a suitable partner to settle down with. At her family’s Advent dinner, Johanne caves to her family’s constant goading to be in a relationship by telling them she has a boyfriend. Johanne doubles down and says her boyfriend will accompany her to Christmas dinner.
With less than four weeks to dinner, Johanne searches for a potential boyfriend by any means necessary. Johanne explores young professionals, old men, and even women. She’s willing to do anything to find a partner to bring home for Christmas. However, Johanne learns that the person who loves her the most was right under her nose the entire time.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
If anyone knows the tale of the Grinch, chances are they had first heard it through this classic TV special. (And yes, this counts as as a TV show as well as a movie; deal with it.) Annoyed by the people of Whoville, the furry green curmudgeon decides to ruin everyone’s holiday by stealing all their gifts and decorations.
An unusual children’s story, yes, but a story that flipped the script on how people had come to envision Christmas while exploring the holiday’s true meaning. And with the incomparable Thurl Ravenscroft singing that now iconic theme song, this adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s classic tale arguably made the Grinch just as synonymous with Christmas as Santa Claus himself.
Moroccan Christmas, The Office (2008)
This wouldn’t be a complete Christmas TV show list without one episode from The Office and Moroccan Christmas is arguably the best holiday-themed one. In one of Dunder Mifflin’s many Christmas parties gone wrong, a drunken Meredith sets her hair on fire, and Michael hosts an intervention with everyone in the office.
It’s sweet and funny to see Michael try to help Meredith in his own misguided way, more so the latter when he drags her into rehab. It’s also nice to see Phyllis give Angela a taste of her own medicine for a change as the head of the party planning committee. Moroccan Christmas is The Office at its best and deserves a watch this or any time of the year.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (2022)
Before our favorite ragtag group of heroes said goodbye in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, writer-director James Gunn gave fans an appetizer of comic book goodness with The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. In this 42-minute special, the Guardians are preparing for Christmas as residents of Knowhere after purchasing it from the Collector.
After Kraglin (Sean Gunn) reveals a sad Christmas story about Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) take it upon themselves to find their leader the best gift ever. Knowing that he’s a lover of 1980s pop culture, Drax and Mantis head to Los Angeles to kidnap Kevin Bacon, playing a version of himself, and bring him back to cheer Peter up. The holiday special encapsulates what makes the Guardians’ movies so successful: humor, heart, and fun.
The rare superhero story to be set during the holidays, Hawkeye follows the least powerful Avenger as he teams up with Kate Bishop to take on a gang in New York as Christmas approaches.
Hailee Steinfeld is pitch-perfect casting as Bishop, and Jeremy Renner reminds us that he can be a genuinely great actor when he’s given stuff to do. Hawkeye has been through a lot over his years as an Avenger, but what makes the show work is it balances all of that trauma with plenty of lighter, much more goofy material.
The Santa Clauses (2022-present)
In 1994, Tim Allen’s Scott Calvin wore the iconic red suit and grew a white beard to become the new Saint Nick in The Santa Claus. Nearly 30 years later, Scott is still delivering presents to kids around the world. However, it’s time to consider finding a replacement as Scott contemplates retirement in The Santa Clauses.
Now in his mid-60s, reality is setting in for Scott as his time as Santa nears its end. Scott has lost a step or two as his magic wears off. Plus, Scott believes a normal life for his wife Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell), son Cal (Austin Kane), and daughter Sandra would be good for his family. However, Scott can’t abandon his duties as Santa Claus. Along with his team of elves at the North Pole, Scott sets out to find his replacement, which is crucial because the fate of Christmas hangs in the balance.
Marge Be Not Proud, The Simpsons (1995)
It’s hard to pick just one Simpsons Christmas episode but if we had to, it would be this one. As usual on The Simpsons, Bart ruins the holiday festivities. The key difference this time is that Bart is caught shoplifting a video game, and Marge’s disappointment in him is so profound that she shuns Bart and keeps him at an emotional distance.
That hurts Bart far more than any other punishment could. And when he can’t get the love he needs from his mother, Bart tries to get it from Milhouse’s mom. The climax for the episode is also an inspired moment as Bart is forced to lie to Marge about loving her lackluster Christmas gift, because if he had shown anything other than gratitude, it could have jeopardized their reconciliation.
The Great Christmas Light Fight (2013-present)
Many houses are covered in Christmas decorations for the holiday season, but the homes featured in The Great Christmas Light Fight are on a whole different level. The decorating competition series pits four families against one another in a chance to show off their Christmas light displays.
These exhibits are judged on design, Christmas spirit, and their use of lights. The creativity displayed by each family is beyond impressive. At the end of each episode, one lucky family wins the grand prize of $50,000. These lights’ displays are something you need to see to believe.
So-Called Angels, My So-Called Life (1994)
One of the most underrated Christmas episodes from the last 30 years is So-Called Angels, the 15th episode of the short-lived but beloved ABC teen drama My So-Called Life. While the show usually centers on main protagonist Angela Chase (a young Claire Danes), this episode spotlights Angela’s friend Ricky (Wilson Cruz), who is first seen in this episode spitting out blood, falling to the ground, and being ignored on a snowy street. Ricky, who is gay, has been cast out of his home, and has to deal with homelessness while others are celebrating the holiday.
This sounds like a downer, but the beauty of the episode is how well it balances the seriousness and the lightness of the material. There’s also a clever, not-so-subtle nod to It’s A Wonderful Life with an earthbound guardian angel, played by singer Juliana Hatfield, and a genuinely moving final act, which highlights just what the holidays are all about without being too saccharine about it.
‘Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas, The Golden Girls (1986)
If you want something short and light this season, just spend some time with Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia. Watching The Golden Girls is always a pleasure, and ‘Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas is a great example of just how funny the show can be. The girls all decide to gift each other homemade presents, which results in a hilarious exchange where Rose gives Dorothy “a wooden brooch in the shape of a turkey’s head” (or so Dorothy thinks) and Blanche gives everyone a racy calendar, “The Men of Blanche’s Boudoir.”
Throw in Blanche’s strange sexual attraction to Santa Claus, a gun-toting Saint Nick, a suicidal financial backer of Howard the Duck, and an empty dinner that holds the true spirit of Christmas and you have a classic sitcom holiday episode.
The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis, The Big Bang Theory (2008)
Jim Parsons earned his first Emmy nomination for season 2’s The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis. Already a legendary episode of Big Bang, The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis sees Penny giving Sheldon a Christmas gift, forcing the notoriously anal scientist to buy something of equal value to reciprocate. Sheldon buys multiple gift baskets, which he then proceeds to gift to Penny upon discovering her gift to him is a signed autograph from Leonard Nimoy.
Parsons is an incredibly gifted physical comedian, and his reaction to seeing the autograph is a comedic triumph. The entire sequence is hilarious, and the confirmation that The Big Bang Theory owed its success to Sheldon. Many scenes followed in the subsequent years, each showcasing different aspects of Sheldon’s quirks. However, his gift-giving scene arguably remains his finest moment.
Holiday Baking Championship (2014-)
If you like Bake-Off but want things to feel a little more stressful, Holiday Baking Championship is for you. Although it offers a relatively small $25,000 prize, the show is nonetheless a hit every year, partly because you get to admire a wide array of elaborate confections from the show’s contestants.
While there are certainly plenty of disasters, Holiday Baking Championship is a show designed to celebrate the skills of its bakers, even as it also subjects them to sometimes grueling or impossible timelines in the kitchen.
Hannah Waddingham: Home For Christmas (2023)
Christmas specials aren’t as fashionable as they once were, but Apple TV+ changed all of that this Christmas season. Most people know Hannah Waddingham for her Emmy-winning role as Rebecca Welton on Ted Lasso. However, Waddingham started her career in the theater as a terrific singer and stage actress, and as she displayed as the host of the last Eurovision contest, she can belt out a tune like no other.
In Hannah Waddingham: Home For Christmas, Waddingham gets in the Christmas spirit as she sings and dances to holiday tunes at the London Coliseum. She’s joined by fellow Ted Lasso stars Phil Dunster and Juno Temple as well as Hamilton‘s Leslie Odom Jr. and Luke Evans.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Move over, Great Pumpkin! It’s time for a Peanuts Christmas special. When Charlie Brown finds himself depressed in this season of good cheer, he decides to lift his spirits by directing a holiday play with all the other kids. But in true Charlie Brown fashion, not everything goes as planned, and he struggles to create a genuine Christmas experience for everyone.
This animated classic is a poignant and heartwarming tale about friends coming together and finding true Christmas joy. Hands down, this is the quintessential Peanuts tale, featuring such iconic moments as the kids ice skating together, breaking out some bizarre dance moves, and decorating Charlie Brown’s tiny tree. But the special’s music alone has become just as memorable, capturing the joy and nostalgia of the holidays in its purest form.
Season of Light: Christmas with the Tabernacle Choir (2023)
This year marks the 20th anniversary of PBS’ annual Christmas with The Tabernacle Choir holiday special. This year, the choir was joined by Tony Award winner Lea Salonga (Mulan, Miss Saigon) and actor Sir David Suchet (Agatha Christie’s Poirot). Salonga performed a selection of her favorite holiday songs, as well as Payapang Daigdig, a World War II-era song that she sang in her native Tagalog.
One of the other key parts of this year’s concert was Suchet’s account of the late Sir Nicholas Winton, a man who helped save hundreds of Jewish children from the Holocaust shortly before World War II. It’s a moving tale that continues to inspire decades after it came to light.
Call the Midwife Holiday Special (2023)
It’s become a tradition for the British drama series Call the Midwife to have a Christmas special a few months before its upcoming season. Ahead of Call the Midwife‘s 13th season next year, PBS will air this year’s special, which takes place two weeks ahead of Christmas 1968.
According to the special’s official description, “delicate situations cause uncertainty for the midwives. With the upcoming Apollo 8 launch and the festivity preparations starting, a treacherous heavy snowfall may complicate the holiday celebrations for everyone.” The special airs on Christmas Day.
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