Some Favorite Holiday TV Specials

You think people are passionate about their favorite weekly television shows? That's nothing. I recently took an informal poll on Facebook of what people like to watch during the holidays.

You know, the must-watch-before-Dec. 25-or-the-holidays-aren't-complete shows. Nearly 150 responses later, I've come to discover that aside from the usual suspects, people love the 2003 film "Love Actually," the 1977 Jim Henson TV special "Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas" and many, many different incarnations of "A Christmas Carol" (just don't ask which Scrooge is best, unless you're ready for a long debate).

Nowadays, when so much of our television viewing can be streamed on the go, many of our fondest holiday TV memories involve actually sitting down and watching a certain program at a certain time.

With Thanksgiving just a couple days away, the networks are about to unleash a sleigh full of holiday movies and specials. Are you ready for "Lady Gaga & the Muppets Holiday Spectacular" or Carrie Underwood in "The Sound of Music Live"? Those are just a couple of the new offerings coming your way (and don't get me started on the Hallmark Channel. Seriously, it started with its reign of made-for-TV holiday movie terror on Nov. 1).

But I'm a traditionalist, so let's stick with favorites. Below, in no particular order, is a list of the things I love to watch this time of year, with some sample broadcast dates, though many might air numerous times and dates and times are subject to change.

"A Charlie Brown Christmas": The Peanuts gang discovers the true meaning of Christmas in this enchanting 1965 animated special. When that spotlight hits Linus near the end of the half-hour, you couldn't tear me away. Oh, and there's that sweet / sad little tree (8 p.m. Dec. 2 on ABC).

"It's a Wonderful Life": There is something so very perfect about Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey in the 1946 Frank Capra classic about a fateful Christmas Eve in small-town Bedford Falls. Equally well cast are Henry Travers as Clarence the angel, Donna Reed as Mary Bailey and Lionel Barrymore as evil Henry F. Potter (8 p.m. Dec. 14 on NBC).

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas": Boris Karloff narrates the one and only 1966 animated original (sorry, Jim Carrey) about that scary green guy and his adventures in Whoville, based on the book by Dr. Seuss. And what about that vocal by Thurl Ravenscroft on "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch"? Nothing better (8 p.m. Friday and Dec. 24 on ABC).

"Prancer": This 1989 charmer is about a Christmas-loving young girl (Rebecca Harrell) sheltering a reindeer, which she thinks belongs to Santa, on her father's farm at Christmastime. It also stars Sam Elliott, Cloris Leachman and Abe Vigoda. It's a tear-jerker that gets me every time (Dec. 6, 7 and 17 on ABC Family and available on DVD).

"A Christmas Story": Bob Clark's delightful 1983 comedy, based on the novel by Jean Shepherd, in which young Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) goes on a 1940s Christmas quest for a Red Ryder air rifle, his old man (Darrin McGavin) gets "a major award" and some kid gets his tongue stuck to an icy pole (all-day marathon Dec. 25 on TBS).

"Christmas in Yellowstone": This 2006 PBS "Nature" special looks at the winter wonders of one of our greatest national parks. Something about the stillness and quiet beauty of long stretches of this special makes for perfect viewing after the holiday madness has died down (8 p.m. Dec. 25).

"Black Christmas": Probably the most nontraditional pick on this list; be warned that this is NOT a family-friendly holiday film, but Bob Clark's (him again!) 1975 twisted / creepy thriller set in a sorority house at Christmastime. It stars Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder and Andrea Martin. Not for the squeamish - and be very afraid of what's in the attic (available on DVD).

"Pee Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special": Another nontraditional favorite, this 1988 TV special has it all. There's Paul Reubens' quirky man-child, a kitschy list of guest stars (Whoopi Goldberg, Grace Jones, k.d. lang, the Del Rubio triplets, Cher, Oprah) and a kick-ass opening number featuring a chorus of Marines (!) (available on DVD).

"Meet Me in St. Louis": What's not to love about Vincente Minnelli's 1944 musical that follows the lives of the Smith family the year before the 1904 World's Fair? You've got Margaret O'Brien, Marjorie Main and June Lockhart, plus the Christmas section of the film, featuring Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." It may be overly sentimental, but in my opinion, it's a great capper to the Christmas season (Dec. 23 and 24 on TCM).

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